Census Names New Top Tech Official as Agency Prepares for 2020 Count

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The hires comes less than a month after lawmakers pressed the agency to appoint a permanent CIO, following a nearly yearlong vacancy.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Kevin Smith's job title at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The article has been corrected. 

After nearly a yearlong vacancy, the Census Bureau is naming a new top tech official to manage the bureau’s IT strategy as it prepares to enter a critical phase of planning for the 2020 decennial population count.

Census announced June 6 it had hired Kevin Smith to serve as the bureau’s associate director for information technology and chief information officer. Smith, the fomer deputy CIO at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, starts at Census this month, according to an agency release.

The hires comes less than a month after members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee pressed the agency to appoint a permanent CIO. Last July, former CIO Brian McGrath left the agency after six years for a post elsewhere in government.

As CIO, Smith will be the lead adviser on information resources and information systems management, according to an agency release.

In a statement, Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson said Smith would be an “immediate asset” to the agency’s 2020 planning.

“Kevin Smith has the exact skill set and experience the Census Bureau needs,” he said. “He’s been an IT leader in both government and the private sector, making him uniquely qualified to lead our technological transformation.”

Smith previously worked at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as deputy CIO and chief information security officer. Smith also previously worked as a federal contractor and as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies, according to the Census release.

The Census plans to roll out several key technology initiatives for the 2020 count designed to make the process more efficient and save billions. They include allowing households to fill out forms online and equipping fieldworkers who go door-to-door with mobile devices.

However, members of Congress and the Government Accountability Office have raised persistent concerns over the bureau’s timeline for testing out the new tech.

About a decade ago, a similar plan to equip census-takers with mobile devices for the 2010 count, collapsed before launch, adding billions of dollars of unexpected costs to the count’s price tag.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wrote to Census officials last month expressing concern that the bureau would not have enough to complete complex end-to-end testing of critical IT components, including mobile devices.

In a statement provided to Nextgov at the time, Census officials said the bureau was “on track” for a complete end-to-end test of systems by the mandated end-of-2018 deadline.

The oversight committee is holding a hearing June 9 to examine the bureau’s preparation for the 2020 count.

Set to testify are Thompson, the bureau’s director; Steve Cooper, the CIO of the Commerce Department, the Census’ parent agency; and Harry A. Lee, Census’ acting CIO.

During the hearing, GAO will also release a study examining the bureau’s efforts to modernize its data collection efforts as well as the impact of “longstanding vacancies in important IT leadership roles” at the agency, according to a hearing notice.