GAO Calls for Renewed Focus on IT, Data, Cyber at Census Amid COVID-19

While the Census Bureau was already adjusting to embracing new tech for the 2020 Census, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised new concerns and pushed the agency to increase its focus on IT, data, and cybersecurity matters to properly manage risks.

Per a June 9 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Census Bureau must closely manage its tech to ensure that the pandemic and other delays don’t impact the quality of its 2020 Census results. On top of managing its 52 IT systems to deploy the effort, the bureau must also be prepared to adapt to a higher-than-expected workload with the necessary technology, and to build a sufficient IT contractor workforce.

A Census official told GAO that the bureau is working on accommodating these IT changes, but still needs to conduct additional performance and scalability testing to ensure that the systems can support new IT additions.

On cybersecurity, GAO notes that while the Census Bureau has been making progress to complete its outstanding plans of actions and milestones, the agency doesn’t always meet its established deadlines. The bureau still has 234 open “high” and “very high” risk plans of action and milestones that need to be addressed to improve its position managing cybersecurity risks in a timely way, GAO said.

The Census Bureau is also taking precautions to keep respondent data private and ensure the quality of its data under the limited timeframes. The bureau is currently working on a differential privacy technique that it will make final decisions on in January 2021, but delays to data collection may hinder the bureau’s ability to meet its data delivery goals.

In April 2020, the Census Bureau launched a 2020 Data Quality Executive Governance Group to improve guidance on data quality efforts and facilitate the work of various data working groups as a way to address possible data shortcomings, according to the report.

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