Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Coburn to increase library funding for 2010!

Ha ha! Made you look!

The real headline from FCW.com is Lawmakers want online census for 2010 (here's additional info as well)
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) can’t understand why the U.S. Census Bureau has decided not to use the Internet for at least some part of the 2010 census.
“They could do a pilot so by the 2020 census they are online,” Coburn said after a hearing where he lambasted the bureau's director, Louis Kincannon, about this issue. “I can’t think of a reason not to do the census on the Internet. I don’t think anyone else would disagree with me.”

During the hearing, Coburn pointed to the Internal Revenue Service’s success with accepting tax returns online as an example for Census. He also said if other private-sector financial institutions can operate securely online, there is no reason the census cannot.

“I’m appalled that you are not at least trying to do this on the Internet,” he said. “We don’t have a vision to get this done. I will do everything I can to force the Internet down your throat with amendments. You are living in the past, not the future. I recommend you get on board for 2010.”
After the hearing, Kincannon said the 2003 test offered paper and Internet options, while the 2005 test offered only an Internet option.

“Overall, our response rate in the 2005 test was 5.7 percentage points lower than with paper,” he said. ...

As one of the lucky people living in Oklahoma who have fast Internet access at home and work I love the option of being able to file my taxes, banking, and many other things online. Heck I would even complete an online census if given the chance -- but I am also well aware that I am a minority when it comes to embracing technology. Heck, most of my colleagues don't even utilize technology in the same way or to the extent that I do. So I have to say I disagree with the Honorable Mr. Coburn.

The past several weeks I have been traveling to various libraries in Oklahoma and talking with kids and adults who do not have (or have limited) Internet access at home. These folks are lucky enough to have a local library with computers and Internet access. Yet many still have problems printing their tax W2s off the Internet when their employer only makes them available that way. So how would those Oklahomans be expected to interact with an online census form? Or does Oklahoma have such an over whelming response rate it can afford to miss the not so tech savvy folks? Or what about the many in Oklahoma who do not have Internet access or a computer at home and also do not have a library with convenient hours or stable equipment near them? Is the area Coburn represents not rural at all? So they don't have to worry about missing out on the information that would be obtained from a census? Better yet, will he set up mobile computer census labs to enable seniors, the poor, and non-tech savvy to get census assistance needed? Or will this online census be achieved by sampling the urban wired areas and to hell with the rural?

My observation is -- as more government services move online or have options available for online completion the more libraries are required to fill the information gap. And this isn't just public libraries -- academic libraries also have to step in and help college students figure out federal student loan forms, tax filings, etc -- yet the libraries obtain no additional funding (and rarely free classes from federal agencies) to help educate or train the public or staff on these online government endeavors. Before any significant part of the census is moved online the people need to be assured that everything and more is being done to insure an accurate census for all demographics.

Many of our elected officials are demanding agencies cut spending by moving information retrieval and dissemination online -- yet they don't understand (nor care to) what it entails or who it impacts. Many are focusing so hard on their political legacy they forget what the world is like for those not so privileged. Heck they are even willing to force not well thought out change down our throats -- so open wide!


Carleen said...

Well said! I think our government could seriously benifit from a little more education about the digital divide. We have the same problem with people in our community who have trouble not just filing taxes online, but also applying for jobs online, etc. And these aren't just "golden agers" either. Many of them are in college or in their mid-twenties, the generation that everyone seems to think is so tech-savvy.

dc-foodie said...

I agree with your concerns about the "digital divide" and the need to ensure government services are accessible to all. But I think Coburn is right to push for online data collection of census data -- as long as you continue to collect data by mail and in person.

For example, using collecting data online saves money and yields better quality data -- even if only a portion of the population uses it.

I worked on a report that looked at the reasons behind this -- available online here --