A letter from US Senator Michael Enzi (WY – R) – the Chairman of US Senate Committee on the Budget – to newly appointed US Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham.
Dillingham was nominated by Trump in July 2018. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held hearings for Dillingham’s nomination on October 3rd.
C-SPAN wrote of Dillingham’s hearing, “Mr. Dilllingham also answered several questions about the potential inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census form, but he did not state his position on the issue, citing its current consideration in federal court. He did say, however, that he would administer the census in accordance with the judicial decision, no matter the outcome.”
After being vacant for more than a year and a half, the Washington Post reported, Dillingham was “approved in a unanimous vote” as the US Census Bureau Director on January 2, 2019.
The new director, Steven Dillingham, was approved in a unanimous vote Wednesday night, six months after his nomination was announced. He will head a bureau that conducts the largest peacetime mobilization of the U.S. government, hiring hundreds of thousands of temporary staff to help count every person residing in the country while hewing to tight deadlines and budget considerations.Washington Post
Senator Enzi points Dillingham to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, 2020 CENSUS: Continued Management Attention Needed to Address Challenges and Risks with Developing, Testing, and Securing IT Systems, released August 30, 2018, pinpointing the conclusion of the report that the “Bureau continues to face significant challenges and risks in its efforts to manage the schedules, contracts, costs, and cybersecurity of its 2020 Census systems,” informing Dillingham that “information technology (IT) appears to be a major driver for the increased cost estimate.”
As you may already know, the 2010 Census was the most expensive in history, costing about $12.3 billion. With the 2020 Decennial Census (2020 Census) quickly approaching, the Bureau must ensure that it produces an accurate count while controlling costs.
I am encouraged that the Census Bureau (Bureau) is trying to reduce these costs. The changes the Bureau has unveiled for the 202 Census – such as permitting respondents to complete their forms online, reengineering data collection methods, and using administrative records to limit follow-up – could help save important tax dollars.
But despite these changes, the Bureau’s estimated costs for the 2020 Census continue to rise. In December 2017, the Bureau estimated the total cost of the redesigned census to be about $15.6 billion1 – including a $1.2 billion Secretarial-Controlled Contingency fund for unforeseen events.2 This is a significant increase from the 2010 Census.190201 Enzi to Census Bureau pdf
According to the August report, the GAO has made “93 recommendations specific to the 2020 Census to address the issues raised in this and other products” over the last 10 years. “As of August 2018, the Bureau had implemented 61 recommendations, and had taken initial steps—including developing action plans—to implement the other 32 recommendations.”
“The Bureau plans to significantly change the methods and technology it uses to count the population with the 2020 Census, such as by offering an option for households to respond to the survey via the Internet. In preparation for the 2020 Census, the Bureau is conducting a test of all key systems and operations (referred to as the 2018 End-to-End Test), which began in August 2017 and runs through April 2019.”
The GAO made no new recommendations as per the August report, however, they did identify continuing “challenges and risks.”
Schedule management: The Bureau’s schedule for developing systems to support the 2018 End-to-End Test has experienced delays. These delays have compressed the time available for system and integration testing, and several systems experienced problems during the 2018 End-to-End Test. In addition, the Bureau is currently revising the system development and testing schedule for the 2020 Census as a result of challenges experienced and lessons learned while completing these activities during the 2018 End-to-End Test. Continued schedule management challenges may compress the time available for the remaining system and integration testing and increase the risk that systems will not function as intended.
Contractor oversight: Among other challenges, the Bureau is still filling vacancies in the government program management office that is overseeing its key integration contractor. In June 2018, Bureau officials reported that 33 of the office’s 58 federal employee positions were vacant. This adds risk that the office may not be able to provide adequate oversight of contractor cost, schedule, and performance.
IT cost growth: The Bureau reported that its estimated IT costs had grown from $3.41 billion in October 2015 to $4.97 billion in December 2017—an increase of $1.56 billion. This increase was due, in large part, to the addition of technical integration services and updated costs for other major contracts (such as the contract for mobile devices). The amount of cost growth since the October 2015 estimate raises questions as to whether the Bureau has a complete understanding of the IT costs associated with the 2020 Census.
Cybersecurity: The Bureau has made progress by completing the security assessments for 33 of the 44 systems needed to support the 2018 End-to-End Test. However, as of June 2018, the Bureau had identified nearly 3,100 security weaknesses that will need to be addressed in the coming months. Because the 2020 Census involves collecting personal information from over a hundred million households across the country, it will be important that the Bureau addresses system security weaknesses in a timely manner and ensures that risks are at an acceptable level before systems are deployed.GAO-18-655