In the wake of the 2010 census, which cost U.S. taxpayers about $17.8 billion — 56 percent more than its predecessor in 2000 — the Census Bureau is seeking ways to trim the logistical fat from its data gathering processes, and according to its director, technology is the answer.
In an appearance before the U.S. House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Census Bureau Director John Thompson testified Tuesday alongside Commerce Department CIO Steve Cooper on plans to implement technology that is expected to reduce census costs by $2.5 billion. Other logistical changes will result in an additional $2.7 billion in savings, he added.
“We will now use mobile technology and smartphones to achieve significant efficiencies for the 2020 Census,” Thompson said. “We are now able to provide optimized work assignments to our enumerators, including daily route assignments and the best time of day to attempt contact. We are also able to provide the supervisors of our enumerators with real-time updates and alerts regarding the progress of the workers that they oversee.”
The overarching strategy of the new enterprise plan — the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing initiative (CEDCaP) — seeks to unify the more than 100 duplicative systems used in the 2010 census into a single central data management platform.
“The modernized 2020 Census requires an information technology architecture and infrastructure that is agile, flexible, scalable and able to accommodate innovations and advances in technology,” Cooper said. “Technology also serves as a change catalyst for developing enterprise capabilities that will create new architectures, and modernize data and systems management for the 2020 Census and all Census Bureau censuses and surveys — from data collection and processing to data dissemination.”
At least one facet of CEDCaP will include a partnership with AT&T, announced Monday, under which the census’s 20,000 field workers will use AT&T’s national 4G LTE network and Internet of Things services to support survey work. AT&T’s Control Center Platform, the company’s flagship IoT management system, will act as a centralized hub to track workers and information. Control of the Census Bureau’s wireless network will be completely within its own hands — including the setting up and authorizing of PIN cards for employees. The bureau will use its current identity verification system, equipping users with derived credentials to log into the system.
“The AT&T solution will allow each census field representative to maintain productivity while offering cost savings, predictability and control to Census Bureau management,” Mike Leff, vice president AT&T Government Solutions’s civilian team, told FedScoop. “The solution offers the Census Bureau the flexibility to scale users quickly and easily through an easy to use self-service toolset.”
Though the bureau has made strides in meeting its 2020 goals, inspectors general with the Government Accountability Office expressed doubts as to the scope and ambition of CEDCaP, and other plans to integrate IT into the census process. Carol Cha, GAO director of information technology acquisition management issues, indicated that the five years until the 2020 Census is not enough time for a massive project.
“What we find across the federal government with troubled or failed IT projects, the common thread behind all of these is that they’re simply too large in scope,” she said. “In looking at the scope of CEDCaP itself, it’s simply too large for the time remaining.”
Despite GAO concerns, House members remained optimistic.
“The advent of technology holds the promise of making this his once in a decade enumeration less arduous, and hopefully, less costly,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va. “Success will be largely dependent on the management and deployment of technology.”