Chairman Enzi Questions Census Bureau About Controlling Costs for 2020 Census

WASHINGTON D.C. – Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) is questioning Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham about the Bureau’s plans to control the cost of the 2020 Census.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) placed the 2020 Census on its high-risk list because of concerns with the development and security of information technology (IT) systems and unreliable cost estimates.

“The 2010 Census was the most expensive in history, costing about $12.3 billion.  With the 2020 Census quickly approaching. The Bureau must ensure that it produces an accurate count while controlling costs,” Chairman Enzi wrote. “The changes the Bureau has unveiled for the 2020 Census—such as permitting respondents to complete their forms online, reengineering data collection methods, and using administrative records to limit follow-up—could help save important tax dollars. But despite these changes, the Bureau’s estimated costs for the 2020 Census continue to rise.”  

Enzi noted in his letter that in December 2017, the Bureau estimated the total cost of the redesigned census to be about $15.6 billion, including a $1.2 billion Secretarial-Controlled Contingency fund for unforeseen events. This estimate is a significantly higher than the actual cost of the 2010 Census.  Information technology appears to be a major driver of the increased cost estimate. The Bureau reports that estimated IT costs grew by $1.56 billion—from $3.41 billion to $4.97 billion—between October 2015 and December 2017. According to GAO, the Bureau faces challenges managing and overseeing the IT programs, systems, and contracts supporting the 2020 Census.

Enzi specifically wants to know if the Bureau made progress in filling the positions needed to oversee key contractors, and what steps the Bureau plans to take to ensure that future costs, particularly in-person canvassing costs, are consistent with estimates. The chairman is also seeking more information about the Bureau’s plans to ensure that its IT systems are fully tested on time and that any security weaknesses are appropriately addressed before systems are deployed.

Read the full letter to the Census Bureau here.

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