HAMPTON -- A pricey Super Bowl ad, a logo on Greg Biffle’s NASCAR ride and commercial time on Nickelodeon’s, ‘Dora the Explorer’ kids show are part of a $133-million effort just to get the word out about the 2010 Census.
And that's not all. The Census Bureau is spending an estimated $42 million of your money on a two-paragraph letter to simply say in about a week your census form will arrive in the mail.
Kristie Hele said she got the letter and thinks it's a waste of paper.
"That’s insane. It’s outrageous and unnecessary, especially in today’s time," Hele stated.
Anthony Smith’s 80-year-old mother called him about the letter, also curious about the cost.
"She asked me 'What is this about? Can you come over here and tell me what this is,'" Smith said.
Whether the letters are just another example of government waste is too soon to tell. The Census Bureau argues if the letters boost the response rate even one-percent, lead to a more accurate count of the population and a more equatable sharing of federal funds for things like schools and roads, they will have more than paid for themselves.
Skip Urps, who runs the Census Office in Chesapeake, defended the letters.
"The higher the response rate by your awareness that it’s coming and you’re looking for it, the higher response rate, the more we get back, the bigger the savings in the overall costs of the census, the 2010 census," he countered.
Taxpayers might have more confidence in such a claim if it were not for missteps by the Census Bureau that already are known. Taxpayer watchdog groups say the census, like no other government program, has the luxury of time to get it right. Yet, a recent Government Accountability Office report shows the US Census Bureau underestimated the cost of 'address canvassing' by $88 million, a 25 percent overrun of the original estimate of $356 million.
While the information age has made it cheaper and more efficient to gather data, why does it get more expensive in Washington? This year, the government will spend nearly $50 for every man, woman and child to gather some relatively straightforward facts about who we are.
So, watch your mail. 2010 Census forms begin arriving in more than 120 million mailboxes across the nation this week.