GAO: Census technology needs more testing

The testing of many of the information technology systems needed to perform the 2010 census has not been completed and the Census Bureau is also behind schedule in testing how those IT systems integrate with each other, according to a Government Accountability Office report.

In addition to needing to do more integration testing, the bureau also has not developed a comprehensive list of the interfaces between all its systems, and officials need to prioritize when those interfaces are tested, based on how critical each interface is to the next
census, according to the report issued March 5.

Several systems that were supposed to be tested during a dress rehearsal were dropped from the rehearsal and did not undergo end-to-end testing, GAO, said, adding that no plan to test those systems has been developed.

Lack of executive-level oversight and guidance is partly to blame for the lack of testing, the report states. For example, the bureau's reports do not provide comprehensive status information on the progress of testing systems and interfaces. The bureau’s assessments of the status of testing are not based on quantitative metrics, according to the report.

“Without adequate oversight and more comprehensive guidance, the bureau cannot ensure that it is thoroughly testing its systems and properly prioritizing testing activities before the 2010 Decennial Census, posing the risk that these systems may not perform as planned,” the report states.

Another GAO report, dated March 5, states that the bureau hasn't worked out all the issues related to the decision not to use handheld computers to conduct field visits to homes that did not respond to mailed census forms.

That follow-up is the bureau’s largest and most costly field operation, according to the report. Initially, handheld computers were going to be used for the follow-up visits, but that was recently changed to a paper-based system because of technology issues.

The bureau has not yet developed a detailed plan for monitoring the development and implementation of non-response follow-ups under the new design, according to the report.

Also, the system that manages the flow of work in field offices is not yet developed, GAO found.

“Lacking plans for the development of both nonresponse follow-up and this management system, the bureau faces the risk of not having them developed and fully tested in time for the 2010 Census,” the report states.

Bureau officials have taken steps to remedy the problems, but much work remains, according to the GAO.

“In short, while the bureau has made some noteworthy progress in gearing up for the enumeration, with just over a year remaining until Census Day, uncertainties surround the bureau’s overall readiness for 2010,” the report states.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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