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After Botching 2020 Census Contract, Officials Pick New Printer For $115 Million

The printing company R.R. Donnelley & Sons has been selected to print the 2020 census paper questionnaires. The company previously printed forms and envelopes for the 2010 census.
Paul J. Richards
AFP/Getty Images
The printing company R.R. Donnelley & Sons has been selected to print the 2020 census paper questionnaires. The company previously printed forms and envelopes for the 2010 census.

After months of controversy and uncertainty surrounding a botched contracting process, the Government Publishing Office has announced a new printer for the 2020 census.

R.R. Donnelley & Sons, the company that printed the 2010 census questionnaires, has been awarded a $114.6 million contract to produce paper questionnaires, letters and other mailings that will be sent to more than 130 million households for the upcoming national headcount.

While the 2020 census is designed to be the first in the U.S. to allow all households to respond online, paper will play a key role in meeting the constitutional mandate to count every person living in the U.S. Paper forms will allow households with limited or no Internet access to submit their responses. The Census Bureau also may use paper questionnaires as a backstop against any major technical issues that prevent it from collecting responses online.

The announcement comes more than a month after the GPO was expected to name a new census printer in November.

"It was important for GPO and the U.S. Census Bureau to take additional time to evaluate all aspects of the proposals, ensuring the requirements of the contract were met," GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said in an email.

The agency originally awarded a $61 million contract for the 2020 census in 2017 to another printer, Cenveo. The Justice Department canceled that contract last year after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Cenveo was awarded $5.5 million to resolve the contracting issue.

An investigation by the GPO inspector general's office found that Cenveo won the initial contract after GPO officials violated contracting rules and procedures.

"Our investigation revealed GPO did not do an adequate job of protecting the interests of the Government," the agency's former Inspector General Michael Raponi wrote in a report obtained by NPR.

The IG office's annual work plan for this year notes that the internal agency watchdog will investigate the awarding of the new contract for "any breakdowns in policies, process and internal controls."

"Resources permitting, we still plan to conduct the review later this fiscal year," the GPO's newly appointed acting inspector general, James Ives, said in an email.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: March 4, 2019 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story described the 2020 census as the first online U.S. census. It would have been more accurate to say it will be the first census in which all households will have the opportunity to reply online. In 2000, there was an online option, but it was only for the short form and only in English. The Census Bureau says 63,053 households were counted using only the online option.
Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.