House committee chides Census Bureau for failure to deliver information about IT systems

Trey Gowdy (House Oversight and Government Reform Committee / Flickr)

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is not pleased with the U.S. Census Bureau for ignoring a request for an update by early December about a crucial IT project.

In a letter Feb. 20 to acting Director Ron Jarmin, the committee’s bipartisan leadership notes that close to three months after the original deadline has passed, “you still have not provided the requested documents or even responded” to the request for an update.

The panel wants information about the rollout of new and updated IT systems set to be tested during the 2018 end-to-end test for the 2020 census, the final such dry run.

“The Bureau’s failure to respond to the Committee’s request is unacceptable,” says the letter from Reps. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va. “Provide the requested documents and information immediately.”

The 2020 census is being heralded as the first modern census, with Americans allowed to respond via the internet. The technology presents some added organizational challenges for the bureau: For example, it must build-in the opportunity to test whether the internet response system actually works.

“The 2018 test is the final opportunity for Census to field test more than 40 key IT systems prior to the 2020 decennial census, most of which are new to the upcoming decennial census,” the committee writes.

The letter also reminds Jarmin and his staff of the five main topics the committee originally sought information about:

  1. A list of the critical path of IT systems necessary for successfully carrying out the Bureau’s 2020 redesign;
  2. A copy of the most recent delivery schedule for all IT systems to be part of the 2018 end- to-end test;
  3. An updated delivery and testing schedule for all IT systems to be used in the 2020 Census which is to be provided on a recurring monthly basis through April 1, 2020;
  4. All documents referring or relating to the Bureau’s revised baselining of the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing; and
  5. All documents referring or relating to the Bureau’s contingency planning for additional testing of lT systems that are not fully tested by the completion of the 2018 end-to-end testing.

This isn’t the first time the topic of the impending 2020 census has raised emotions between Congress and the bureau. In an October 2017 hearing, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the House Oversight Committee that all unfinished IT systems were “reasonably on schedule.” The Government Accountability Office’s David Powner did not agree.

How is it, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., mused at the time, that “the Census Bureau always seems surprised that 10 years have passed”?

The Census Bureau did not respond to request for comment.

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2020 census, Census, Census Bureau, Gerry Connolly, House Oversight and Reform Committee, Mark Meadows, Ron Jarmin, Trey Gowdy
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