GAO: Census Bureau must take action to improve IT management
The Census Bureau is at risk of repeating the same information technology mistakes for the 2020 Decennial Census as it did in 2010, according to a Sept. 18 Government Accountability Office report (.pdf). At $13 billion, the 2010 Decennial Census was the costliest U.S. census in history, in part because it had to rely on paper-based systems where the bureau had originally planned to have key IT systems up and running, say report authors.
If the bureau does not implement consistent, bureau-wide processes it could face the same IT governance issues it struggled with in 2010, says GAO. Bureau-wide IT workforce planning also needs to include specific plans to conduct an IT skills inventory and gap analysis, or else the appropriate IT workers will not be in place to manage major IT investments needed to the next census, it adds.
Although the bureau has a new investment management plan, more work is needed to ensure it can select, control and evaluate its IT investments and manage system development, says the report. The plan also lacks instruction on when investments should be called up for review by higher-level boards.
While the bureau is trying to improve workforce planning its efforts are not coordinated. Instead, each directorate manages its own IT workforce planning, says the report. The bureau has also yet to identify its most critical IT jobs and assess its current skills.
Report authors recommend the bureau take eight actions to strengthen IT management, including:
- Finalize a plan for implementing the Enterprise Investment Management Plan, with clear milestones, pilot testing and evaluation for implementation by fiscal 2015;
- Establish a repeatable process for performing IT skills assessments and gap analysis that can be implemented in a timely manner; and
- Establish a process for directorates to coordinate IT workforce planning by aligning strategic planning and budget formulation, involving stakeholders, identifying critical competencies, developing strategies to address IT workforce gaps, and evaluating IT workforce planning efforts.
The bureau agreed with all eight recommendations and outlined steps toward implementation, but also noted that the Enterprise Investment Management Plan was only in draft at the time of review. It also says it has provided "extensive training and education for its IT workforce even though it lacked an integrated plan based on best practices."
The bureau's IT programs have historically come under close scrutiny from the GAO, issuing numerous reports over the past 7 years citing poor testing of systems and lack of executive-level oversight and guidance on Census IT systems. The 2010 Decennial Census also made GAO's list of high-risk programs because of "long-standing weaknesses in the Census Bureau's IT acquisition and contract management function, difficulties in developing reliable life-cycle cost estimates, and key operations that were not tested under operational conditions," says the report.
- download the report, GAO-12-915 (.pdf)