GAO Testimony on Risks to 2020 Census

According to testimony from GAO at a recent House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing, the agency placed the 2020 Census on their “high-risk list in February 2017, and it remains on our high-risk list today. As preparations for the next census continue to ramp up, fully implementing our recommendations to address the risks jeopardizing the 2020 Census is more critical than ever.”

The decennial headcount ended up on GAO’s high-risk list because the Census Bureau:

  1. “is using innovations that are not expected to be fully tested,”
  2. “continues to face challenges in implementing information technology (IT) systems,” and
  3. “faces significant cybersecurity risks to its systems and data.”

GAO claimed that the Bureau needs to do more to counter such risks, which “could adversely impact the cost, quality, schedule, and security of the enumeration.”

GAO also expressed continued suspicion about the Census Bureau’s cost estimates, although the updated 2020 Census life-cycle cost estimate was not released until July 15, so GAO hadn’t yet had time to evaluate it.

The 2020 Census “is conducted against a backdrop of immutable deadlines. In order to meet the statutory deadline for completing the enumeration, census activities need to take place at specific times and in the proper sequence. Thus, it is absolutely critical for the Bureau to stay on schedule.”


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