Decennial Census:

Minicomputer Procurement Delays and Bid Protests: Effects on the 1990 Census

GGD-88-70: Published: Jun 14, 1988. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Census Bureau's procurement of minicomputers specifically for the 1990 decennial census to determine the: (1) causes and effects of procurement delays; and (2) reasons for a bid protest and whether its settlement was reasonable and justified.

GAO found that the Bureau: (1) delayed its procurement of the minicomputers for 6 months because it was unable to justify its system compatibility requirement; (2) did not adequately identify its data processing needs for the minicomputers; (3) lacked adequate documentation to meet the requirement for a contingency plan in case the system failed to function properly; and (4) failed to timely obtain the needed procurement authority from the General Services Administration. GAO also found that the: (1) Department of Commerce and the Bureau paid three firms that protested the Bureau's bid rejections a total of $1.1 million in compensation because they believed they could not afford the time to resolve the protest; (2) Bureau's failure to properly plan for and manage the procurement created the time constraints; and (3) Bureau leased computer time from another agency at a cost of $3 million because of procurement delays and bid protests.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Bureau agreed with this recommendation and developed a contingency plan outlining its options in the event of software failure. Although the Bureau's plan does not provide specific steps to be followed, GAO believes it responds to the recommendation in principle. The plan does allow for detailed plans to be documented separately as part of the Bureau's existing contingency planning process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should direct the Bureau to develop a formal contingency plan that identifies options for employing backup automated equipment and possible manual operations to meet essential operational needs in the event that the minicomputer system, including the software, does not operate properly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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