Information Technology:

Census Bureau Needs to Implement Key Management Practices

GAO-12-915: Published: Sep 18, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 18, 2012.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

David A. Powner
(202) 512-9286
pownerd@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The U.S. Census Bureau (Census Bureau) has drafted a new investment management plan, system development methodology, and requirements development and management processes to improve its ability to manage information technology (IT) investments and system development, but additional work is needed to ensure these processes are effective and successfully implemented across the bureau. GAO and others have identified the importance of implementing critical processes within an agency to allow it to select, control, and evaluate its IT investments and effectively manage system development. The bureau has developed a new draft investment management plan which contains policies and guidance for managing IT projects; however, the plan does not explain when investments with cost or schedule variances should be escalated to higher-level boards for review, or when managers should provide updated investment information to a planned bureau-wide tracking tool. The bureau has also developed a new system development methodology guide, but the guide has critical gaps. For example, although there are five development process models allowed, including the traditional sequential approach and newer more iterative approaches, the guide does not explain how to adapt processes and related work products for newer iterative approaches. Furthermore, while the bureau has developed new draft requirements development and management processes for system development within individual bureau directorates, it has not established a consistent process bureau-wide as GAO recommended in 2005. Lack of a consistent bureau-wide process contributed to significant cost and performance issues in the 2010 Decennial Census. Although the bureau plans to begin operational development for the 2020 Decennial Census in fiscal year 2015, it has not finalized plans for implementing its new investment management and system development processes across the bureau. Until the bureau takes additional action to finalize and implement consistent, bureau-wide processes, it faces the risk that IT governance issues that adversely affected the 2010 Decennial Census will also impact the 2020 Decennial Census.

The bureau has begun to take steps to improve its IT workforce planning; however, many key practices consistent with principles for effective workforce planning remain to be put in place. In particular, there is no bureau-wide coordination of these workforce planning efforts. Each directorate is responsible for its own IT workforce planning and the bureau has not established any efforts to coordinate activities among directorates. While the bureau identified mission critical IT occupations and began an assessment of select mission critical competencies in June 2011, it does not plan to perform a bureau-wide IT competency assessment until the fall of 2012. Until bureau-wide IT workforce planning processes are established and the bureau develops specific plans to conduct an IT skills inventory and gap analysis, the bureau faces the risk that the appropriate IT workforce will not be in place to effectively develop and manage multimillion dollar investments in information systems and technology that will be needed for the 2020 Decennial Census.

Why GAO Did This Study

The 2010 Decennial Census, at a cost of approximately $13 billion, was the most expensive headcount in our nation’s history. Prior to the 2010 Decennial Census, the Census Bureau experienced significant challenges in managing its information systems leading to cost overruns and performance shortfalls which increased the cost of the 2010 census by almost $3 billion. Given the bureau’s extensive use of IT in collecting, analyzing, and distributing information, GAO was asked to determine to what extent the bureau has developed (1) effective policies, procedures, and processes for managing IT investments and system development; and (2) effective practices for acquiring and maintaining IT human capital skills. To address these objectives, GAO identified leading practices in these areas, reviewed bureau policies and procedures to determine whether they followed these practices, and interviewed bureau officials.

What GAO Recommends

To strengthen and improve the Census Bureau’s management of IT, GAO recommends that the Acting Secretary of Commerce take eight actions, including improvements to guidance for its planned IT investment process, a consistent requirements development and management process, an implementation plan and time frames for its investment management process and system development methodology, and coordination of IT workforce planning efforts. In written comments, the Acting Secretary concurred with our recommendations and described steps the bureau was taking to implement them.

For more information, contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or pownerd@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • 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 strengthen and improve the bureau's new investment management, system development, and IT workforce management processes, the Acting Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs who oversees the Economics and Statistics Administration, as well as the Acting Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to establish guidelines for the frequency and membership of bureau investment review boards and thresholds for these boards to escalate cost or schedule variance issues to higher-level boards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To strengthen and improve the bureau's new investment management, system development, and IT workforce management processes, the Acting Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs who oversees the Economics and Statistics Administration, as well as the Acting Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to establish time frames for project managers to provide periodic updates of investment information in the enterprise investment management tool.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To strengthen and improve the bureau's new investment management, system development, and IT workforce management processes, the Acting Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs who oversees the Economics and Statistics Administration, as well as the Acting Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to adapt the bureau's new system development life-cycle methodology, including the mandatory work products, activities, and phases of the project, to the additional software development models beyond the waterfall model that are specified in the methodology.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To strengthen and improve the bureau's new investment management, system development, and IT workforce management processes, the Acting Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs who oversees the Economics and Statistics Administration, as well as the Acting Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to establish and implement a consistent requirements development and management process across the bureau that is integrated with its new system development life-cycle methodology and includes guidance for developing requirements at the strategic mission, business, and project levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To strengthen and improve the bureau's new investment management, system development, and IT workforce management processes, the Acting Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs who oversees the Economics and Statistics Administration, as well as the Acting Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to finalize a plan for implementing the Enterprise Investment Management Plan, including time frames for implementation by fiscal year 2015, pilot testing of the new process, and a documented evaluation process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To strengthen and improve the bureau's new investment management, system development, and IT workforce management processes, the Acting Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs who oversees the Economics and Statistics Administration, as well as the Acting Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to establish a plan for implementing the new system development life-cycle methodology, including requirements development and management processes, across the bureau, to include time frames for implementation by fiscal year 2015, additional pilots of the methodology prior to full implementation, and a documented evaluation process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To strengthen and improve the bureau's new investment management, system development, and IT workforce management processes, the Acting Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs who oversees the Economics and Statistics Administration, as well as the Acting Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to establish a repeatable process for performing IT skills assessments and gap analysis that can be implemented in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To strengthen and improve the bureau's new investment management, system development, and IT workforce management processes, the Acting Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs who oversees the Economics and Statistics Administration, as well as the Acting Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, to establish a process for directorates to coordinate on IT workforce planning, including: (1) aligning IT workforce planning with strategic planning and budget formulation; (2) involving appropriate stakeholders and staff from each directorate; (3) identifying critical occupations, skills, and competencies, and analyzing workforce gaps; (4) developing strategies to address IT workforce gaps; (5) building capacity to address workforce gaps; and (6) monitoring and evaluating IT workforce planning efforts across the bureau, and ensure this process is implemented across the bureau.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Apr 2, 2014

    Feb 26, 2014

    Feb 12, 2014

    Jan 13, 2014

    Nov 13, 2013

    Nov 6, 2013

    Sep 12, 2013

    Sep 11, 2013

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here