NEWS3 March 2023

US Census Bureau criticised by Inspector General

News North America Public Sector

US – The Office of the Inspector General of the US Commerce Department has criticised the US Census Bureau’s management and oversight of its Ask US Panel online research project.

graphical US map overlaid with speech bubbles and faces

In its final report of its investigation into Ask US Panel, the Office of the Inspector General said the Census Bureau’s “management and oversight of the cooperative agreement lacked transparency over key financial assistance award processes” and that the bureau was providing funding “without validating costs”.

The Census Bureau “did not document research or analysis conducted to determine whether the need for the Ask US Panel could be met by existing commercial platforms or developed internally”.

The Ask US Panel is a probability-based nationwide representative survey panel for tracking public opinion that has been trialled since earlier this year.

Eligible households and individuals who join the panel answer surveys about food and nutrition, transportation, employment, education and other subjects, as well as receiving monetary compensation for the surveys they complete.

However, the panel has proved controversial in some quarters, with the Insights Association having opposed it on the grounds of it being more expensive than buying services from existing online research panel providers.

Howard Fienberg, senior vice-president advocacy at the Insights Association, said: “We remain worried that the Census Bureau still intends to use taxpayer dollars, from multiple agencies and funding sources, to develop a service that already exists in the private market.

“Rather than throwing even more scarce federal resources at such an expensive effort by trying to insource the panel, the Insights Association continues to urge the Census Bureau to save a tonne of money by simply purchasing the service from one of the multiple existing insights providers.”