Page 46 - GCN, Feb/Mar 2018
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                                BIG DATA
Will Census Bureau’s IT systems be ready for 2020?
As part of its plan for the highest-tech decennial popu- lation count in history, the Census Bureau centralized its disparate data systems into a single IT system to help cut costs, reduce duplication and decrease security risks.
But with cost overruns and a tight development schedule, the readiness of the Census Enterprise Data Collec- tion and Processing system itself is at risk.
The idea behind CEDCaP was to build a system that pools components of data collection, processing and dis- semination systems to reduce overlap- ping functions and support all Census surveys — not just the decennial count.
CEDCaP combines 11 IT systems, the functions of which include inter- net self-response, enumerators’ case management and interviews on their iPhones and iPads, and various en- hancements to legacy systems. The Commerce Department’s CIO rated CEDCaP as “medium risk” or yellow on the federal IT Dashboard.
Several critical IT systems have deadlines that are fast approaching, including aspects of CEDCaP, systems for recruiting and training employees, the Census Questionnaire Assistance call center, administrative records storage and the data warehouse
that combines data from a variety of Census systems.
Former Census Director John Thompson said CEDCaP must be ready in advance of this year’s end-
to-end test to make sure it works as planned.
“It’s got to operate then integrate with all the other systems, and it’s got to scale, which means they’ve got to deploy it to a cloud environ- ment,” he said.
In January, Atri Kalluri, chief of the bureau’s Decennial IT Division, said about 24 of the 44 systems needed for peak operations of the end-to- end test are ready for use. However, the Government Accountability Office has taken issue with the bu- reau’s criteria for readiness.
If the system doesn’t run as planned, Thompson said, the bu- reau’s next course of action depends on the severity of the glitches. “If it’s a matter of fixing minor problems, that’s not a big deal,” he added. “If it totally bombs, they have some tough decisions to make.”
He said he does not think a large- scale system failure is likely and pointed out that during tests last year, CEDCaP worked “pretty well” for the self-response portion and oper- ated successfully in the cloud.
However, watchdogs have raised concerns about the cost overruns associated with Census’ key IT sys- tems. In October, when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross requested more than $3 billion in additional funding for the bureau, GAO esti- mated its IT spending would end up costing at least $1.4 billion more than originally estimated. In May 2017,
Dave Powner, director of IT manage- ment issues at GAO, testified that the CEDCaP system had overrun its initial cost estimate by more than $400 million.
In fiscal 2017, CEDCaP received $61 million in funding, and the Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 budget proposes an additional $153 million for the system. Currently, the bureau operates under an anomaly as part of the continuing resolution.
But even with the proposed boost in funding for CEDCaP and other IT systems, Census experts fear that the increased — and necessary — at- tention on IT systems could come at the expense of other aspects that are critical for an accurate count.
Casey Goldvale, a policy and research analyst at the Georgetown University Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, said strong education and communication programs could help census respondents become more aware of how to protect their personal information while also increasing awareness of the impor- tance of responding to the census questionnaire.
“Having enough funding for a really strong education and outreach effort is going to be really important,” she said, “and could make an impact in ensuring that not only is the federal government doing everything it can, but each of us is doing what we can to make sure our data is secure.”
— Chase Gunter

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