Information Technology:

Census Bureau Needs to Improve Its Risk Management of Decennial Systems

GAO-08-79: Published: Oct 5, 2007. Publicly Released: Oct 5, 2007.

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Automation and information technology (IT) are expected to play a critical role in the 2010 decennial census. The Census Bureau plans to spend about $3 billion on automation and technology that are to improve the accuracy and efficiency of census collection, processing, and dissemination. The Bureau is holding what it refers to as a Dress Rehearsal, during which it plans to conduct operational testing that includes the decennial systems. In view of the importance of IT acquisitions to the upcoming census, GAO was asked to (1) determine the status and plans for four key IT acquisitions, including schedule and cost, and (2) assess whether the Bureau is adequately managing associated risks. To achieve its objectives, GAO analyzed acquisition documents and the projects' risk management activities and compared these activities to industry standards.

Three key systems acquisitions for the 2010 Census are in process, and a fourth contract was recently awarded. The ongoing acquisitions show mixed progress in meeting schedule and cost estimates. Currently, two of the projects are not on schedule, and the Bureau plans to delay certain functionality. The award of the fourth contract, originally scheduled for 2005, was awarded in September 2007. In addition, one project has incurred cost overruns and increases to its projected life-cycle cost. As a result of the schedule changes, the full complement of systems and functionality that were originally planned will not be available for the Dress Rehearsal operational testing. This limitation increases the importance of further system testing to ensure that the decennial systems work as intended. The Bureau's project teams for each of the four IT acquisitions have performed many practices associated with establishing sound and capable risk management processes, but critical weaknesses remain. Three project teams had developed a risk management strategy that identified the scope of the risk management effort. However, not all project teams had identified risks, established mitigation plans, or reported risks to executive-level officials. For example, one project team did not adequately identify risks associated with performance issues experienced by mobile computing devices. In addition, three project teams developed mitigation plans that were often untimely or included incomplete activities and milestones for addressing the risks. Until the project teams implement key risk management activities, they face an increased probability that decennial systems will not be delivered on schedule and within budget or perform as expected.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau developed risk mitigation plans which include mitigation plan steps and a schedule for completing the necessary mitigation actions.

    Recommendation: To strengthen risk management activities for the decennial census acquisitions, the Secretary should also direct the Director of the Census Bureau to ensure that project teams develop risk mitigation plans for the significant risks, including defining the mitigating actions, milestones, thresholds, and resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau established risk registers for the major IT systems, including risks related to mobile computing devices and system interfaces, which include mitigation plan steps and a schedule for completing the necessary mitigation actions.

    Recommendation: To strengthen risk management activities for the decennial census acquisitions, the Secretary should also direct the Director of the Census Bureau to ensure that project teams identify and develop a comprehensive list of risks for the acquisitions, particularly those for system interfaces and mobile computing devices, and analyze them to determine probability of occurrence and appropriate mitigating actions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2010, we verified, in response to our recommendation, the Census Bureau had planned for and performed end-to-end testing, involving multiple systems, for 35 of 40 key Census operations. More specifically, the Bureau completed testing of most of the key operations removed from the Dress Rehearsal, including Group Quarters Enumeration, Nonresponse Follow-up, Enumeration at Transitory Locations, and Census Coverage Measurement.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Bureau's four key acquisitions for the 2010 Census operate as intended, we are making four recommendations. First, to ensure that the Bureau's decennial systems are fully tested, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Director of the Census Bureau to direct the Decennial Management Division and Geography Division to plan for and perform end-to-end testing so that the full complement of systems is tested in a census-like environment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the project teams provide monthly status reports to senior Bureau executives and quarterly briefings to the Department of Commerce IT Review Board that include significant project risks.

    Recommendation: To strengthen risk management activities for the decennial census acquisitions, the Secretary should also direct the Director of the Census Bureau to ensure that project teams provide regular briefings on significant risks to senior executives, so that they can play a role in mitigating these risks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

 

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