A report by the Government Accountability Office found that many of the Census Bureau’s plans for dealing with risks associated with the 2020 census lack crucial information needed to manage them.
The census provides data for governments and businesses, apportioning seats of the U.S. House and state legislatures, redrawing congressional districts and allocating billions of dollars in government funding.
GAO examined the mitigation and contingency plans for six risks, including cybersecurity incidents, insufficient levels of staff, design challenges, operations and systems integration, and public perception of the Bureau’s ability to safeguard census data.
According to the report, GAO found that the plans did “not consistently include key information needed to manage the risk.”
GAO found that missing information was due to either “requirements missing from the Bureau’s decennial risk management plan, or that risk owners were not fulfilling all of their risk management responsibilities.”
Bureau officials stated that they were “managing risks to the census” even if not always documented in the plans.
According to GAO, lack of documentation leaves decision-makers “without an integrated and comprehensive picture of how the Bureau is managing risks to the census,” and that if plans are “not properly managed, could adversely affect the cost and quality of the 2020 census.”
The Bureau identified 360 active risks to the 2020 census.
GAO found that of the 242 risks that required a mitigation plan, only 232 had one; of the 146 risks that required a contingency plan, only 102 had one. Though the Bureau said that plans should be established as soon as possible after risks are registered, there is no clear time frame, meaning some risks go without mitigation or contingency plans for extended periods of time.
GAO made seven recommendations to the agency, “including that the Bureau set clear time frames for developing mitigation and contingency plans … hold risk owners accountable for carrying out their risk management responsibilities … update its anti-fraud strategy” and require plans to include all key information needed to manage the risks.
In its response letter, the Census Bureau’s parent agency, the Department of Commerce, said they agree with GAO’s findings, and that the Census Bureau is “preparing a formal corrective action plan regarding each recommendation, including expected completion dates and our prioritization for each planned action.”