The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released today that the Census Bureau “is generally on track” to meet some of the early operational milestones for the 2020 Census, but that the Commerce Department component still has a lot of work to do in a short time on 15 IT systems that are critical to upcoming service deliveries for next year’s census.

On the bright side, GAO said the Census Bureau is “generally on track to meet upcoming selected key dates.” It continued, “In August 2019, the Bureau began in-field address canvassing, which helps ensure a complete and accurate list of addressees that the Bureau uses to invite residents to participate in the Census. The Bureau experienced high levels of productivity for the in-field address canvassing operation, which finished in early October 2019.”

But crunch-time on IT system and security work is continuing in full force, GAO indicated.

“The Bureau has made progress in executing work against its development and testing schedule for its 52 information technology (IT) systems expected to be used during the 2020 Census,” GAO said. “For example, in August 2019, the Bureau completed and deployed the systems needed for address canvassing.”

“However, as of August 2019, the Bureau was at risk of not meeting key near-term IT system development and testing schedule milestones for 15 systems needed for six upcoming 2020 Census operational deliveries, including self-response (e.g., the ability to respond to the 2020 Census through the internet). These 15 at-risk systems add uncertainty to a highly compressed time frame for completing system development and testing work over the next 7 months,” the watchdog agency said.

And the Census still has a lot of security work to do, GAO said.

“The IT systems expected to be used to conduct the 2020 Census will also need to undergo a full security assessment and receive an approved authorization to operate from the authorizing official prior to their use. The Bureau has made significant progress in completing security assessments as a majority of the 52 systems had approved authorizations to operate as of October 2019,” GAO said.

On the operations side, GAO said the Census Bureau “is experiencing delays in hiring for early operations” due to delays in processing background clearances and greater than expected attrition. “The Bureau plans to address these challenges by adapting its hiring and onboarding process for peak operations in May 2020, including recruiting more applicants, expanding the number of locations for selected applicants to get fingerprinted, and providing additional training for replacement hires,” GAO said.

GAO said it has made 107 recommendations over the past ten years specific to 2020 Census issues, and as of earlier this month 26 of them had not been fully implemented by the bureau.  The report it released today is the “first in a series” of updates that GAO plans to provide on 2020 Census activities and operations.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.