Questions persist about U.S. Census as Aussie effort lags

The spotlight will be on the U.S. Census Bureau for the 2020 count, especially in light of a major IT fail by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which prevented thousands of people from completing their mandatory surveys.

census paper form

A government tech failure on the other side of the world could have an impact on one of the biggest U.S. agency efforts in the pipeline.

The website of the Australian Bureau of Statistics went down under heavy usage loads on Aug. 9, as Australians went online to complete mandatory surveys. While Australians have until Sept. 23 to submit their data, the outage inspired much social media ridicule and inspired the #CensusFail hashtag on Twitter.

The U.S. Census Bureau has ambitious digital plans for the 2020 decennial population count. Congress has tasked the bureau with reducing the cost of the census by leveraging technology. What they don't want is a repeat of the 2010 census, which was over budget and marred by IT failures.

"That's why it's critical that we learn from the last decade's mistakes and make sure that the 2020 Census is on time, on budget and accurate," Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said. The ranking member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee told FCW, "I am encouraged that the Bureau has provided a plan for the 2020 count that could save over $5 billion and reduce the cost per household by almost 30 percent from the 2010 count."

A Census spokesperson said the bureau was on track for a complete and accurate 2020 Census. "Research, testing, and IT system development are on track for the planned end-to-end systems integration test in 2018," the spokesperson said. The bureau plans to use a "combination of commercially proven systems and existing technology for the 2020 Census," and has been working closely with the private sector and government experts to leverage the best technology options.

Still, concerns abide among Census Bureau watchers.  Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), ranking member of the Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told FCW that the Government Accountability Office is concerned about "nagging deficiencies" in the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing program.

"This is valuable oversight of the 2020 Census program we cannot ignore," Connolly said. "We do not want to be forced into technological triage while testing or conducting the Census program because problems with the development and procurement process were not adequately addressed in advance.  An accurate, comprehensive, and efficient 2020 Census program is highly dependent on the successful integration of CEDCAP." 

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