Oversight

Is census 2020 running out of runway?

Shutterstock editorial image (by Gil C): State Census Bureau homepage.

With no CIO and the 2020 headcount creeping ever closer, the state of the Census Bureau's IT is catching congressional watchdogs' attention -- again.

In a recent letter, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested detailed updates on the bureau's ongoing CIO search and technology testing progress.

"We remain concerned about the status of planned tests for...critical IT components," the lawmakers wrote.

In November 2015, the committee held a hearing to examine Census' IT situation, and in their letter, lawmakers questioned whether bureau officials had done anything since then to improve the technology for the 2020 count.

"During the hearing, we raised concerns about the bureau's failure to meet its own technology milestones," the letter states. "The information technology challenges for the upcoming census appear similar to those that plagued the 2010 decennial census."

In 2010, the bureau went $3 billion over budget and had to scrap a plan to use custom-built mobile devices after running out of time for end-to-end testing.

Census has already committed to a mobile device-as-a-service model for 2020, and it made that decision ahead of its initial September 2016 deadline. However, other crucial decisions continue to crowd the 2016 schedule.

In January, Associate Director for Decennial Census Programs Lisa Blumerman told FCW the bureau didn't plan to radically change its timeline, despite warnings from the Government Accountability Office that Census needs more testing time.

The House committee requested a response to its letter by May 24.

"The U.S. Census Bureau is on track for a complete 2018 end-to-end test of its systems and a successful 2020 census," a spokesperson told FCW in a statement. "Harry Lee, the assistant director for information technology and deputy chief information officer at the Census Bureau, remains the acting CIO until the position is filled."

Census hasn't had a permanent CIO since July 2015.

The spokesperson said the bureau planned to provide a response by the committee's deadline.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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