IT fixes are needed before the next census, GAO says

New approaches are needed for the 2020 census to fix shortcomings in IT systems and deal with rising costs, according to to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. The report was published Dec. 14 as the House began debating a census reform bill. 

The census of 2010 cost about $13 billion, while the 2020 census may cost as much as $30 billion, the GAO report said. The average cost of the census has doubled, on average, in every decade since 1970.

Although the 2010 census was generally well managed, substantial planning and major changes are needed to improve performance in the next census, according to the report.


Related stories:

Census came in $1.6B under budget, Locke says

Florida site catches what the census missed


“Simply improving current methods will not bring about the reforms needed to control costs and maintain accuracy,” the report states. “Because of demographic and attitudinal trends, securing a complete count has become an increasing challenge. As a result, a fundamental re-examination of the nation’s approach to the census will be needed for a more cost-effective enumeration in 2020.”

Potential focus areas include new data collection methods, changes in the tenure for the Census Director and alignment of the human capital, knowledge sharing and other functions to improve effectiveness and reduce costs, the GAO said.

In addition, the Census Bureau needs to fix IT glitches in critical systems that hampered the most recent census, the report said. For example, the system being used to manage the follow up of non-responsive households had slow performance and limitations on the number of users, resulting in a peak backlog of up to 12 million questionnaires.

To minimize this and other IT problems and to improve the bureau’s ability to manage future IT acquisitions, GAO recommended that the Census Bureau immediately establish and enforce a systems acquisition management policy that incorporates best practices in systems and software acquisition management.

The bureau also should develop an operational road map for the 2020 census that integrates performance, budget, methods, schedule and other information, and should post the road map on the Web and social media outlets for public comments.

Census bureau officials agreed with those recommendations, along with four additional technical recommendations.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Dec. 8 passed legislation that would incorporate management improvements in the 2020 census, and the House is expected to take up the measure this week.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group