Census

GAO again warns of risks in 2020 census

census

When the Government Accountability Office labeled the 2020 census as a high-risk government program in February 2017, the Census Bureau planned to address many of its challenges by re-engineering the census infrastructure and relying on new time and money-saving applications.

Now, a July 16 GAO report details three primary concerns the watchdog agency has with the Bureau’s tech-based approach: untested innovations, implementation of IT systems and cybersecurity risks.

The Bureau plans to use online census forms, which it expects will not only reduce costs but also increase accessibility and efficiency. Other innovations include re-engineering field operations, using administrative records and verifying addresses in-office. While these innovations show promise, they lack proper testing, GAO said, which raises the possibility of unexpected risks.

The 2020 census will rely heavily on IT systems, which also need development and in-depth testing to confirm they function properly. To ensure adequate time for these tasks, the Census Bureau revised its systems development and testing schedule in October 2018, but according to GAO, “the Bureau is at risk of not meeting near-term IT system development and testing schedule milestones for five upcoming 2020 Census operational deliveries.”

Of the 52 systems in play for the population count, so far, only 37 have been authorized. A security assessment under the Bureau’s risk management framework, identified over 330 corrective actions were identified, 217 of which were classified as “high-risk” or “very high-risk.” However, due to technical challenges and limited resources, 104 of the 217 high-risk corrective actions were delayed. 

GAO did point out that Census is making progress addressing many critical issues. It is also working with the Department of Homeland Security to improve its cybersecurity posture.

The GAO recommended that the Census Bureau follow a structured approach to get its newer technology developed and tested as well as correct all the presented cybersecurity issues.

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Anoushka Deshmukh is an intern with Public Sector 360, writing for GCN, FCW and Defense Systems.

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