Skip to comments.IT Problems Put Accuracy of Census at Risk, Say Government Auditors
Posted on 03/29/2010 12:33:56 PM PDT by kcvl
Washington D.C. (CNSNews.com) Information technology problems at the U.S. Census Bureau could cause inaccuracies in this years constitutionally mandated count of the U.S. population, according to government auditors.
IT problems place the efficiency and accuracy of Non-Response Follow-Up at risk and final decennial costs remain uncertain, said Judith Gordon, the principal assistant inspector general for Audit and Evaluation at the Department of Commerce, in testimony before Congress last week.
Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) is the Census Bureaus program for sending people into the field to count people who have not returned mailed Census forms. The NRFU is the Census Bureaus largest operation and involves personally interviewing millions of people nationwide.
Robert Goldenkoff, the director of strategic issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told CNSNews.com that an estimated 50 million housing units out of a mail-out universe of about 120 million will be non-respondents that will require an in-person follow-up to count.
The Census Bureau is specifically having problems with two IT systems. One is the Paper-Based Operational Control System (PBOC), which is the computer database where Census Bureau field operatives upload the data they collect from people who did not mail responses to the bureau.
The second is the Decennial Applicant Personnel and Payroll System (DAPPS), which is the system used to keep track of, and pay, the more than 600,000 temporary federal workers who help conduct the Census operations.
Last Thursday, the GAO released a report on the Census Bureaus IT problems entitled, Data Collection is Under Way, But Reliability of Key Information Technology Systems Remains a Risk. The report indicated that the government has known about the problem for some time.
The report stated that last February, the GAO had testified that key IT systems -- most notably an automated system used to manage field-data collection known as the Paper-Based Operations Control System (PBOCS), and a personnel and payroll processing system called the Decennial Applicant Personnel and Payroll System (DAPPS) -- were experiencing significant performance issues.
The new GAO report concluded that IT problems have not been solved.
Aside from the mail response rate, which is outside of the Bureaus direct control, the most significant risk jeopardizing the cost and quality of the enumeration lies in the performance problems that continue to plague DAPPS and PBOCS, said the report. Indeed, neither system has yet demonstrated the ability to function reliably under full operational loads, and the limited amount of time that remains to improve the reliability of these systems creates a substantial challenge for the Bureau.
Using the New Orlreans field operations as an example, the report described how the PBOC system worked very slowly, or sometimes not at all, and that for this reason the Census Bureau had to restrict the number of field operatives who could use it.
While the first release of this system was deployed for early census field operations in January 2010 and certain components of the second release were deployed in February 2010, both releases have known defects, such as limited functionality, slow performance, and problems generating certain progress and performance reports, said the report.
For example, Bureau officials from a local census office in the Gulf Coast, working on hand delivering questionnaires in the hurricane-affected area, indicated that PBOCS has been operating very slowly and is occasionally unavailable, reads the report. Although not necessarily indicative of PBOCS issues occurring elsewhere in the country, it does highlight some of the productivity problems resulting from the shortcomings with PBOCS. The Bureau has also had to restrict the number of PBOCS users per local census office due to capacity limitations. In many cases, temporary work-arounds have been communicated to field staff; however, these issues must be resolved and retested.
The report said that an upgrade to the system that will be used for the field-counting of people who have not returned mail forms, the Non-Response Follow-Up, will not be ready until the middle of next month, leaving little time to iron out problems that may be discovered in testing it.
Furthermore, the component of the second release that will be used to manage NRFU, the largest field operation, is still being tested and is not planned for deployment until mid-April 2010 -- about 3 weeks later than planned, said the report. With the NRFU operation scheduled to begin in early May 2010, this leaves little time to address issues identified during testing.
Federal officials overseeing the 2010 Census also testified on Thursday in the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on the Census about the IT problems. Goldenkoff, along with Gordon at the Department of Commerce, which runs the Census Bureau, testified along with Arnold Jackson, the associate director for the decennial count at the Census Bureau.
The Bureau is in the process of hiring an estimated 600,000 people to conduct the NRFU operation from May through July 2010. The new hires will be trained in April.
During the hearing, Goldenkoff warned that little time is left to correct the IT problems that affect the NRFU.
Goldenkoff drew attention to the fact that the upgraded PBOC system for handling field counts would not be ready until the middle of April and that there would be little time to test it before the field counts began.
This is about three weeks later than planned and barely ahead of when the Non-Response Follow-Up is scheduled to begin in early May, he added. As a result, little time will be left to resolve any problems identified during testing.
Nevertheless, the Census Bureaus Jackson was optimistic that the bureau would be successful in its count despite the IT problems.
We feel that we are more than prepared to do a successful Non-Response Follow-Up at a range of response estimates on time and within the budget we have, testified Jackson.
The operating budget for the NRFU is $2.7 billion, according to Goldenkoffs written testimony.
Goldenkoffs also testified that the DAPPS system for handling the field workers payroll lacks capacity and is sluggish.
The Census Bureaus IT deficiencies also make it difficult to accurately provide a final cost for the 2010 Census, which is currently estimated at around $14.7 billion.
Key information technology systems continue to experience performance functionality shortfalls and these systems can affect the ultimate scheduled cost and success of the Census, said Gordon.
Goldenkoff pointed out that not addressing the IT problems could result in the Census costing more than the estimated $14.7 billion figure.
It certainly will affect cost if you want to be totally precise about it, Goldenkoff told CNSNews.com.
If the automated processes arent working properly, if there are shortcomings with that, then one work around is bringing more people to do the job manually and obviously more people, more staff time, and it could increase costs that way, he explained.
Gordon and Goldenkoff acknowledged that the Census is working towards resolving its IT problems.
While our testimony today discusses serious IT system challenges, we are mindful of the extraordinary efforts being made by a very dedicated Census staff to achieve a successful outcome, said Gordon.
Americans are expected to use April 1, the National Census Day, as a reference point for mailing back their Census questionnaire.
Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution calls for a decennial enumeration of the American people to be used for the appropriation of seats in the House of Representatives among states.
As if they weren’t going to fudge the numbers anyway.
If you will remember this census is now under the control of the White House.
I’m thinking fudged numbers here.
No gubermint program is ever a failure, it’s just underfunded.
Are they creating a crisis or does one exist?
Are we getting this “news” now so that when they manipulate the outcome, they hope no one will ask questions?
They only had 10 years to prepare for this. Give ‘em a break.
An opportunity for Chinese hackers?
And just think, pretty soon, we’ll all be beholden to their health care mandates.
Don’t it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?
Well, they’ll just round up a little here, and drop a decimal there.....wow...look at that....30 R districts suddenly lost all their population!
Radical Left Leaning Overestimator Module.
All they have to do is COUNT PEOPLE. How hard could it be? We did it for centuries without computers — how could they screw it up now? 1, 2, 3, 4 — it’s so easy a caveman or Democrat should be able to do it.
When they come to my door and ask me why I put ‘other-American’ for race I am going to say “Non Response F-U”
Hundreds of millions in advertising, and they forget to throw a couple million at better hardware and database systems optimization so the results can actually be tallied.
I don’t know how hard the census could be to count. It asks how many live in your household, age, date of birth and race. It took all of two minutes to fill out.
No big deal to me. No one showed up at my house, just the form and I mailed it back immediately.
Unless, everyone else gets another form I don’t know why this is so hard.
You summed it up, but likely your estimated 30 R districts will be multiplied many times over nationwide to delete R districts and create new D districts (after all stimulus funds were appropriated to districts that didn't even exist).
Well, Obama has to cheat in such a way that we all know he cheated but no one can really prove that he cheated. Could be tricky.
GEICO has already pi$$ed off cavemen enough, no need to add insult to injury.
Of course the IT problems. If it weren’t for the IT problems, the Obama administration wouldn’t be able to prove that 400 million Mexicans, African-Americans and other persons belonging to ethic minority groups, live in the United States, along with a half-dozen or so Caucasians?
How can anyone mail it back before 4/1? The question asks how many will be living there on April 1st. So in order to be truthful don’t you have to wait until 4/1 to mail it back?
So does 40 million illegal aliens.
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