Census Bureau Goes Tech Shopping for 2020 Count

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The bureau is looking for help with background vetting, app testing and other prep for the decennial.

The Census Bureau is ramping up technology investments to address a slew of IT issues experts fear could pose major threats to the integrity of the decennial count.

So far this month, the bureau already requested information on three different IT services to support efforts leading up to 2020 and extended an existing deal to secure its largest databases.

The Government Accountability Office designated the 2020 Census as a “high-risk” project last year after it found the bureau had fallen far behind schedule on developing and testing the vast majority of its IT systems. Congress has since injected the agency with an extra $3 billion, about half of which will go to IT.

The extra funds helped get kickstart many long-delayed tech projects, but experts worry the those systems’ cybersecurity might suffer from an accelerated rollout.

Here’s a look at a few efforts the bureau wants to get underway as it scrambles to prepare for the tech-heavy count:

Faster, Better Employee Vetting

The bureau published a request for information for systems to run background checks on the extra employees it needs for the 2020 count. Potential contractors will be expected to fully vet roughly 1 million applicants for about 440,000 low-, medium- and high-risk positions supporting the decennial census, according to the RFI.

The document specifies background checks for temporary employees should take no more than six months, and vendors must also have the capacity to vet other contractors, career officials and other long-term federal employees. The deal will run through the end of fiscal 2021.

In February, GAO found the Census Investigative Services office ignored its own rules for guaranteeing the quality of background checks and misallocated more than $1 million in employee salaries. The office also failed to follow proper procedures for awarding contracts and violated GAO background check standards.

The agency ran roughly 3.8 million background checks and hired more than 850,000 temporary employees for the 2010 Census.

Help With Apps and Storage

The agency is looking for a group to build and service the software and systems employees will need to collect data in the field. Potential vendors would be responsible for developing, updating and supporting data collection apps and data storage systems throughout the 2020 count.

The contractor would also select and manage the mobile devices enumerators will use to conduct door-to-door interviews around the country, according to the RFI. The five-year contract is only available to small businesses.

Data Collection Testing

Census analysts will need also to test all that software, and the bureau is looking for a vendor to automate the process. Contractors would put the software through the most possible combinations of user entries and identify errors as quickly as possible, according to the RFI.

Automating the software testing process would save time and money, allowing the agency to move forward on a number of delayed projects for in-field operations. Testing would involve making sure all software is intuitive for field employees and meets agency security and user experience requirements.

Keeping Data in the Right Hands

The bureau awarded a non-competitive contract to the software company TRIVIR to run identity and authentication for in-house databases, including the Census Public Access Security System, which houses data from the decennial, economic census and other surveys.

The company has already been working with the bureau on to develop access management services and boosting IT to meet governmentwide security standards. The $9.5 million deal could potentially extend the partnership through October 2022.

Citing the urgency of the deal, the bureau said, “there are no government experts or resources to transition the work without impacting time and cost in the event services do not continue” on the project.

“If resources are unavailable to complete the work on C-PASS, the tool will not be supported through future releases, personally identifiable information data will not be secure and the bureau will be vulnerable to systems attack,” acquisition officers wrote in the document justifying the decision.