Key Issues > 2020 Census - High Risk Issue
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2020 Census - High Risk Issue

To help control costs and maintain accuracy, the 2020 Census design includes new procedures and technology that have not been used extensively in earlier censuses, if at all. While these innovations show promise for a more cost-effective head count, they also introduce risks.

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One of the most important functions of the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) is conducting a comprehensive count of the U.S. population every 10 years. The 2020 Census will present a particular challenge to the Bureau as it seeks to both control cost and maintain accuracy–while it implements several innovations and manages the processes of acquiring and developing new and modified IT systems supporting them.

With a life-cycle cost of over $12 billion (in 2020 dollars), the 2010 Census was the most expensive U.S. census in history. The experiences gained from the 2010 Census along with recently completed census tests can enhance the Bureau’s readiness for the 2020 Census. Moving forward, it will be important to take actions to address several key issues, for example:

  • Ensure key census-taking activities are fully tested. Given the difficult operating environment, rigorous testing is a critical risk mitigation strategy because it provides information on the feasibility and performance of individual census-taking activities and systems, their potential for achieving desired results, and the extent to which they are able to function together under full operational conditions.
  • Improve its ability to manage, develop, and secure its IT systems. The redesign of the 2020 Census relies on many new and modified IT systems. The Bureau is relying on contractor support in many key areas, including the technical integration of all of the key systems and infrastructure and the development of many of the key data collection systems; therefore the Bureau will need to focus on sound management and oversight of the key contracts, projects, and systems. The Bureau also needs to focus on the significant challenges related to securing its IT systems and data to ensure that the appropriate controls are implemented.
  • Develop and manage on the basis of reliable cost estimates. Reliable cost estimates that appropriately account for risks facing the Bureau can help with the management of large complex activities like the 2020 Census, as well as help Congress make funding decisions and provide oversight.
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