Significant Problems of Critical Automation Program Contribute to Risks Facing 2010 Census
GAO-08-550T, Mar 5, 2008
Of the $11 billion total estimated cost of the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau planned (as of 2007) to spend about $3 billion on automation and information technology in order to improve census coverage, accuracy, and efficiency. Among other things, the Bureau is planning to automate many of its planned field data collection activities as a way to reduce costs and improve data quality and operational efficiency. Known as Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA), this initiative is acquiring handheld mobile computing devices that, along with other technology, are undergoing operational testing during a Census "Dress Rehearsal" that is taking place from February 2006 to June 2009. The $600 million FDCA program is a crucial component of the reengineered processes envisioned for the 2010 Census. In March 2006, GAO reported on the management capabilities of the FDCA program, and in October 2007, it reported on FDCA's status and plans. As requested, this testimony summarizes key findings from these two reports, as well as subsequent Bureau actions.
In March 2006, GAO reported that the FDCA project office had not implemented the full set of acquisition management capabilities (such as project and acquisition planning and requirements development and management) that were needed to effectively manage the program. For example, although the project office had developed baseline functional requirements for the acquisition, the Bureau had not yet validated and approved them. Valid baseline requirements are crucial for success, because they are the basis for the detailed operational requirements that determine system development. Without well-defined requirements, system acquisitions are at risk of cost increases, schedule delays, or performance shortfalls. Accordingly, GAO recommended that the Bureau validate and approve baseline requirements for FDCA. In October 2007, GAO reported that changes to requirements had been a contributing factor to both cost increases and schedule delays experienced by the FDCA program. Increases in the number of requirements led to the need for additional work and staffing. In addition, an initial underestimate of the contract costs caused both cost and schedule revisions. In response to the cost and schedule changes, the Bureau decided to delay certain system functionality, which increased the likelihood that the systems testing at the Dress Rehearsal would not be as comprehensive as planned. In addition, despite reports from Census field staff during spring Dress Rehearsal operations that data transmissions from handheld mobile computing devices were slow and inconsistent, the project team did not adequately identify performance issues with these devices as a risk. The magnitude of the performance difficulties was not clear, and the Bureau had not fully specified how it planned to measure the devices' performance, as GAO had recommended. Without effective management of these and other key risks, the FDCA program faced an increased probability that the system would not be delivered on schedule and within budget or perform as expected. Accordingly, GAO recommended that the FDCA project team strengthen its risk management activities, including risk identification and oversight. The Bureau has recently made efforts to further define the requirements for the FDCA program, and it has estimated that the revised requirements will result in significant cost increases. Rough estimates shared with the Congress and the Administration range from $600 million to $2 billion; however, specific programs and operations affected have not been identified, nor has the Bureau decided on a clear approach to address these issues. In view of the time frames for the 2010 Census, it is essential that the Bureau act rapidly to make decisions and to implement GAO's recommendations.