GAO: 2020 Census: Continued Management Attention Needed to Oversee Innovations, Develop and Secure IT Systems, and Improve Cost Estimation

October 2017

The Census Bureau (Bureau) is planning several innovations for the 2020 Decennial Census, including re-engineering field operations, using administrative records to supplement census data, verifying addresses in-office using on-screen imagery, and allowing the public to respond using the Internet. These innovations show promise for controlling costs, but they also introduce new risks, in part because they include new procedures and technologies that have not been used extensively in earlier decennial censuses, if at all.

The Bureau continues to face challenges in managing and overseeing the information technology (IT) programs, systems, and contracts supporting the 2020 Census. For example, GAO's ongoing work indicates that the system development schedule leading up to the 2018 End-to-End test has experienced several delays. Further, the Bureau has not yet addressed several security risks and challenges to secure its systems and data, including making certain that security assessments are completed in a timely manner and that risks are at an acceptable level.

In addition, the Bureau's cost estimate is not reliable and is out-of-date. Specifically, in June 2016, GAO reported that the cost estimate for the 2020 Census did not fully reflect characteristics of a high-quality estimate and could not be considered reliable. Moreover, since the Bureau did not follow cost estimation best practices, its annual budget requests based on the cost estimate may not be fully informed. Additionally, the Bureau has not yet updated its October 2015 cost estimate, but GAO expects that the cost of the current census design (around $12.5 billion in 2020 constant dollars) will increase due to, for example, expected increases in 2020 program IT costs. Report


GAO: 2020 Census: Bureau Is Taking Steps to Address Limitations of Administrative Records

July 2017

The cost of the decennial census has escalated the last 4 decades. To help control costs for the 2020 Census, the Bureau plans to use innovative methods, including administrative records when they are of sufficient quality to reduce expensive field visits. Administrative records are information already provided to the federal government and others to administer programs such as tax collection and public assistance. While these innovations have potential to control cost, they also introduce new risks. GAO added the 2020 Census to its High-Risk List in part because of the challenges with implementing administrative records and other innovations. GAO was asked to review coverage limitations of administrative records and what the Bureau is doing to address them.

For the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau plans to use administrative records (data that people have already voluntarily given to the federal government) to help improve its results and reduce some door-to-door visits. The Bureau estimated that using these data could save $900 million.

While the Bureau has taken a number of steps to validate the information in the administrative record data, it is still testing how it will use the data—such as how managers will use it to check data collected in the field. Report




GAO: 2020 Census: Additional Actions Would Help the Bureau Realize Potential Administrative Records Cost Savings 

October 2015

The cost of the decennial census has steadily increased during the past 40 years, prompting the Bureau to reengineer key census-taking methods for the 2020 Census, including making greater use of information from administrative records. 

Increased reliance on administrative records—information already provided to the government as it administers other programs—has been discussed since the 1970s as a possible way to improve the quality or reduce the cost of the decennial census, and it may finally play a significant role in the decennial census in 2020. The U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) estimates that it can save $1.4 billion using administrative records, compared to relying solely on traditional methods. Report


DOC OIG: 2020 Census: The 2014 Census Test Misses an Opportunity to Validate Cost Estimates and Establish Benchmarks for Progress 

September 2015

The Bureau still lacks an auditable cost estimation process, which calls into question the reliability of the Bureau’s estimated $5.1 billion savings for a redesigned 2020 Census. Report.  




DOC OIG: The Census Bureau Lacks Accurate and Informative Cost Data to Guide 2020 Census Research Through a Constrained Budget Environment

May 2014

At a cost of $94 per household, the life-cycle cost of the 2010 Census was about $13 billion. The Census Bureau is committed to conducting the 2020 Census for less, per household, than the 2010 Census. To achieve this goal, the Bureau must make fun- damental changes to the design, implementation, and management of the decennial census. If the Bureau fails to innovate in these areas, the per-household cost of the 2020 Census could reach $148. Report

Media Coverage

New York Post: Census Bureau’s books just don’t add up




DOC OIG: 2020 Census Planning: Delays with 2010 Census Research Studies May Adversely Impact the 2020 Decennial Census 

April 2012

The Census Bureau recognizes that it must fundamentally change its decennial design to improve the enumeration quality of the 2020 Census and contain life cycle costs within its preliminary estimates of $12.8–18 billion. 

Our review of select early 2020 Census planning efforts found that the assessments and other studies from the previous census cycle lagged behind schedule. By February 2012, the Bureau had released 14 reports—however, according to its revised schedule, 38 reports should have been released by December 31, 2011. Delays in completing the 109 studies from the 2010 CPEX create a risk that results may not be available as inputs for the thirty-five 2020 Census research projects slated to begin during FY 2012. Report




DOC OIG: 2010 Census: Final Report to Congress   

June 2011

This report’s objective is to summarize OIG's findings, examine the 2010 Census programs, and provide recommendations for improvements that will benefit future decennial censuses. Report