GAO: Census needs more risk management

A lack of risk management is hobbling the Census Bureau’s efforts to test information technology programs for the upcoming decennial count, the Government Accountability Office said.

In a report released Oct. 5, GAO said the bureau could face “increased probability that decennial systems will not be delivered on schedule and within budget or perform as expected.”

Census has not properly applied risk management processes, planned for mitigating risks or informed senior officials of such plans for four major IT acquisitions for the 2010 census, according to the report.

The bureau is in the testing phase of the 2008 Census Dress Rehearsal and is using handheld computing devices to conduct trials of the Field Data Collection Automation program in North Carolina and California. GAO noted that the bureau also failed to plan for potential risks with those devices, including malfunctions.

GAO recommended that Carlos Gutierrez, secretary of the Commerce Department, of which the bureau is a part, ask the bureau’s director to have two component offices list the risks for acquisitions and develop appropriate mitigation plans.

In the past, GAO has said the bureau lacked organizational policies for managing acquisitions. In a March 2006 report, it said that without such policies, Census acquisitions risk being run in an “ad hoc and chaotic manner.”

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