2020 Census: Sustaining Current Reform Efforts Will Be Key to a More Cost-Effective Enumeration

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-07-18.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                            United States Government Accountability Office

GAO                         Testimony
                            Before the Subcommittee on Federal Financial
                            Management, Government Information, Federal Services,
                            and International Security, Committee on Homeland
                            Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate

                            2020 CENSUS
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 2:30 p.m. EDT
Wednesday, July 18, 2012

                            Sustaining Current Reform
                            Efforts Will Be Key to a
                            More Cost-Effective
                            Statement of Robert Goldenkoff
                            Strategic Issues

                                                July 18, 2012

                                                2020 CENSUS
                                                Sustaining Current Reform Efforts Will Be Key to a
                                                More Cost-Effective Enumeration
Highlights of GAO-12-905T, a testimony
before the Subcommittee on Federal Financial
Management, Government Information,
Federal Services, and International Security,
Committee on Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate

Why GAO Did This Study                          What GAO Found
Obtaining an accurate census in the             Overall, the U.S. Census Bureau’s (Bureau) planning efforts for 2020 are off to a
face of societal trends such as                 good start, as the Bureau made noteworthy progress within each of the four
increased privacy concerns and a                lessons learned from the 2010 Census. Still, additional steps will be needed
more diverse population has greatly             within each of the lessons learned in order to sustain those reforms.
increased the cost of the census. At
$13 billion, 2010 was the costliest             1. Reexamine the nation’s approach to taking the Census. The Bureau has
census in U.S. history. Without                 used a similar approach to count most of the population for decades. However,
changes, future enumerations could be           the approach has not kept pace with changes to society. Moving forward, the
fiscally unsustainable. GAO’s past              Bureau has begun to rethink its approach to planning, testing, implementing, and
work noted that early planning, leading         monitoring the census. For example, the Bureau is researching how it can use
management practices, and strong                administrative records, such as data from other government agencies, to locate
congressional oversight, can help               and count people including nonrespondents. Use of administrative records could
reduce the costs and risks of the               help reduce the cost of field operations, but data quality and access issues must
enumeration. GAO also identified four           first be resolved.
key lessons learned from 2010 that
could help secure a more cost-effective         2. Assess and refine existing operations focusing on tailoring them to
2020 Census. The Bureau agreed and              specific locations and population groups. The 2010 Census had several
is taking steps to address them. As             operations tailored to specific population groups or locales. For example, the
requested, this testimony focuses on            Bureau mailed bilingual English/Spanish forms to some areas and sent a second
the Bureau’s progress on these                  questionnaire to areas with historically lower response rates. Preliminary
lessons learned and what remains to             evaluations show these targeted efforts contributed to an increased awareness of
be done going forward. It is based on           the census and higher mail-back response rates. For 2020, the Bureau is
GAO’s completed work, including an              considering expanding these efforts. Designing future studies to better isolate the
analysis of Bureau documents,                   return on investment of key census operations would help the Bureau further
interviews with Bureau officials, and           target its operations to specific population groups and locations and potentially
field observations of census operations         gain significant cost savings.
in urban and rural locations across the
country.                                        3. Institutionalize efforts to address high-risk areas. Focus areas for the
                                                Bureau include improving its ability to manage information technology (IT)
What GAO Recommends                             investments and develop a reliable cost estimates. In January 2012, GAO
GAO is not making new                           reported that the Bureau did not have policies and procedures for developing the
recommendations in this testimony, but          2020 Census cost estimate. In moving forward, it will be important for the Bureau
past reports recommended that the               to improve its IT acquisition management policies and develop better guidance to
Bureau strengthen its testing of key IT         produce more reliable cost estimates.
systems, develop policies and
                                                4. Ensure that the Bureau’s management, culture, and business practices
procedures for its cost estimates, and
take actions to make 2020 Census
                                                align with a cost-effective enumeration. In May 2012, GAO reported that the
planning more consistent with leading           Bureau’s early planning efforts for the 2020 Census were consistent with most
management practices. The Bureau                leading practices for organizational transformation, long term planning, and
generally agreed with GAO’s findings            strategic workforce planning. Nevertheless, GAO found that additional steps
and recommendations and is taking               could be taken to build on these early efforts. For example, the Bureau’s
steps to implement them.                        schedule does not include milestones for key decisions to support the transition
                                                between planning phases. These milestones are important and could help with
                                                later downstream planning.

View GAO-12-905T or key components. For
more information, contact Robert Goldenkoff
at (202) 512-2757 or goldenkoffr@gao.gov.

                                                                                        United States Government Accountability Office
Chairman Carper, Ranking Member Brown, and Members of the

I am pleased to be here today to provide a progress report on the U.S.
Census Bureau’s (Bureau) planning and reform initiatives for the 2020
Census. As you well know, the nation’s population has been growing
steadily larger, more diverse, increasingly difficult to count, and less
willing to participate in the census. The bottom line is that securing an
accurate count in the face of these trends has greatly raised the difficulty
and cost of the enumeration. Unless changes to the census are made
going forward, future headcounts could be fiscally unsustainable.

With a life-cycle cost of around $13 billion, the 2010 Census was the most
expensive population count in U.S. history, costing over 50 percent more
than the $8.1 billion 2000 Census (in constant 2010 dollars). While some
cost growth is to be expected, in part because there are more people to
count with each decennial, enumeration costs grew more than three times
faster than the workload between 2000 and 2010 with a 39 percent
increase in costs to count each housing unit compared to a 12 percent
increase in workload. These trends do not bode well for future costs.
Indeed, the Bureau estimates that if it used the same approach to count
people in 2020 as it did in 2010, it would cost $151 to count each housing
unit compared to 2010’s $97 (assuming real costs grow at the same rate
they did between 1990 and 2010).

Moreover, as shown in figure 1, while census costs have steadily
increased since 1970, the mail response rate—a key performance
measure because of its implications for both cost and accuracy—declined
over this same period from 78 percent in 1970 to around 63 percent in

Page 1                                                            GAO-12-905T
Figure 1: The Average Cost of Counting Each Housing Unit Escalated Each Decade
While Mail Response Rates Declined

 The 2010 life cycle runs from 2002 through 2013, meaning that costs for the 2010 Census are not
yet final.
 In the 2010 Census, the Bureau used only a short-form questionnaire. For this report, we use the
1990 and 2000 Census short-form mail response rate when comparing 1990, 2000, and 2010 mail-
back response rates. Census short-form mail response rates are unavailable for 1970 and 1980, so
we use the overall response rate for both the short- and long-form questionnaires.

In terms of quality, a post-census Bureau evaluation found that the 2010
Census generally accurately counted the total population of the country
as well as each state. As in past enumerations, renters, young children,
young adult males, Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians on
reservations were more likely to be undercounted, while home owners,
older persons, females, and White non-Hispanics were more likely to be
included more than once in the census. Moreover, despite some
significant initial setbacks that raised the cost of the enumeration, the
Bureau eventually developed workarounds to the challenges facing the
2010 Census and it was ultimately an operational success as the Bureau
generally completed its peak census data collection activities consistent
with its plans and released the state population counts used to apportion
Congress on December 21, 2010, several days ahead of the legally
mandated end-of-year deadline.

Page 2                                                                               GAO-12-905T
Mr. Chairman, these trends, facts, and figures all point to one simple fact:
the basic design of the decennial census—mail-out and mail-back of the
census form with in-person follow-up for nonrespondents (the same
general approach the Bureau has used since 1970)—is no longer capable
of a cost-effective enumeration. Thus, going forward, the singular
challenge for Bureau officials will be balancing the need to control the
cost of future enumerations with the need to assure their accuracy.

The Bureau is well aware of the need for reforms, and its business plan—
which describes its efforts for the early research and testing phase of the
2020 Census—notes that the Bureau is committed to conducting a
census that costs no more than the approximately $100 per housing unit
that was spent on the 2010 Census, and has already developed six broad
design alternatives for 2020. This is a noteworthy goal. However, fulfilling
it will be an ambitious task as the Bureau’s research and planning efforts
over the next few years will take place in an uncertain environment owing
to the extent and magnitude of the reforms being considered, budget
constraints, and the planned August 2012 resignation of the current
Bureau Director with the likelihood that it may be a number of months
before a permanent replacement takes office.

When we last testified before this Subcommittee in April 2011, we
discussed four lessons learned from the 2010 and earlier decennials that
could help secure a more cost-effective enumeration in 2020. 1 They

1. reexamining the nation’s approach to taking the census;
2. assessing and refining existing operations, tailoring them to specific
   locations and population groups;
3. institutionalizing efforts to address high-risk areas; and
4. ensuring that the Bureau’s management, culture, and business
   practices align with a cost-effective enumeration.

The Bureau generally agreed with these lessons and is taking steps to
address them. As requested, in my remarks today, I will focus on the
Bureau’s progress in each area and what remains to be done going
forward. In summary, while the Bureau’s preparations are off to a good
start—as evidenced, for example, by its use of leading practices in such

 GAO, 2010 Census: Preliminary Lesson Learned Highlight the Need for Fundamental
Reforms, GAO-11-496T (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 6, 2011).

Page 3                                                                  GAO-12-905T
key management areas as organizational transformation, long-term
project planning, and strategic workforce planning, moving forward,
sustaining those efforts, focusing on priorities, winnowing down design
options, and keeping the entire enterprise on-track—all within tight
timeframes—will be a tremendous challenge. Furthermore, it will be
important for Congress to hold the Bureau accountable for results through
strong and continuing involvement in preparations for the 2020 Census,
including weighing in on key Bureau decisions and providing the
necessary funding.

My testimony today is based on our completed work related to key 2010
Census operations, on 2010 Census cost drivers and the 2020 life-cycle
cost estimate, and the Bureau’s planning efforts for 2020. 2 For this body
of work, we analyzed key documents—such as budgets, plans,
procedures, and guidance—for selected decennial activities; interviewed
cognizant Bureau officials; reviewed existing leading practices for
organizational transformation, long-term project planning, and workforce
planning that we and other organizations have previously developed; and
identified leading practices that are most relevant to the Bureau’s early
planning for the 2020 Census.

Additionally, for our work on 2010 operations, we made on-site
observations of key census-taking activities across the country including
such urban locations as Los Angeles, California; Atlanta, Georgia;
Brooklyn, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New Orleans,
Louisiana; and Washington, D.C.; as well as such less populated areas
as Meridian, Mississippi, and New Castle, Delaware. We selected these
locations because of their geographic and demographic diversity, among
other factors. More detail on our scope and methodology is provided in
each of our issued products.

On June 29, 2012, we provided the Bureau with a statement of facts
related to the information included in this statement, and Bureau officials
provided technical comments, which we included as appropriate. The
work on which this statement is based was conducted in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards
require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate
evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions

See related GAO products at the end of this statement.

Page 4                                                           GAO-12-905T
             based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained
             provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on
             our audit objectives.

             At first glance, it might seem premature to discuss preparations for the
Background   decennial census; after all, Census Day, April 1, 2020, is still almost 8
             years away. However, our reviews of the 1990, 2000, and the 2010
             Censuses have shown that early planning, the use of leading
             management practices, and strong congressional oversight can help
             reduce the costs and risks of the national headcount. Indeed, the
             characteristics of the decennial census—long-term, large-scale, complex,
             high-risk, and politically sensitive—together make a cost-effective
             enumeration of the nation’s population and housing a monumental
             project-planning and management challenge.

             Despite the complexity, cost, and importance of the census, however,
             recent enumerations were not planned well. Indeed, shortcomings with
             managing and planning the 2000 and 2010 enumerations led to
             acquisition problems, cost overruns, and other issues, and, as a result,
             we placed both enumerations on our list of high-risk programs. 3

             For example, leading up to the 2010 Census, we found that additional
             costs and risks associated with the data capture technologies used in the
             2010 Census were related to a failure to adequately link specifications for
             key information technology systems to requirements. 4 Additionally, the
             lack of skilled cost estimators for the 2010 Census led to unreliable life-
             cycle cost estimates, and some key operations were not tested under
             census-like conditions.

             Importantly, some of the operational problems that occurred during the
             2010 and prior censuses are symptomatic of deeper organizational
             issues. For example, a Bureau self-assessment carried out in October
             2008 found that its organizational structure made overseeing a large

              GAO, Information Technology: Significant Problems of Critical Automation Program
             Contribute to Risks Facing 2010 Census, GAO-08-550T (Washington, D.C. Mar. 5, 2008),
             and High-Risk Series: Quick Reference Guide, GAO/HR-97-2 (Washington, D.C.:
             February 1997).
              GAO, Information Technology: Census Bureau Needs to Improve Its Risk Management
             of Decennial Systems, GAO-08-79 (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 5, 2007).

             Page 5                                                                  GAO-12-905T
                       program difficult and hampered accountability, succession planning, and
                       staff development.

                       Since then, we and other organizations—including the Bureau itself—
                       have stated that fundamental changes to the design, implementation, and
                       management of the census must be made in order to address these
                       operational and organizational challenges. 5 For its part, the Bureau has
                       stated that to contain costs and maintain quality, bold innovations in both
                       planning and design of the 2020 Census will be required, and has
                       launched a number of change initiatives. Some of these efforts are
                       directed at transforming the Bureau’s organization, while others focus on
                       reexamining the fundamental approach to the 2020 Census.

                       Although bold reform plans are critical steps in the right direction, the
                       Bureau’s past experience has shown that the more difficult challenge will
                       be sustaining those efforts throughout the course of the decade. Indeed,
                       preparations for both the 2000 and 2010 Censuses started with ambitious
                       plans that gave reason for optimism that major improvements were on the
                       way. However, in the subsequent ramp-up to those enumerations, the
                       Bureau had difficulty identifying and implementing promising innovations,
                       progress on reforms slowed, and as Census Day drew closer, the
                       success of those head-counts became an open question.

                       In our April 2011 testimony, we noted that based on the results of prior
Lesson Learned 1:      enumerations, simply refining current methods—some of which have
Reexamine the          been in place for decades—will not bring about the reforms needed to
                       control costs while maintaining accuracy given ongoing and newly
Nation’s Approach to   emerging societal trends such as concerns over personal privacy and an
Taking the Census      increasingly diverse population. 6 Consequently, the Bureau will need to
                       reconsider the nation’s approach to the census including rethinking such
                       activities as how it plans, tests, implements, monitors, and evaluates
                       enumeration activities. The Bureau concurred and its 2020 Census
                       business plan states that the Bureau needs substantial innovation to
                       achieve its cost and quality targets and to meet its strategic goals.


                       Page 6                                                          GAO-12-905T
As one example, with respect to its research and testing efforts, the
Bureau plans to use the American Community Survey—an ongoing
Bureau survey of population and housing characteristics that is
administered monthly throughout the decade—as a vehicle to test certain
decennial census processes and information technology (IT) systems.
According to the Bureau, this approach will enable it to conduct many
small tests throughout the decade in a production environment instead of
relying on a small number of large, expensive tests as was the case in
past decennial planning cycles. According to the Bureau, refining systems
in the American Community Survey reduces the risk of building one-use
systems for the decennial that need to operate flawlessly the first time
they are put into production.

With respect to implementing the census, among other activities, the
Bureau is researching potential electronic methods of promoting the
census and collecting data, including with the Internet via social
networking sites, e-mail, and text messages, as well as with automated
phone systems. For the 2010 Census, the Bureau initially investigated the
use of an Internet response option but dropped plans based on concerns
over information technology security, and after completing a cost-benefit
analysis that led the Bureau to conclude that Internet data collection
would not significantly improve the overall response rate or reduce field
data collection.

The Bureau is also researching how it can use administrative records to
reduce the cost of certain decennial activities. Administrative records from
government agencies, including driver licenses and school records, can
be used to identify persons associated with a particular household
address. Administrative records could save the Bureau money because
they could help reduce the need for certain costly and labor-intensive
door-to-door visits by Bureau employees to collect data in-person from
non-respondents. During the 2010 Census, the Bureau made only limited
use of administrative records. Expanding their use to supplement
respondent data on a national level will present a certain degree of risk,
and issues concerning data quality and access to records must first be

With so many innovations underway at the Bureau, strong and continuing
stewardship at the senior level will be critical for ensuring they stay on
track moving forward. However, the announced resignation of the Director
coming up this August could mean that it will be a number of months
before an agency head appointed by the President and confirmed by the
Senate will be in place.

Page 7                                                           GAO-12-905T
As with the heads of all federal agencies, it will be important for the
Bureau Director to possess the requisite leadership and management
skills and background to successfully address the challenges facing the
Bureau in the years ahead. On the basis of our knowledge of past and
present census operations and a review of readily available literature,
certain general stewardship roles that the Director, as a senior executive,
will play in managing the institution, and their related qualifications, merit
particular attention in this regard. These roles and qualifications are not
necessarily unique to the Bureau, and it is unlikely that any one person
will excel in all of these areas. That said, based on our knowledge of past
and present census operations and review of available literature on
leadership—particularly of federal agencies—we identified the following
characteristics of a successful leader:

•   Strategic leader. As the head of the Census Bureau, the Director is
    responsible for, among other activities, (1) leading change and (2)
    leading people. In leading change, the Director will be expected to
    build a shared vision or long-term view for the organization among its
    stakeholders, as well as be a catalyst for developing and
    implementing the Bureau’s mission statement and strategic goals, and
    be cognizant of the forces affecting the Bureau. Moreover, in addition
    to the decennial census, the Bureau is also responsible for a number
    of other vital national data gathering and statistical programs such as
    the American Community Survey. As a result, it will be important for
    the Director to ensure the Bureau’s information products continue to
    meet the current and emerging needs of its numerous and diverse
    customers, including Congress, state, local and federal government
    organizations, and a wide array of other public and private

    In leading people, the Director should ensure that human resource
    strategies, including recruitment, retention, training, incentive, and
    accountability initiatives are designed and implemented in a manner
    that supports the achievement of the organization’s mission and goals
    and addresses any mission critical skill gaps. In particular, it will be
    important for the Director to motivate headquarters, field, and
    temporary staff to ensure they function as an integrated team rather
    than a stovepiped bureaucracy.

•   Technical professional. It is logical to expect that the Director would
    have at least a general background in statistics or a related field.
    Although no one person will have the full range of knowledge needed
    to answer the many methodological and technical questions that the

Page 8                                                             GAO-12-905T
                            Director may face, it is important that he or she have sufficient
                            technical knowledge to direct the Bureau’s statistical activities. In
                            addition, the Director should manage for results by developing and
                            using performance measures to assess and improve the Bureau’s

                        •   Administrator. Like other agency heads, the Director is responsible for
                            acquiring and using the human, financial, and information technology
                            resources needed to achieve its goals and mission. The Director
                            should, for example, be capable of setting priorities based on funding
                            levels. Further, because the Bureau’s product is information, the
                            Director should ensure that the Bureau leverages technology, such as
                            the Internet, to improve the collection, processing, and dissemination
                            of census information.

                        •   Collaborator. It will be important for the Director to continually expand
                            and develop working relationships and partnerships with those in
                            governmental, political and professional circles to obtain their input,
                            support, and participation in the Bureau’s activities. For example, it
                            will be important for the Director to continue working with local
                            government officials to have them play a more active role in taking the

                        We previously found that leveraging such data as local response rates,
Lesson Learned 2:       census socio-demographic information, as well as other data sources and
Assess and Refine       empirical evidence, might help control costs and improve accuracy by
                        providing information on ways the Bureau could more efficiently allocate
Existing Operations     its resources. For example, some neighborhoods might require a greater
Focusing on Tailoring   level of effort to achieve acceptable results while in other areas those
                        same results might be accomplished with fewer resources. 7
Them to Specific
Locations and           The 2010 Census had several census-taking activities tailored to specific
Population Groups       population groups. As one example, the Bureau budgeted around $297
                        million on paid media to raise awareness and encourage public
                        participation in the census. To determine where paid media efforts might
                        have the greatest impact, the Bureau developed predictive models based
                        on 2000 Census data and other sources. Other efforts included mailing a


                        Page 9                                                            GAO-12-905T
bilingual English/Spanish questionnaire in some areas, and sending a
second “replacement” census questionnaire to about 53 million
households in areas with historically lower response rates. Preliminary
Bureau evaluations suggest that some of these targeted efforts
contributed to an increased awareness of the census and were
associated with higher questionnaire mail-back response rates.

For the 2020 Census, the Bureau is considering expanding its targeting
efforts to activities such as address canvassing, an operation where
Bureau employees go door-to-door across the country verifying street
addresses and identifying possible additions or deletions to its address
list. This operation is important for building an accurate address list. In the
2010 Census, address canvassing was conducted at the vast majority of
housing units. For the 2020 Census, the Bureau believes it might be able
to generate cost savings by using existing address records for those
neighborhoods that have been stable, and only canvass those areas
where significant changes have occurred.

We previously found that studying the value added of a particular
operation, such as the extent to which it reduced costs and/or enhanced
data quality, could help the Bureau make more cost-effective use of its
resources. As one example, in addition to address canvassing, the
Bureau has several other operations to help it build a complete and
accurate address list. This is to help ensure that housing units missed in
one operation get included in a subsequent operation. However, the
extent to which each individual operation contributes to the overall
accuracy of the address list is uncertain. This in turn makes it difficult for
the Bureau to fully assess the extent to which potential reforms such as
targeted address canvassing or other operations might affect the quality
of the address list. Indeed, the Bureau’s formal program of assessing and
evaluating various 2010 Census operations and activities, with which it
expects to have completed over 100 studies by early in 2013, has only a
few studies designed to produce information describing the return on
investment. Designing future studies to better isolate the return on
investment would help the Bureau further tailor its operations to specific
population groups and locations and potentially generate substantial cost

Page 10                                                             GAO-12-905T
                     A key priority for the Bureau will be to continue to address those
Lesson Learned 3:    shortcomings that led us to designate the 2010 Census a high-risk area in
Institutionalize     2008, including strengthening its ability to develop reliable life-cycle cost
                     estimates and following key practices important for managing information
Efforts to Address   technology (IT) so that they do not recur in 2020. 8 In February 2011, we
High-Risk Areas      removed the high-risk designation from the 2010 Census because of the
                     Bureau’s progress and strong commitment to and top leadership support
                     for addressing problems, among other actions. 9 The Bureau has made
                     progress in these areas. However, additional efforts are needed.

                     •    Processes for developing a life-cycle cost estimate. In our January
                          2012 report, we found that the Bureau had not yet established
                          policies, procedures, or guidance for developing the 2020 Census life
                          cycle cost estimate and is at risk of not following related best
                          practices. 10 A reliable cost estimating process, according to our Cost
                          Estimating and Assessment Guide, is necessary to ensure that cost
                          estimates are comprehensive, well documented, accurate, and
                          credible. 11 The Bureau intends to use our cost guide as it develops
                          cost estimates for 2020 and follow best practices wherever
                          practicable; however, as we reported, the Bureau has not yet
                          documented how it plans to conduct its cost estimates and could not
                          provide a specific time when such documentation would be finalized.
                          Developing this necessary guidance will help ensure the Bureau has a
                          reliable life-cycle cost estimate, which in turn will help ensure that
                          Congress, the administration, and the Bureau itself can have reliable
                          information on which to base decisions.
                     •    IT management issues. As the Bureau prepares for 2020, it will be
                          important for it to continue to improve its ability to manage its IT
                          investments. Leading up to the 2010 Census, we made numerous
                          recommendations to the Bureau to improve its IT management
                          procedures by implementing best practices in risk management,

                      GAO, High-Risk Series: An Update, GAO-11-278 (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 16, 2011).
                       GAO, Decennial Census: Additional Actions Could Improve the Census Bureau’s Ability
                     to Control Costs for the 2020 Census, GAO-12-80 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 24, 2012).
                      GAO, GAO Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide: Best Practices for Developing and
                     Managing Capital Program Costs, GAO-09-3SP (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 2, 2009).

                     Page 11                                                                   GAO-12-905T
                              requirements development, and testing. 12 The Bureau implemented
                              many of our recommendations, but not our broader recommendation
                              to institutionalize these practices at the organizational level. The
                              challenges experienced by the Bureau in acquiring and developing IT
                              systems during the 2010 Census further demonstrate the importance
                              of establishing and enforcing a rigorous IT systems development and
                              management policy Bureau-wide. In addition, it will be important for
                              the Bureau to improve its ability to consistently perform key IT
                              management practices, such as IT investment management, system
                              development and management, and enterprise architecture
                              management. The effective use of these practices can better ensure
                              that future IT investments will be pursued in a way that optimizes
                              mission performance. We have ongoing reviews of the Bureau’s early
                              2020 Census planning for its IT investment management, as well as
                              its information security program, which we expect to report out in the
                              months ahead.

                         As we noted in our May 2012 report, the Bureau’s early planning and
Lesson Learned 4:        preparation efforts for the 2020 Census are consistent with most leading
Ensure that the          practices in each of three management areas we reviewed—
                         organizational transformation, long-term planning, and strategic workforce
Bureau’s                 planning. 13 For example, the Bureau is in the middle of a major
Management, Culture,     organizational transformation of its decennial operations, and consistent
and Business             with our leading practices, top Bureau leadership has been driving the
                         transformation through such activities as issuing a strategic plan for the
Practices Align with a   2020 Census, incorporating annual updates of its business plan, and
Cost-Effective           chartering an organizational change management council comprised of
                         Bureau-wide executives and senior managers. The Bureau also has
Enumeration              focused on a key set of principles as it begins to roll-out the
                         transformation strategy to staff, and has created a timeline to build
                         momentum and show progress. Although the decennial directorate is
                         progressing with its organizational transformation, the person responsible
                         for this effort—the Bureau’s organizational change manager—is

                           For example, GAO, Information Technology: Census Bureau Testing of 2010 Decennial
                         Systems Can Be Strengthened, GAO-09-262 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 5, 2009);
                         GAO-08-79; and Census Bureau: Important Activities for Improving Management of Key
                         2010 Decennial Acquisitions Remain to be Done, GAO-06-444T (Washington, D.C.: Mar.
                         1, 2006).
                          GAO, 2020 Census: Additional Steps Are Needed to Build on Early Planning,
                         GAO-12-626 (Washington, D.C.: May 17, 2012).

                         Page 12                                                                 GAO-12-905T
responsible for a number of tasks, including transformation planning and
implementation, and leading two working groups. At this point in the
process, the amount of change-related activity the Bureau is considering
may exceed the resources the Bureau has allocated to plan, coordinate,
and carry it out. As a result, the planned transformation efforts could be
difficult to sustain.

We also noted in May 2012 that the Bureau is taking steps consistent with
many of the leading practices for long-term project planning, such as
issuing a series of planning memorandums in 2009 and 2010 that laid out
a high-level framework documenting goals, assumptions, and timing of
the remaining four phases of the 2020 Census. 14 The Bureau also
created a high-level schedule of program management activities for the
remaining phases, documented key elements such as the Bureau’s
decennial mission, vision, and guiding principles, and produced a
business plan to support budget requests, which is being updated
annually. These are important steps forward that, if continued, could help
the Bureau’s planning stay on track for 2020. However, the Bureau’s
schedule does not include milestones or deadlines for key decisions
needed to support transition between the planning phases which could
result in later downstream planning activity not being based on evidence
from such sources as early research and testing.

Also in the area of long-term planning, to help incorporate lessons
learned, in 2011 the Bureau created a recommendation follow-up
process, built around a database it created containing various oversight
and internal Bureau recommendations. Not having a formal process for
recommendation follow-up for prior censuses made it difficult to ensure
that recommendations were considered by those at the Bureau best able
to act on them. The Bureau has provided these recommendations to
relevant Bureau research and testing teams and is beginning to take
steps to hold the teams accountable for reporting on how they are
considering them.

The Bureau is also taking steps consistent with leading practices for
strategic workforce planning, including identifying current and future
critical occupations with a pilot assessment of the competencies of
selected information technology 2020 Census positions. However, the


Page 13                                                          GAO-12-905T
               Bureau has done little yet either to identify the goals that should guide
               workforce planning or to determine how to monitor, report, and evaluate
               its progress toward achieving them, which could help the Bureau identify
               and avoid possible barriers to implementing its workforce plans.

               While the Bureau’s efforts are largely consistent with leading practices in
               each of these areas, in our May 2012 report, we noted that additional
               steps could be taken going forward to build on these early planning
               efforts. Specifically, we recommended that the Director take a number of
               actions to make 2020 Census planning more consistent with key
               practices in the three management areas, such as examining planned
               transformation activity to ensure its alignment with resources, developing
               a more-detailed long-term schedule to smooth transition to later planning
               phases, and setting workforce planning goals and monitor them to ensure
               their attainment. The Department of Commerce concurred with our
               findings and recommendations and has taken steps to address our
               recommendations. For example, to support to its organizational
               transformation activities the Bureau has added additional staff and
               contractor support.

               The Bureau is moving forward along a number of fronts to secure a more
Concluding     cost-effective 2020 enumeration. Many components are already in place,
Observations   a number of assessment and planning activities are underway, and the
               Bureau has been responsive to our past recommendations. Further, the
               Bureau is generally applying key leading practices in the areas of
               organizational transformation, long-term project planning, and strategic
               workforce planning, although additional efforts are needed in the months
               ahead. In short, the Bureau continues to make noteworthy progress in
               reexamining both the fundamental design of the census as well as its own
               management and culture.

               While this news is encouraging, it is still early in the decade, and the
               Bureau’s experience in planning earlier enumerations has shown how
               ambitious preparations at the start of the census life-cycle can derail as
               Census Day draws near. Thus, as the Bureau’s 2020 planning and reform
               efforts gather momentum, the effectiveness of those efforts will be
               determined in large measure by the extent to which they enhance the
               Bureau’s ability to control costs, ensure quality, and adapt to future
               technological and societal changes. Likewise, it will be important for
               Congress to hold the Bureau accountable for results, weighing-in on key
               design decisions, providing the Bureau with resources the Congress
               believes are appropriate to support that design, and ensuring that the

               Page 14                                                         GAO-12-905T
                   progress made to date stays on track. The Bureau’s initial preparations
                   for 2020 are making progress. Nonetheless, continuing congressional
                   oversight remains vital.

                   Chairman Carper, Ranking Member Brown, and Members of the
                   Subcommittee, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be
                   pleased to respond to any questions that you may have at this time.

                   If you have any questions on matters discussed in this statement, please
GAO Contacts and   contact Robert Goldenkoff at (202) 512-2757 or by e-mail at
Staff              goldenkoffr@gao.gov. Other key contributors to this testimony include
                   Richard Hung, Ty Mitchell, Lisa Pearson, Mark Ryan, and Timothy
Acknowledgements   Wexler.

                   Page 15                                                        GAO-12-905T
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             Page 16                                                        GAO-12-905T
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           Page 17                                                        GAO-12-905T
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