Census delays field IT contract award

Shutterstock image (by Mascha Tace): business contract competition, just out of reach. 

With a critical test now underway, the Census Bureau said it was pushing back an award for field technology to next year.

To save billions and conduct a more smoothly run Census compared to the 2010 count, the bureau has hoped to lean on technology more than ever. They've awarded five commercial IT awards made since July 2016, with a total ceiling value of $2 billion. Census has two awards left to go.

Al Fontenot, assistant director of decennial census programs directorate, said at the Census Scientific Advisory Committee meeting Sept. 14 that the bureau plans to award the single contract for fingerprinting and badging operations through 2020 this month.

The field IT contract, which the bureau anticipated would be awarded before year's end, has been pushed into 2018.

Fontenot said the bureau now estimates the single contract for providing IT equipment, logistics services, maintenance and support for regional census centers, area census offices, paper data capture centers and remote workers through 2020 will be awarded in February or March.

Fontenot also said that Census's updated operational plan -- version 3.0, which will include changes to reflect canceled, suspended and revised programs made since the last version from Oct. 2015 -- is expected to be released in October. 

Also on the horizon, said acting deputy director Enrique Lamas, is Census's long-awaited updated cost estimate.

Census has repeatedly been dinged by the Government Accountability Office and congressional watchdogs for its unreliable cost estimates. At the most recent quarterly program management review, Associate Director for Decennial Census Programs Lisa Blumerman said the updated cost estimate will be released later this fall.

Lamas said that the task force of cost estimators from the Department of Commerce, the Office of Management and Budget and outside consultants assembled by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross "has put together" a cost estimate that will be submitted to Congress and the public after OMB review.

In May, Ross told Congress if the cost estimate indicates the Census needs more funding, he would "explain why" and "try to work with you on solutions," a position Lamas said Ross still holds.

Lamas added that Ross has been "very supportive" of not only the 2020 main event, for which he stressed the secretary's top priority is an accurate count, but also of Census's economic surveys. 

In addition to concerns about funding, Fontenot said "what keeps me up at night" is the scalability of Census's IT systems, one of the critical points of testing in the 2018 dress rehearsal, as it prepares for 2020.

"If we are resourced properly, it will help us," he added.

Acting Director Ron Jarmin echoed these concerns about system scalability, adding that in advance of the 2018 test, his focus is taking measures to make sure the bureau can handle increased data and prevent systems from crashing.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter


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