Information Technology:

Census Bureau Needs to Implement Key Management Practices

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

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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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau updated the Enterprise Investment Management Plan in June 2013 to include guidelines for frequency of investment review board meetings, which are to occur at least monthly. The plan also included guidelines on the membership of investment review boards and a process that involved escalating issues when cost, risk, or impact thresholds have been met. According to Bureau officials, the threshold for escalation for cost, risk, or impact is 10 percent. By implementing our recommendation, the Bureau has ensured that a more rigorous investment management process is being applied consistently throughout the Bureau.

    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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau updated the Enterprise Investment Management Plan in June 2013 to specify that project managers are responsible for updating performance and investment information at least once a month in the Enterprise Performance Management Tool. As a result, the Bureau has ensured that the enterprise investment management tool that provides centralized information for investment management decision making, contains regularly 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

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau adopted a new system development life-cycle methodology, referred to as the Enterprise System Development Life-Cycle (ESDLC), which was finalized in September 2013 and included the incremental development model referred to as agile. The ESDLC guidance included mandatory work products, artifacts, activities, and phases to be followed during the implementation of systems development projects. The Bureau also developed an ESDLC calendar to help keep track of activities that need to take place, stakeholder groups that should be involved, and deliverables that should be produced during each phase of the agile development life cycle; as well as an agile traceability matrix that shows which artifacts are mandatory for each phase of the life cycle. Finally, the Bureau developed ESDLC tailoring guidance to help determine the project type, methodology (including agile), and level of documentation and oversight that should be applied to each project. By taking these actions, the Bureau has expanded the usefulness of its system development life-cycle methodology to multiple types of system development and acquisition efforts.

    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

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau finalized a new system development life-cycle methodology, referred to as the Enterprise System Development Life-Cycle (ESDLC) in September 2013, which requires projects to follow the Enterprise Requirements Development Process. This process establishes a standard approved method for eliciting and documenting mission, project-level business, capability, and solution-level requirements. The requirements process was developed with input from all Bureau directorates and is to be applied to all projects that are using the ESDLC. By implementing our recommendation, the Bureau has greater assurance that the requirements for information technology systems intended for the 2020 Decennial Census will be effectively developed and managed.

    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

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau developed an Enterprise Investment Management Process Implementation Plan that covers fiscal years 2013 through 2015 and establishes a goal of full implementation by the end of 2015. The plan states that the investment management processes have been piloted. Additionally, the Office of Risk Management and Program Evaluation is implementing investment management incrementally across the Bureau. For example, one of the Bureau's directorates established a Portfolio Management Governance Board and a Program Management Review process based on the principles laid out in the Bureau's Enterprise Investment Management Plan. This approach enables the Bureau to benefit from lessons learned from previous implementations of investment management capabilities. As a result, the Bureau has better assurance that an effective investment management process has been put in place, which will reduce the risk of experiencing the same cost overruns, schedule slippages, and performance shortfalls that affected the 2010 census.

    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

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau integrated requirements development processes into the Enterprise System Development Life Cycle (ESDLC) and developed an ESDLC User Guide which required all new information technology projects to use the ESDLC as of October 1, 2013. The Bureau also developed an ESDLC Governance Plan in April 2014 which established a process for managing continuous improvement of the ESDLC process and measuring the effectiveness of the implementation. In August 2014, the Bureau also launched a new project team that is intended to apply lessons learned to the development of the next iteration of the ESDLC. By taking these actions, the Bureau has better assurance that an effective ESDLC process has been put in place, which will reduce the risk of experiencing the same cost overrun, schedule slippage, and performance shortfall issues that affected the previous census.

    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

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau completed an enterprise wide competency assessment in 2013, which identified bureau-wide mission-critical gaps in technical competencies within the IT and 2020 Census Directorates. In May 2014, the Bureau documented the results and the methodology used to complete this assessment in its 2014 Strategic Workforce Management Report. The Bureau also developed a Strategic Workforce Planning Process document in June 2014 for managing the current baseline workforce and initiating strategies to achieve workforce planning objectives. In addition, the Bureau implemented a Strategic Workforce Planning Process Implementation Plan in September 2014, to begin to institutionalize the process. As a result, the Bureau can ensure that managers have a clear understanding of existing skills gaps, to enable them to address such gaps.

    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

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, the Bureau established workforce planning practices that aligned with strategic initiatives and involved relevant stakeholders and staff across directorates. In 2013, the Bureau completed an enterprise wide competency assessment of over 3,500 headquarters employees in professional job series across 53 divisions, and identified several mission-critical IT gaps. In September 2014, the Bureau finalized action plans to address the identified competency gaps by December 2015. Finally, the Bureau developed documentation on the process for implementing the new strategic workforce planning capability, including managing the current baseline workforce, monitoring performance, and institutionalizing the strategic workforce planning process. By taking these actions, the Bureau should be better positioned to ensure that it has the appropriate IT workforce to successfully deliver the 2020 census.

    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

 

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