My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Get the $800 million back from Harris Corp.

Taxpayers and government officials alike are either unaware of ignorant of one major debacle: The failure of the Harris Corp. to get their job done in creating and implementing functional mobile technology for the Census Bureau. Though this contract, signed in 2006, was originally valued at $600 million, it swelled to $800 million. (Reward insufficient and terrible work with more money…sounds like a solid government plan!!!)

If taxpayers have ever been swindled, this is the company that did it. (Harris Corp. was supposed to save the government $1 billion by implementing technology successfully, but in reality cost taxpayers $800 million for nothing!!! )  Unfortunately, higher-ups at the Census Bureau, initially during the Bush Administration, and currently during the Obama Administration, have done very little to recoup these losses. Legal action should be taken against this company for not performing the services that it was assigned to do. A large portion of this money should be returned to the United States Treasury — or at the very least, used to pay individuals working on the NRFU operations that will have to use a pen and pencil rather than a handheld computer.

In the year 2010, this is nothing short of pathetic. The government’s decision to choose the Harris Corporation for this contract was ludicrous. It’s decision to keep fueling the fires with $200 million of additional cash is shady at best.

MyTwoCensus intends to A. File an FOIA request to find out as much information about this contract as possible and B. Bring down Harris Corp. so they are forced to give this taxpayer money back.

MyTwoCensus urges Congress to pass legislation that prevents this company from obtaining more government contracts until the money for the 2010 Census contract is returned. Immediate government divestment from a corporation that robbed taxpayers is the only way to send the right message.

Additionally, MyTwoCensus calls on the government to immediately terminate  the Census Bureau’s 5-year contract with the Harris Corporation, as it is currently in its 5th year, and that means that there is still a chance to withhold 20% of the cash, or roughly $160 million.

On a more cheeky note, if Tea Party activists want to think of a site to hold their next protest, the Melbourne, Florida headquarters of this sleezy corporation would be one of the best and most symbolic places to do it!

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7 Responses to “MyTwoCensus Editorial: Get the $800 million back from Harris Corp.”

  1. JAG Says:

    Immediately terminate the Harris contract and shutdown 500 Census offices on the eve of Census Day? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. If they did this, your next posting would be about how stupid it was to shutdown the offices right before the Census.

    You have no clue?

  2. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Nobody said to shut down 500 Census offices…

  3. Techy Says:

    Harris also handles the IT infrastructure for the local offices, including the network.
    Terminating the contract means losing ALL IT support in the office, which includes assignment management, payroll, and reports.
    Which would shut the offices down.

  4. JAG Says:

    “Immediately terminate the Harris Contract” = Shutting down the local census office computer network, control systems, phones etc = Shutting down the local census offices……

  5. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    OK, I understand this is idealistic. But what I’m saying is this nonsense needs to be examined and re-evaluated ASAP!

  6. CCD Says:

    I don’t work for Harris or have any other vested interest. However, I do have a background in IT and have read with interest some of the official 2010 Census project reports that are available online. Though Harris may have some culpability, this issue doesn’t seem to be as black/white as described.

    First, the census folks apparently provided late and inadequate initial systems requirements to Harris, and then kept changing the requirements over time. Picture a programmer/engineer asking a customer what needs to be built, and customer saying they aren’t quite sure yet, but it needs to be rectangular like a toaster or railroad car, and somewhere between the two in size. “And by the way, get going on it, because we need it soon!”

    Then having customer come back time and time again during development saying they’ve realized the finished product needs to include this or that new characteristic, and must not include that xyz thing that they insisted on a few months ago.

    IT/engineering organizations have literally no chance of successfully providing what a customer wants, on time and at the agreed cost, unless the customer can and will in a timely fashion describe precisely what is needed. Small changes to desired end product can often be accommodated during development with minimal adverse budgetary/calendar impact. However —-> Disorganized customer + huge, complex project + hazy, unstable requirements + pressing deadline = “Disaster” with a capital “D” for any provider organization, no matter how good they may be or how well meaning.

    Second item I would mention is related to risk management. No reasonable organization undertakes a huge, complex, extremely high profile, mission-critical project (like the US Census) without these two key things:

    1) Very close management of the process from end to end, including well-defined oversight and control of all key vendors

    and

    2) A well-considered and well-documented risk management strategy that includes ‘Plan B’ work-arounds for must-have functions.

    The Census Office apparently neglected both of these very obvious and crucial responsibilities. They were repeatedly cited for not having a risk management assessment or any contingency plans in place. So, when the handheld system via Harris had to be ditched, there was no fallback plan, just a crisis-mode reaction that resulted in a hastily constructed, paper-based data gathering process. US Census officials still don’t know if their last-minute improvisation will support anticipated April/May/June peak load.

    Adding insult to injury, US Census folks are still asking for system changes and they recently pressed the vendor into making the changes faster. This led, predictably, to less pre-production testing, which has in turn resulted in more program glitches in the live system. Based on what I’ve read, one would have to wonder if the system will produce reliable reports even if good data is entered from the field.

    I won’t pretend to be in a position to fully understand and appreciate the challenges of counting every single person in our country. However, like others, I do have mytwocensus opinion. From where I sit, it is inconceivable that the US Census Office (i.e. our federal government) had 10 years to plan for this initiative, plus $15B to pay for it, yet managed to entirely neglect the most fundamental and very most crucial activities required to ensure success.

  7. CCD Says:

    A clarification related to prior comment:

    “Disorganized customer + huge, complex project + hazy, unstable requirements + pressing deadline = “Disaster” with a capital “D” for any provider organization, no matter how good they may be or how well meaning.”

    This kind of situation does result in disaster for a vendor in at least two ways:

    1) Internal confusion, turmoil and frustration from designing, redesigning, retrofitting, undoing, redoing, etc, etc.

    2) Coming out of a long and difficult project with a big black eye and a besmirched public reputation, instead of getting kudos for a job well done.

    On the other hand, there are some positives:

    1) Vendor ends up with a lot more work to do in such scenarios, so their overall project revenue is increased.

    2) Vendor employees/contractors get more work than anticipated from the project, thereby enhancing job security. (Side note – From an engineer/programmer perspective, creating a functional, elegant solution for a customer and then having to redesign, retrofit, patch, undo, redo, etc is about as morale-enhancing as pounding rocks, but it can pay the bills).