2020 Census Will Be Offered Online

The upcoming census will be offered online which presents new challenges, but the Census Bureau says it has been successful in addressing them.

For the first time ever, the upcoming census can be taken online. However, the Census Bureau said that it will be done the old fashioned way as well.

Census Day will be on April 1, 2020, and the Census Bureau said it is busy preparing for the upcoming census. In fact, preparations begin years in advance because it is such a large undertaking.

The agency said this week that it is nearing the successful completion of its final readiness test. The 2018 Census Test in Providence County, R.I. was the last operational field test prior to the once-a-decade population count taking place in 2020.

As part of the test, the Census Bureau tested each of the three self-response methods that the public will be able to use in the 2020 Census: internet, phone and paper.

For conducting the census via a person going door-to-door, the agency has used technology to improve the process. Enumerators (the individuals employed for conducting the census) will use iPhones for all aspects of their work including receiving assignments, viewing the most efficient order for visiting each household, submitting their hours, and securely recording, encrypting and transmitting each respondent’s information.

On the latter point, the Census Bureau touted recent security improvements as part of its systems used in conducting the census. According to the agency:

Protection of your data is at the forefront of every decision we make at the Census Bureau. To that end, we have designed our IT systems to defend against and contain cyber threats. From the beginning of the data collection process through the final storage of information, we protect your responses following industry best practices and federal requirements, including data encryption and using two forms of authentication to secure system access. The security of our systems is a top priority, and we continually refine our approach to address emerging threats and to position ourselves to prevent, detect, respond and recover from possible cyber threats.

The announcement from the Census Bureau this week came after a recent Government Accountability Office report which noted that the agency still had some work to do regarding IT security.

GAO noted in its report:

The Bureau has made progress by completing the security assessments for 33 of the 44 systems needed to support the 2018 End-to-End Test. However, as of June 2018, the Bureau had identified nearly 3,100 security weaknesses that will need to be addressed in the coming months. Because the 2020 Census involves collecting personal information from over a hundred million households across the country, it will be important that the Bureau addresses system security weaknesses in a timely manner and ensures that risks are at an acceptable level before systems are deployed.

GAO also raised questions about the substantial growth in the Census Bureau’s IT costs. The agency said that its estimated IT costs had grown from $3.41 billion in October 2015 to $4.97 billion in December 2017—an increase of $1.56 billion. The increase was primarily due to the addition of technical integration services and updated costs for other major contracts (such as the contract for mobile devices).

“The amount of cost growth since the October 2015 estimate raises questions as to whether the Bureau has a complete understanding of the IT costs associated with the 2020 Census,” wrote GAO.

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.