Congress

House panel wants update on Census IT risks

census paper form

End-to-end tests of the IT systems supporting the 2020 census are scheduled to begin in about a year. The 2020 population count is expected to be the most high-tech in U.S. history, and everyone involved is eager to avoid a repeat of the problems that plagued the 2010 enumeration.

Two key lawmakers are asking a government watchdog to stay on high alert, as the Census Bureau proceeds. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman and ranking member of the Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, are asking the Government Accountability Office to keep tabs on an ambitious modernization program at the Census Bureau that is designed to consolidate data collection in advance of the 2020 population count.

The members are following up on a June 9 hearing at which Census officials offered assurances that bureau programs, including the massive Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing project, are on schedule. Lawmakers are looking for further convincing.

"We are concerned about the Bureau's ability to reengineer business processes, and configure, integrate, and test production-level systems in time" for end-to-end testing of census systems set to begin in August 2017, the pair wrote in an Aug. 10 letter to GAO head Gene Dodaro.

The legislators want GAO to probe the current readiness of the Census Bureau to conduct testing for 2020 technology, and plans for alternative approaches to the population count in the event that the planned approach doesn't pass muster. The Census Bureau is planning to acquire commercial solutions for some of the data collection, and the letter seeks an update on acquisition and testing of those products. Meadows and Connolly also want insight on planned security measures for the system – something that is taking on added importance in the wake of problems with the current online Australian census.

End-to-end tests of the census systems are scheduled to run from August 2017 to December 2018. The internet self-response portion of the census – one of the major digital pushes for the 2020 population count – will be tested between March and September of 2018.

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