Testing of IT options for the 2020 census might not be completed before the Census Bureau has to decide on the operational design of the decennial count. Bureau officials plan to make that call in September 2015.
Although the agency has made progress in research and testing the IT it plans to use, several of the supporting projects have neither a schedule nor a detailed plan, according to a Government Accountability Office report released April 3.
GAO auditors said the bureau has begun research on six IT-related projects, including a proposal to use the Internet for survey response, for which the bureau has been buying up URLs, and allowing census workers to use their own mobile devices to collect data. The goal is to have at least 60 percent of responses submitted electronically, which should drive down costs for postage, paper and staff time, Census Bureau CIO Brian McGrath told FCW late last year.
But four of the six projects do not have finalized schedules, three have no plan for gauging progress, and the two projects that do have schedules are not expected to be completed until after the September 2015 decision on the census' design, GAO said.
The decision must be made around the midpoint of the 10-year cycle so that the acquisition process can begin in fiscal 2017 or 2018 and allow provide plenty of time to test and deploy equipment.
GAO also criticized the Census Bureau for failing to determine which projects are the most important to complete before the decision on deployment must be made.
"Officials stated that they are working with project teams to determine what needs to be completed and by when to support the design decision, but as of December 2013 they had not specified when this would be completed," the report states. "Without prioritizing its projects and establishing schedules and plans, the bureau risks not making a timely and well-informed design decision for the 2020 census."
The bureau has identified potential risks with its IT programs "but has not consistently developed mitigation plans for all of them," GAO auditors wrote.
They recommended that the bureau set priorities for its IT-related research and testing projects and develop project schedules to reflect those priorities. The Commerce Department, of which the Census Bureau is a component, concurred with GAO's recommendations and said it had already begun to address them.
(By John Bicknell)