2010 Census:

Census Bureau Generally Follows Selected Leading Acquisition Planning Practices, but Continued Management Attention Is Needed to Help Ensure Success

GAO-06-277: Published: May 18, 2006. Publicly Released: May 18, 2006.

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For the 2010 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) is making the most extensive use of contractors in its history to supply a number of mission-critical functions and technologies. Because of the critical role that contractors will play in the 2010 Census, GAO reviewed the Bureau's acquisition planning process. Specifically GAO's objectives were to (1) determine the status of the Bureau's major decennial contracts, and (2) evaluate the extent to which the Bureau is using selected leading practices to manage its acquisition planning for these contracts.

The Bureau has awarded three of its seven major decennial contracts consistent with their award date, but has changed the award dates of two of the remaining contracts (data dissemination and communications) because of changes in its acquisition approach. Bureau officials noted that the communications contract is currently on track. Still, changes in contract milestones--coupled with the Bureau's tight systems development schedule and interdependence of those systems--could affect the Bureau's ability to develop fully functional and sufficiently mature systems to be tested in concert with other operations during the 2008 Dress Rehearsal for the 2010 Census. Already, aspects of the Bureau's data dissemination system will not be assessed during the dress rehearsal because of changes to solicitation and contract award dates. To date, the Bureau has generally followed five selected leading practices for federal acquisition planning that we evaluated. For example, the Bureau has monitored the acquisition planning process for individual contracts, involved relevant stakeholders in the planning phase, and implemented certain actions to its business processes resulting from its reliance on contractors. However, as part of its strategic planning, the Bureau does not have a schedule for documenting what and when information needs to be provided to development teams to integrate all decennial systems. Additionally, in planning for its decennial acquisition workforce--which includes staff who award or manage contracts--the Bureau has not fully implemented key strategic workforce planning principles. For example, while the Bureau took steps at the division level to plan for its acquisition workforce, it does not assess or monitor at a high level gaps in the skills needed by its decennial acquisition workforce. The Bureau also has not identified the needs of the decennial acquisition workforce in its human capital management plan and did not involve all relevant acquisition workforce stakeholders in the development of this plan.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help the Bureau improve the management of the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to ensure that the key systems to be developed or provided by contractors for the 2010 Census are fully functional and ready to be assessed in concert with other operations as part of the 2008 Dress Rehearsal.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Bureau of the Census

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau (Bureau) reports that the 2008 Dress Rehearsal was curtailed due to problems with the handheld computers (HHC) and on April 3, 2008 redesigned the 2010 Census. As such the Bureau was unable to test all IT systems as we recommended during the 2008 dress rehearsal. According to its November 2008 high-risk improvement plan, the Bureau planned to conduct a comprehensive test of systems in isolation. However, each iteration of IT systems testing revealed new problems, requiring additional testing. However, time has run out for testing and as a result IT systems for managing enumeration activities were not fully functional.

    Recommendation: To help the Bureau improve the management of the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to establish a schedule for the definition of interfaces between all decennial systems so that these data can be provided on a timely basis to development teams.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Bureau of the Census

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To ensure the successful integration of decennial census systems, in 2006 GAO recommended that the Bureau establish a schedule to define interfaces between all decennial systems so that development teams would have this information on a timely basis. In May 2009, the Bureau implemented our recommendation when it established a list of all 122 interfaces in the 2010 Census and their testing status.

    Recommendation: To help the Bureau improve the management of the 2010 Census, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to devote further attention to planning strategically for its decennial acquisition workforce by (1) assessing, at a higher level within the agency, whether it has the acquisition-related skills needed to conduct the 2010 Census by developing strategies to identify and address gaps, monitoring and evaluating progress toward closing gaps, and adjusting strategies accordingly; and (2) identifying the needs of the acquisition workforce in its human capital management plan or another acquisition-specific workforce plan and involving appropriate stakeholders in this planning effort.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Bureau of the Census

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Census Bureau took steps to improve its acquisition workforce for two major decennial contracts--the Field Data Collection Automation and Decennial Response Integration System contracts. For both of these contracts, the Bureau filled positions in the management office with business and technical staff that can support the contracts. In May 2010, the Bureau reported that it closed the skill gaps in the acquisition workforce by filling all staff management positions through a combination of new hires and staff details. Positions were posted for internal and external candidates to apply. The Bureau also formed a Human Capital Working Group spearheaded by the Department of Commerce, Office of Acquisition Management. The working group meets and works together to further develop and enhance the human capital management plan and to ensure that the plan is effectively implemented and executed.

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