The 2020 Census is likely to be the most expensive in U.S. history—it is projected to cost over $15 billion. Its success will depend on how well the Census Bureau manages upcoming peak operations in the midst of the COVID-19 virus that has spread across the country; recruits and hires its workforce; develops, tests, and secures its IT systems; and ensures participation by developing community partnerships, combating disinformation, and protecting the privacy of data. The Census Bureau is working on these activities, but faces significant challenges that could hurt the quality, cost, schedule, and security of the count. The 2020 Census is on our High Risk list.
The Census Bureau is required by the Constitution to conduct a decennial census of the U.S. population. Census data is used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives, redraw congressional districts, and allocate federal funds. This data also provides a social, demographic, and economic profile of the nation to guide policy decisions at each level of government.
The Census Bureau began its 2020 count of the U.S. population by counting its first residents in Toksook Bay, Alaska, in January 2020. By December 31, it must deliver the apportionment counts to the President. (Census Day for the 2020 Census is April 1—i.e., the Census Bureau wants to know where you live as of April 1.)
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As part of GAO's High Risk series, Robert Goldenkoff, a director in GAO's Strategic Issues team, describes why GAO put the 2020 Decennial Census on its list of programs at high risk for waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.