2010 Census:

Census Bureau Has Made Progress on Schedule and Operational Control Tools, but Needs to Prioritize Remaining System Requirements

GAO-10-59: Published: Nov 13, 2009. Publicly Released: Nov 13, 2009.

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To carry out the decennial census, the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) conducts a sequence of thousands of activities and numerous operations. As requested, The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined (1) the Bureau's use of scheduling tools to maintain and monitor progress and (2) the status of two systems key to field data collection: the control system the Bureau will use to manage the work flow for paper-based operations, including nonresponse follow-up, and the system used to manage quality control of two major field operations. GAO applied schedule analysis tools; reviewed Bureau evaluations, planning documents, and other documents on work flow management; and interviewed Bureau officials.

The Bureau's master schedule provides a useful tool to gauge progress, identify and address potential problems, and promote accountability as the Bureau carries out the census. GAO found that the Bureau's use of its master schedule generally follows leading scheduling practices that enable such high-level oversight. However, errors GAO found in the Bureau's schedule hinder the Bureau's ability to identify the effects of activity delays and to plan for the unexpected. The Bureau has recently begun taking systematic steps to identify and correct remaining errors. However, within its schedule, the Bureau does not identify the resources needed to complete activities, making it difficult for the Bureau to evaluate the costs of schedule changes or the resource constraints that may occur at peak levels of activity. Leveraging the 2010 scheduling experience and including resource needs in the 2020 schedule should facilitate planning for the 2020 Census, already underway. The automated control system that the Bureau plans to use to help manage major field data collection operations has significant development and testing milestones remaining, with some scheduled to finish shortly before the system needs to be deployed. This aggressive schedule leaves little time for resolving problems that may arise, and without prioritized and final software specifications and reliable progress measures, the Bureau may not get what it needs from the system to conduct the operations. Additionally, development of quality control software for two major field operations faces delays, although detailed specifications and test plans are final.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: Commerce neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Regarding GAO's 2013 assessment of the Bureau's schedule (GAO-14-59), Bureau officials stated that they hoped to begin identifying the resources needed for each activity in their schedules by early 2014. Bureau officials announced they had completed the 2020 Census schedule in July 2016, and have since periodically described their intent to link resources to activities within their schedules. However, as of May 2018, the Bureau had not taken these steps. Senior Bureau officials have now stated that it would require additional staffing in order to plan for and implement this recommendation. In July 2018 (GAO-18-589) we reported again on the status of the Bureau's scheduling, stating that when the Bureau has resource loaded its schedule, it will be able to use the schedule more effectively as a management tool. As of March 2019, we are in contact with the Bureau to collect evidence that these actions have been taken. To fully implement this recommendation, the Bureau needs to conduct quantitative schedule risk analyses with the resulting schedule.

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's use of its master schedule to manage the 2020 decennial census, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to include estimates of the resources, such as labor, materials, and overhead costs, in the 2020 integrated schedule for each activity as the schedule is built, and prepare to carry out other steps as necessary to conduct systematic schedule risk analyses on the 2020 schedule.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2011 the Bureau completed a compilation of lessons learned, including suggestions on how to better develop and baseline future decennial schedules. In September 2013, current 2020 Census schedule managers stated that moving forward they will be relying on these lessons learned to help build on and improve scheduling practices for the 2020 Census. These steps to draw lessons from the Bureau's scheduling experience from Census 2010 will improve the development and management of the schedule for 2020 Census, helping to ensure the preparation of the 2020 Census stays on track.

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's use of its master schedule to manage the 2020 decennial census, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to take steps necessary to evaluate the accuracy of the Bureau's baselined schedule and determine what improvements to the Bureau's schedule development and management processes can be made for 2020.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO has confirmed that the Census Bureau did create a dashboard to monitor requirements and had program management reviews that were audited by an independent assessment team to monitor development. This aggressive monitoring of IT systems allowed the Bureau to anticipate that there might be risks in having all the necessary systems ready on time, and allowed the Bureau to switch the Field Verification operation to a contingency plan once it was clear that originally planned system would not be ready on time. This allowed the Census Bureau to complete Field Verification on time.

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's ability to manage paper-based field operations in the 2010 Decennial Census, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to finalize and prioritize detailed requirements and implement reliable progress reporting on the development of the paper-based operations control system, including estimates of effort needed to complete remaining development.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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