Census' $2B+ IT toolkit starts to take shape

With preparations for a dress rehearsal set to begin in August, the Census Bureau is rounding out the contracted services for its 2020 count.

Shutterstock image: mobile enterprise.

With preparations for the dress rehearsal set to begin in August, the Census Bureau is rounding out its multi-billion-dollar IT toolkit to conduct its 2020 count.

The five contracts that Census has awarded since July 2016, which cover various technological needs for an enumeration the agency hopes will be both smoother and $5 billion cheaper than the 2010 count, exceed $2.1 billion in total.

Census plans to pilot the various contracted services in the 2018 end-to-end test to make sure they’re ready for the main event in 2020. 

Most recently, the bureau awarded its decennial device-as-a-service contract to CDW-G, which will cover all mobile devices and services for the 2018 end-to-end test as well as the 2020 field operations.

That single contract, which won out over the “bring your own device” strategy, is worth $283,492,962 over its lifetime, according to a Census spokesperson.  The bureau had originally projected that 300,000 enumerators would be conducting the tally on mobile devices, but that number is now expected to grow.

Providing the devices “is sort of the easiest job but depends the most on the other contracts ... over which they have no control,” said one outside observer of the process. “It’s relatively easy for the contractor to buy the [mobile device] and hand it out to people ... but unless you have these other systems to put onto it and equip it to do all the telecommunication links ... it’s just a big bulk purchase of phones.”

The Census’s biggest IT contract awarded to date went to T-Rex Corporation, a technology provider and consulting company that has worked on past decennials, as well as census operations in Canada and the United Kingdom.

That contract, worth about $890 million, charges T-Rex with integrating more than 50 IT systems for Census. T-Rex will also support all design and architecture engineering activities, including infrastructure, disaster recovery and data center capabilities.

The single-award Census Questionnaire Assistance deal, won by General Dynamics Information Technology at roughly a $430 million price tag, covers support of the program’s contact center systems and operations support.

The CQA provides multi-language telephone and web-based assistance to help respondents with specific items on the census forms. Additionally, per the contract, GD-IT will hire and onboard new employees, provide equipment and facilities and integrate the technologies.

The bureau also awarded the $415 million Integrated Communicated contract to the marketing firm Young and Rubicam to design an awareness program that will promote self-response to limit in-person follow-ups by enumerators.

Lastly, Census awarded its Schedule A Human Resources Payroll Systems contract, worth about $130 million, to CSRA, which will provide recruiting, hiring, onboarding and payroll capabilities to the field staff.

Before year’s end, Census plans to award two more contracts -- one for the fingerprinting and badging operations, and the other for IT equipment, services and support for regional Census offices -- in order to incorporate those into the 2018 end-to-end test and make sure they’re functioning smoothly before deploying them for the 2020 count.

Associate Director for Decennial Census Programs Lisa Blumerman estimated these will be awarded in fall or winter.

Budget uncertainty and insufficient funding have repeatedly been sticking points -- and causes for cancelled tests and programs -- in the lead-up to the decennial. Most recently, Census pared down its critical 2018 dress rehearsal from three test sites to just one to match President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal of $1.524 billion for the bureau.  Phil Sparks, co-director of the watchdog group Census Project, called that amount “totally inadequate.”

The House Appropriations Committee recently voted on a spending bill that proposed $1.507 billion for Census. In a report accompanying the bill, the committee urged the bureau “to reconsider its proposal to cancel two of the three” 2018 test sites.

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