Census Bureau's readiness questioned due to tech difficulties

The Census Bureau's "readiness for a successful headcount is mixed" in part because the agency remains hampered by "ongoing performance issues" affecting its IT systems, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In a report released this week and delivered Tuesday to the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, GAO officials noted a number of software programs that assist Census officials in the field are still experiencing "significant performance difficulties."

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Investigators found the problems are concentrated within two specific systems: a program that helps the bureau manage its work assignments, and a system that handles payroll data for the agency's more than 1 million temporary employees.

Both are essential to the agency, which faces the decennial task of soliciting information from Americans across the country for the purpose of assigning congressional seats.

However, the two systems have long been subject to key technical defects, some of which GAO Strategic Issues Director Robert Goldenkoff on Tuesday told lawmakers had been fixed. But, citing his office's latest report, he said many kinks "remain unresolved, and new defects were identified."

Together, those tech glitches, user errors and related system flaws could create delays that jumble the Census Bureau's information collection and tabulation schedule, according to his office's report.

Those setbacks, moreover, could even inflate the agency's budget, as Census officials may require more money to operate over a longer term, the GAO found.

“With key deadlines looming, it will be important for the bureau to identify the defects affecting the IT systems, test solutions and quickly implement changes,” Goldenkoff stressed.