Dodging 'fatal errors' for Census 2020 tech

Shutterstock image: mobile device security, continuous monitoring concept.

Congress will be keeping a close eye on the Census Bureau.

In a Nov. 3 hearing held by House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittees on Government Operations and Information Technology, Census Director John Thompson defended the bureau against the concerns of the Government Accountability Office and House members alike.

Census released its 2020 tech plan -- which Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) called "probably the most ambitious census plan in our nation's history" -- in early October.

Released a few weeks later: a Census CIO job posting.

The job has been open since July, with a deputy doing the work in the interim, but given how recently the actual posting has gone up, Commerce Dept. CIO Steven Cooper said he has not yet reviewed any resumes.

Thompson said the hiring of a new CIO could be a quick process or a protracted one – it's still up in the air.

Census' plan leans on a variety of tools to cut costs, from using aerial imagery to map addresses to relying on Internet responses for a huge chunk of overall census responses. The Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing Investment, called CEDCaP, aims to be a single repository for all Census Bureau surveys, not just the Constitutionally mandated decennial count. And the agency plans to use an app, rather than pen and paper, for enumerators to log in-person responses.

GAO Director of Information Technology Acquisition Management Issues Carol Cha sounded alarm bells.

Of the myriad concerns GAO has raised about Census tech plans, Cha said 66 have been closed, 19 are under review and 30 still require action. Many of those issues relate to identification and authentication concerns, she said.

"[So] all the things that have led to a number of breaches, not only in the private sector, but in the federal government," noted Information Technology Subcommittee Chair Will Hurd (R-Texas). "When is this going to be completed?"

Cooper said the plan was to close all open GAO actions by Dec. 31, 2015.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.


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