Census Can Move Forward After $283 Million Contract Dispute

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AT&T, the company that filed the protest, reached a deal to work as a subcontractor on Census operations.

AT&T will no longer protest a Census Bureau contract to provide mobile devices for workers for the 2020 Census, according to an official from a congressional watchdog agency.

In a letter dated Nov. 8, a Census official told the Government Accountability Office that AT&T would no longer contest the $283 million mobile contract awarded to CDW-G, a GAO official involved in the protest told Nextgov. Instead, the companies reached an agreement in which AT&T would assist CDW-G in Census operations as a subcontractor, the Census official wrote.

The resolution of the mobile contract dispute allows work to resume on preparations for the 2020 Census, which are already far behind schedule.

The bureau awarded CDW-G the contract in June. AT&T protested the award on grounds that Census didn’t give the company the opportunity to address the agency’s concerns regarding the company’s cellular carriers. GAO sustained the protest and recommended that Census recompete the contract and reimburse AT&T for all legal fees during the protest process.

In its letter, the Commerce Department’s General Counsel’s Office told GAO it would reimburse AT&T’s legal fees, but the deal between AT&T and CDW-G made it unnecessary to recompete the contract, the GAO official said.

If Census had recompeted the contract, it could have delayed preparations for the 2020 count even more.

GAO designated the 2020 Census as a “high-risk” project in early 2017 amid concerns over missed deadlines and budget constraints. As of August, only four of the 43 IT systems needed for a 2018 end-to-end test the bureau planned had been fully developed and tested, the watchdog found.

“The main casualty of [these delays] will be reduced testing for security,” Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told a Senate panel in October. Considering that 75 percent of IT systems in question will contain sensitive information about Census respondents, inadequate testing could potentially put people’s data at risk, he said.

Earlier in October, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asked Congress for an additional $4.5 billion in funding for the 2020 Census, calling the Obama administration’s cost projections for the decennial count “overly optimistic.”

In October 2015, the bureau estimated the 2020 Census would cost roughly $12.5 billion after adjusting for inflation, but an independent review of the process determined the expenses would total closer to $15.6 billion and require another $1.2 billion in reserve funds. In his testimony, Ross stressed that the extra funding is crucial for improving management and oversight within the agency and getting delayed IT programs back on track.