A GAO report has found that the Census Bureau is behind schedule with the technology it needs to count the population in 2020, and it still has not addressed all the necessary security risks.
The Bureau is planning a number of innovations for the Census, which include relying more on automation, using Medicare and Medicaid records and allowing the public to respond using the Internet. These plans all introduce new risks and need robust testing to ensure systems are secure. However, citing budgetary uncertainties, the Bureau canceled its 2017 field test and then scaled back its 2018 End-to End Test by reducing the number of test sites from three to one, and GAO has raised concerns about the sufficiency of testing.
GAO also determined that the schedule for developing IT systems to support the 2018 End-to-End Test has experienced several delays that need to be addressed to keep the development on track. The study also found that the Bureau needs to control any further cost growth: the Department of Commerce now projects that the life-cycle cost of the 2020 Census will be $15.6 billion, a more than $3 billion (27 percent) increase over its earlier estimate .
In total, GAO has made 84 recommendations specific to the 2020 Census, and as of this month 30 had not been implemented.
Some of these issues were discussed in front of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday by officials from GAO, the Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce.
The Census Bureau plans to use 44 systems, which all have to be signed off before they can be deployed. According to GAO, only eight of these systems have been fully authorized, while the remaining 36 still need to complete system and integration testing. Originally the Census Bureau allowed six to eight weeks for the testing of each system but GAO found that the delayed rollout is forcing testing to be completed within five to eight days in some cases.
In his statement before the Committee, David Powner, director of IT at GAO, said, “Without sufficient testing, operational problems can go undiscovered and the opportunity to improve operations will be lost, in part because the 2018 End-to-End Test is the last opportunity to demonstrate census technology and procedures across a range of geographic locations.”