2000 Census:

Headquarters Processing System Status and Risks

GAO-01-1: Published: Oct 17, 2000. Publicly Released: Oct 17, 2000.

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The accuracy of the 2000 decennial census depends in part on the proper functioning of 10 interrelated information systems, one of which is the Census Bureau's headquarters (HQ) processing system. The HQ processing system consists of 48 applications, all developed internally by the Bureau, that support various census operations, such as updating address files, creating a file of census responses, and preparing data for tabulation and dissemination. GAO found that the Bureau lacks effective, mature software and system development processes to control development of its HQ processing system applications.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Recognizing the need to make near-term improvements to reduce the risk resulting from its headquarters processing system development process weaknesses, the Census Bureau took some action to address this recommendation. Specifically, the Bureau provided training to its internal systems development staff in several related disciplines, including program management, risk management, and the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model. Because this action raised the staff's awareness of the risks inherent in the Bureau's development approach, and because the remaining aspects of this recommendation have been overtaken by events (i.e., are no longer applicable), GAO is closing this recommendation at this time.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Census Bureau should require the Associate Director for Decennial Census to collaborate with the Bureau's chief information officer (CIO) to identify Decennial Systems and Contracts Management Office staff who, in light of workloads and competing priorities, can be diverted on a short-term basis to work with CIO staff to: (1) assess the actual scope and coverage of testing performed to date and planned on each HQ processing system application; (2) assess each application's potential impact on the quality of the decennial census if it does not perform as intended; and (3) use these assessments of the probability and impact of HQ processing system application problems to prepare a risk profile for each application. The Director of the Census Bureau should also require the Associate Director for Decennial Census to: use the risk profile to establish a plan for thoroughly testing the applications on a priority basis, including the use of documented test conditions and cases that are traceable to requirements, documented test results, and documented resolution of defects; and execute the plan and report to the Director on the results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Bureau of the Census

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, the Census Bureau has formed the Software and Systems Planning Group to define and coordinate 2010 census planning, including development, and testing of software processes. This group will identify, assess, and recommend standards and practices including the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model (CMM) for use in developing decennial census applications. Additionally, the Headquarters (HQ) Processing system staff have undertaken process improvement activities, including (1) staff receiving training to achieve professional certifications, and (2) CMM assessments of all systems in the HQ Processing area, from which final recommendations are expected later this calendar year. Census plans to use the results of these assessments to establish priorities for improvement.

    Recommendation: Following the completion of the 2000 decennial census, the Director of the Census Bureau should require the Associate Director for Decennial Census to correct each of the HQ processing system applications development weaknesses that GAO identified and require that future development efforts be conducted in accordance with mature and effective management processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Bureau of the Census


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