Census Targets Data Modernization, Cybersecurity Ahead of 2030 Rollout

Address canvassing conducted before the 2020 census.

Address canvassing conducted before the 2020 census. U.S. Census Bureau

Officials at the Census Bureau want to give the agency’s operations a strong, data-centric approach to collecting and securing American demographic information.

The Census Bureau is reflecting on lessons learned from the most recent 2020 decennial census with the intention of modernizing and upgrading its operational technology years ahead of the forthcoming 2030 census. 

Barbara LoPresti, division chief for the Decennial Information Technology Division, told Nextgov that the agency is garnering feedback from relevant stakeholders to create a more evidence-based, integrated operational framework to apply to the 2030 census. 

“What is underway right now is we are in our design phase of our lifecycle in the 2030 census,” she said. “So at this stage, we are taking feedback internally from various sources to form these research product projects.”

LoPresti specified that the Census Bureau had used cloud technology for data storage and collection, as part of its 2020 census operations. Most of the cloud softwares were infrastructure-as-a-service models while others were cloud-native applications or softwares built within the cloud for specific devices. 

The flexible, scaling structure of cloud computing suited the Census Bureau’s needs; however, LoPresti said it was more expensive than similar cloud native applications. She added that the agency is working on moving away from the “lift and shift” strategy––which describes the movement of a software application to one environment from another with no alterations for that different environment––to examine what software will best work for different needs. 

“We're looking at our applications—and doing a discovery and assessment—and developing a target architecture for 2030 to determine what makes sense to…be as efficient as possible,” she said. 

The Census Bureau will be looking for solutions both internally and externally. Referencing the recent executive orders signed by President Joe Biden over the last year, LoPresti said that cybersecurity and data protection measures are major priorities within Census, and the agency has established partnerships with fellow federal entities like the National Security Council.

LoPresti added that the Census Bureau already has a cybersecurity contractor ready to fortify its data protection measures. 

“We have done our due diligence to ensure that we have safe and secure software that we're using,” she said. 

Aside from a robust cybersecurity posture and tailored cloud applications, Census is also looking for vendors and in-house staff to implement more emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and mobile computing. 

“Our deputy director, Ron Jarmin, has a vision … he wants us to be a prudent leader in data science organization,” LoPresti said. “We're going through transformation, we’re focusing on a data centric approach and…data science is a top priority.”

Artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms play a key role in efficient data analytics programs, she continued, saying she expects both to be “top features” in the agency’s 2030 Census research plans.