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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Census Bureau (Bureau) is not producing reliable schedules for the two programs most relevant to building the Master Address File (MAF)--the 2020 Research and Testing program and the Geographic Support System Initiative.

  • The Bureau did not include all activities in either schedule. The schedules appeared to have reasonable durations for most activities, but they did not include information about required resources.
  • For both schedules, the Bureau logically linked many activities in a sequence. Yet in both schedules the Bureau did not identify the preceding and following activity for a significant number of activities. Without this logic, the effect of a change in one activity on future activities cannot be seen in the schedule, potentially resulting in unforeseen delays.
  • The Bureau is not in a position to carry out a quantitative risk analysis on the schedules.

As a result of these issues, the schedules are producing inaccurate dates, which could mislead Bureau managers to falsely conclude that all of the work is on schedule when it may not be. Without reliable schedule information, such as valid forecasted dates and the amount of flexibility remaining in the schedule, management faces challenges in assessing the progress of MAF development efforts and determining what activities most need attention. Staff managing the schedules said that they had not received thorough training or certification on scheduling best practices, and, according to schedule managers, staff turnover contributed to the issues GAO identified. Workforce planning and training can help the Bureau have the skills in place to ensure that characteristics of a reliable schedule are met to support key management decisions.

The Bureau has documented collaboration activities that follow many leading practices for collaboration. Because several divisions are involved in efforts to develop the MAF, collaboration across these divisions is critical. In recent months, the Bureau has put in place a variety of mechanisms to aid coordination, such as crosscutting task teams. For example, research projects relevant to developing the MAF have representation from multiple divisions. The Bureau has also established memorandums of understanding across divisions to provide a broad framework for working together. Continued management attention to collaboration practices will help to ensure that collaboration across units is occurring as MAF development continues.

Why GAO Did This Study

According to the Bureau, it is committed to limiting its per household cost for the 2020 Census to that of the 2010 Census, and believes that reducing the cost of updating the MAF can be of significant help. Because of tight deadlines and the involvement of several different Bureau units in this effort, effective scheduling and collaboration practices are important for the entire process to stay on track.

GAO was asked to examine scheduling and collaboration in the Bureau's efforts to develop a more cost-effective MAF. GAO (1) assessed the reliability of the schedules for two key MAF development programs, and (2) examined the extent to which the Bureau is following leading practices for collaboration for its MAF development work. GAO analyzed the schedules for the two programs most relevant to developing the address list, and reviewed strategic plans and other documents establishing coordination mechanisms and compared them to leading practices for intra-agency collaborative efforts.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends that the Census Director take a number of actions to improve the reliability of its schedules, including steps to ensure that all relevant activities are included in the schedules, complete scheduling logic is in place, and a quantitative risk assessment is conducted. In addition, GAO recommends a robust workforce planning effort to identify and address gaps in scheduling skills for staff that work on schedules. The Department of Commerce concurred and suggested several clarifications, which GAO included in the report as appropriate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
1. To help maintain a more thorough and insightful 2020 Census development schedule in order to better manage risks to a successful 2020 Census, the Secretary of Commerce and Undersecretary of Economic Affairs should direct the U.S. Census Bureau to improve the comprehensiveness of schedules, including ensuring that all relevant activities are included in the schedule.
Closed - Implemented
The Bureau agreed with this recommendation and stated that it would review and refine its project schedules to ensure that they included the full scope of work needed to reach operational decision points for the 2020 Census. In June 2016 the Bureau announced that it would finalize and release its 2020 Census schedule in July 2016. Later, the Bureau reported baselining its 2020 Census schedule in December 2017. Our 2018 audit of the Bureau's scheduling practices found that based on our recommendation the Bureau now includes within its integrated master schedule the relevant activities and milestones it has identified as needed throughout the 2020 Census lifecycle. This improvement in the comprehensiveness of the Bureau's schedule will make the schedule a more useful management tool for managing risks and delivering a successful 2020 Census.
Department of Commerce
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
2. To help maintain a more thorough and insightful 2020 Census development schedule in order to better manage risks to a successful 2020 Census, the Secretary of Commerce and Undersecretary of Economic Affairs should direct the U.S. Census Bureau to improve the construction of schedules, including ensuring complete logic is in place to identify the preceding and subsequent activities as well as a critical path that can be used to make decisions.
Closed - Implemented
The Bureau agreed with this recommendation and updated its project schedules to ensure that the logical relationships between discrete schedules were put into place. The Bureau announced in June 2016 that it would finalize and release its 2020 Census schedule in July 2016. Then the Bureau baselined its 2020 Census schedule in December 2017. Our 2018 audit of Bureau's scheduling practices found that based on our recommendation the Bureau integrated master schedule now has complete logic in place to identify the preceding and subsequent activities as well as a critical path. This improvement in the construction of the Bureau's schedule will make the schedule a more useful management tool for managing risks and delivering a successful 2020 Census.
Department of Commerce
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
3. To help maintain a more thorough and insightful 2020 Census development schedule in order to better manage risks to a successful 2020 Census, the Secretary of Commerce and Undersecretary of Economic Affairs should direct the U.S. Census Bureau to improve the credibility of schedules, including conducting a quantitative risk assessment.
Open
The Bureau agreed with this recommendation and stated that it had already begun maturing project schedules to ensure that the logical relationships between discrete schedules were put into place. Schedule integration sessions across projects and programs were held in late January 2014 and into February 2014 and periodically since then, where work was deconstructed into detailed schedules. The Bureau released its operational plan and other documentation in November 2015 and announced in June 2016 that it would finalize and release its 2020 Census schedule in July 2016. In 2015, the Bureau provided us with a preliminary output from its risk analysis software as a demonstration of the type of analysis it had committed to, but since then its officials have said that they will not be able to take all the steps needed to satisfy this recommendation for the 2020 Census. The Bureau took steps toward conducting quantitative schedule risk analyses with its master activity schedule for the 2020 Census, but ran out of time to do so. Assigning resources to large complex schedules in order to conduct such analyses is easier to do early in the schedule development process, as we recommended the Bureau do in 2009 for its 2020 Census schedule. This recommendation will remain open pending the Bureau taking steps to carry out quantitative risk assessments of its 2030 schedule with appropriate resources linked to it.
Bureau of the Census 4. The Director of the U.S. Census Bureau should initiate a robust workforce planning process for those working on schedules related to the Master Address File, including actions such as an analysis of skills needed, to identify and address gaps in scheduling skills.
Closed - Implemented
The Census Bureau agreed with this recommendation and subsequently took steps to improve its scheduling practices and to initiate a comprehensive workforce planning process for those working on decennial project schedules. In response to GAO's recommendation, Bureau officials evaluated the skills needed for scheduling support of the 2020 Census and took the appropriate steps to acquire and develop the appropriate mix of skill sets, including developing certified scheduling staff and hiring expert contractors. For example, in May 2017 the Bureau contracted for support with the project management activities needed for schedule management and with the technical expertise needed to maximize performance of the Bureau's scheduling software. The contract stated that the contractor shall conduct schedule analysis and make written recommendations for improving schedules, in accordance with GAO's Schedule Assessment Guide, Best Practices for Project Schedules. Additionally, our 2018 assessment of the Bureau's 2020 Census schedule verified that the Bureau has developed its own certified scheduling staff. These efforts can help ensure the Bureau has the skills in place to ensure that characteristics of a reliable schedule are met to support key management decisions for the 2020 Census.

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