The Census Bureau began its search Tuesday for a telecommunications vendor to supply the smartphones and mobile services necessary for door-to-door field operations during the 2020 decennial census, the director of the bureau said.
Director John Thompson told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Government Operations in testimony Wednesday that the Census Bureau released a request for proposals on its device-as-a-service contract the day prior — though it’s not yet available online.
Census will look to “lease smartphones as the predominant mobile device for enumeration and address canvassing,” Thompson’s prepared testimony reads.
“This contract vehicle will ensure the best local telecommunication carrier when available, and will cover the mobile device provisioning, shipping, storage, and disposition,” his written testimony says, with a plan to award it in February next year.
The bureau will need the eventual awardee to ship and help set up a potential 75,000 devices prior to an August 2019 test and 400,000 in February 2020 for actual enumeration and nonresponse follow up, it estimated in a request for information from March.
The Census Bureau decided on the device-as-a-service model earlier this year instead of a bring your own device, or BYOD, model, which would have allowed enumerators to use their own devices for work.
“[A] BYOD option would have resulted in a diverse universe of smartphones that would have included numerous providers and operating systems over which the Census Bureau had no control,” a January memo on the decision says. “Managing updates to multiple mobile device operating systems and smartphones days before enumeration begins, or during enumeration, would have presented significant risk.”
It would have also been difficult to determine how to reimburse enumerators for use of their own devices and develop acceptable use policies for a wide variety of devices and systems, the memo says.
Census CIO Kevin Smith said Wednesday, despite reports that say otherwise, the Census is not locking in to a single operating system, however. His office is still working to develop the actual platform enumerators will use, but he said it will work on whatever operating system this new procurement puts in their hands.
“There are very, very, very small changes between working on Android or working on iOS or any other mobile device platforms,” he said.
Subcommittee Chair Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., expressed concern with the possibility of different systems on the devices and that it would “create potential conflict there.”
Smith, however, stood firm in the decision.
“The system itself is portable. It’s like running Microsoft Word on an Apple computer or on a Microsoft computer — that version of the word processing software works on both,” he said. “I’m comfortable with picking this industry leader to produce the application and that their application works on Android, works on iOS and will be able to work with whatever comes back from the device-as-a-service contract.”