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.

Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

OMG! The United States Census Bureau has finally done something proactive, progressive, and, dare we say it, cool! We present the top 12 reasons the Census Bureau is now almost cool in 2012!

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

The top 12 reasons the US  Census Bureau is now almost cool in 2012

1. The Census Bureau has created an API.

2. The Census Bureau has created an API.

3. The Census Bureau has created an API.

4. The Census Bureau has created an API.

5. The Census Bureau has created an API.

6. The Census Bureau has created an API.

7. The Census Bureau has created an API.

8. The Census Bureau has created an API.

9. The Census Bureau has created an API.

10. The Census Bureau has created an API.

11. The Census Bureau has created an API.

12. The Census Bureau has created an API.

Here’s the deal in detail. If only they did this in 2008…

BS Alert: PBOCS system creators claim that the 2010 Census operations were successful…Lies, lies, and more lies!

Monday, October 25th, 2010

To any investors out there, this is as much of a bull-shit alert as I can possibly give you. As MyTwoCensus has repeatedly noted, and the Census Bureau has repeatedly acknowledged, the PBOCS systems used during 2010 Census operations were complete failures that created problems resulting in severely delayed operations (thousands of workers sat around waiting for assignments) and mismanaged data (2010 Census forms had to be manually imported at a snail’s pace, and who knows how many of these never made it into the system at all…). But the PR teams below state otherwise:

Rally helps ICS deliver mandated requirements 50% faster using 1/3 staff of previous efforts and demonstrates best practices for improving U.S. government’s outsourced IT operations

WASHINGTON and BOULDER, Colo., Oct. 20 /PRNewswire/ — Rally®, the leader in Agile application lifecycle management (ALM), and ICS, a proven 8(a) information technology contractor, today announced that Rally’s Agile ALM platform played a central role in the success of ICS’s work in support of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 decennial census.

Rally Unlimited Edition enabled the 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team to deliver the Census Bureau’s paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) software over 50% faster than delivery times of the 2000 or the 1990 census software, with just 1/3 of the staff. By tracking its software development process with Rally, ICS not only delivered software requirements and met immovable deadlines, but exceeded expectations by delivering an additional software module.

“The efficiencies we realized with Rally are a perfect example of the change being driven within the government to improve the performance of IT operations across the board,” said Khurram Shah, ICS founding partner and chief strategy officer. “The velocity and productivity gains Rally brought to the 2010 Census Agile ICS development team enabled us to deliver applications that processed more data at a much faster rate than during previous Census operations.”

About the United States Census

The United States Census is a decennial census mandated by the United States Constitution to gather statistics on the U.S. population. The data collected helps determine the number of seats states have in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the 2010 Census, this data also helps communities receive more than $400 billion in federal funds each year.

“Because Census deadlines are mandated by the Constitution, there’s no question that the execution, performance and timing of our software development operation was critical,” said Erika Peace, technical project manager at ICS. “Rally provided the right tools at the right time so we could cost-effectively deliver technology more accurately aligned with our client’s business objectives.”

Challenges

Software development requirements are defined by the mandate that decennial U.S. Census figures are based on actual counts of every person dwelling in U.S. residential structures. Delivery dates are immovable, as the Census Bureau is required by law to report the nation’s population and the allotment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state by the end of December. The 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team also had to adapt to changing requirements and unique circumstances, such as the challenges around accurately counting “group quarters,” like college students living in dormitories.

Solution and Results

The 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team brought in Agile development practices to deliver 12 key requirements for the Census Bureau’s paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) software. By implementing Rally Unlimited Edition to provide the real-time status, progress and quality of the Census Bureau’s software development processes, the Agile ICS team over-delivered ahead of schedule – completing all requirements in just 18 months with just 1/3 of the staff.

“By taking advantage of Rally’s Agile ALM platform, the 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team was able to help the Census Bureau improve the speed and accuracy of the 2010 census-taking process in response to the ever-increasing population of the United States,” said Ryan Martens, Rally’s founder and CTO. “Demonstrating that Agile practices meet federal schedule performance index requirements allows Rally’s Agile ALM platform to align with government projects.”

In order to achieve critical requirements within the allotted timeframe, every incremental build resulted in shippable, working software. The 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team used Rally to meet changing requirements, build incrementally and turn deliverables around quickly. Requirements, acceptance tests and source code changes were tracked in Rally’s Agile ALM platform, giving the team rapid feedback on the status and quality of each build.

Rally’s powerful reporting capabilities were critical for providing data analysis, progress reports and status updates to government officials on a daily basis. Providing real-time visibility to senior government officials was vital for making informed decisions, assessing scope change and tracking team progress to delivery.

While addressing the National Press Club, Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert Groves summed up the importance of the PBOCS software delivered by ICS and how well it was performing when he said, “This software system, called the Paper-Based Operation Control System (PBOCS), performs various functions that are really crucial for the non-response follow-up phase…we’re processing at rates that we never imagined we could process.” (1)

Government Agile Success Tour

Rally is hosting a special edition of its Agile Success Tour on October 21, 2010 in Bedford, MA for those working in Federal contracting environments. This free, interactive half-day seminar is intended for anyone who is adopting or considering adopting Agile development practices for government software projects. Northrop Grumman and Rally Software will discuss real-life Agile implementation stories from the Department of Defense, civilian agencies, and state and local governments.

About ICS

ICS is a certified 8(a), Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB), Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) founded in 2003 by seasoned technology professionals.  ICS has proven an innovative designing experience that is client-focused, developing quality solutions in mission critical environments in the public and private sector.

ICS is comprised of experienced management and technically agile professionals with diverse competencies, creating a collaborative program and project management environment for clients. The size of the organization, coupled with the focused range of services performed, enables the company to rapidly source and retain thoroughly trained, certified professionals with tested, measurable performance and proven experience.

About Rally

Rally is the recognized leader in Agile application lifecycle management (ALM). We are dedicated to helping organizations embrace Agile and Lean development practices that increase the pace of innovation and improve product quality. According to a study by QSM Associates, software-driven companies that rely on Rally’s Agile ALM products and services are 50% faster to market and 25% more productive than industry averages. The company’s experienced services group, including training through Agile University, guides companies through the organizational change required to become innovative, Agile businesses. Rally’s products, including AgileZen, currently support more than 3,000 corporate customers, 76,000 projects and 138,000 users in 60 countries. For more information, visit www.rallydev.com.

(1) Dr. Groves briefing at the National Press Club on June 2nd, 2010; transcript available here.

Rally, the Rally logo, Rally Software Development, and AgileZen are trademarks of Rally Software Development Corp. Third-party trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Census Bureau IT problems remain unresolved

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Finally, a source other than MyTwoCensus.com has noticed and reported on the multitude of IT failures at the Census Bureau. H/t to Edwin Mora of CNSNews.com for the following piece…but hopefully the mainstream media — not just Conservative media outlets like CNSNews — will start to address these problems:

Census Still Struggling With IT Problems That May Affect Count’s Accuracy
Friday, April 30, 2010
By Edwin Mora


Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves. (AP Photo/U of Mich.,Paul Jaronski)
(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Census Bureau is still having problems with its computer system that handles the data for households that did not return a census form. However, the Census Bureau director said the system has successfully printed out the assignments for the enumerators who will conduct in-person interviews with households that did not mail in their forms.

“We continue to struggle with the software system called the paper-based operation control system, but we passed, just amazingly, a wonderful threshold last week where we printed out assignments for all these enumerators,” said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves. “It worked.”

The Census director made the comments at a press briefing on the Census participation rate, which took place at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday.

Groves said the Bureau is not fond of its paper-based operation control system (PBOCS), which is used to manage the non-response follow-up (NRFU). The NRFU, set to begin May 1, is the Census’ largest operation and involves census workers personally interviewing millions of people nationwide who did not respond to the mailed Census questionnaire.

“Slightly more than 72 percent of U.S. households believed to be occupied mailed back their 2010 Census forms, the same rate that was achieved in 2000,” the U.S. Census Bureau announced on Apr. 28.

“Not that it is the most loved piece of software in the Census Bureau, but it’s working well enough to get the census down so far,” said Groves.

“We have assignments ready for 600,000 people who are ready to hit the streets on Saturday,” he added. “So we’re proceeding.”

According to a Mar. 25 Government Accountability Office report entitled, “Data Collection is Under Way, But Reliability of Key Information Technology Systems Remains a Risk,” the Census Bureau was experiencing problems with two IT systems, one of which is the paper-based operation control system that Groves mentioned during the press conference.

The GAO reported last February that “key IT systems — most notably an automated system used to manage field data collection known as the Paper-Based Operations Control System (PBOCS) and a personnel and payroll processing system called the Decennial Applicant Personnel and Payroll System (DAPPS) — were experiencing significant performance issues.”

On Thursday, Robert Goldenkoff, the director of strategic issues for the GAO and author of the March 25 GAO report on the IT problems affecting the Census, told CNSNews.com:  “The [paper based] operational control system used to manage the field follow-up operation was still having stability issues last week; the Census Bureau continues to work on it.”

On Mar. 25, Judith Gordon, the principal assistant inspector general for Audit and Evaluation at the Department of Commerce, which runs the Census Bureau, testified about the IT problems affecting the Census before Congress, saying that the Census’ decennial count’s accuracy was “at risk” because of IT issues.

“IT problems place the efficiency and accuracy of Non-Response Follow-Up at risk and final decennial costs remain uncertain,” Gordon told lawmakers, and as CNSNews.com reported. Gordon had testified before a subcommittee on the Census of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In the same Mar. 25 GAO report, Goldenkoff revealed that “an estimated 50 million housing units out of a mail-out universe of about 120 million” would be non-respondents and would require an in-person follow-up to count. The operating budget for the NRFU is $2.7 billion.

Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution calls for a decennial enumeration (census) of the American people to be used for allocating U.S. House seats among the states.

Contractors still robbing America’s tax dollars: Harris Corp. reports huge earnings as 2010 systems fail miserably

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Yup, it’s true. We hate the Harris Corporation. These people stole $800 million from United States taxpayers, and I hope that their stock drops considerably when people and the media get wind of this. Hopefully members of Congress stop kowtowing to this horrible corporation and start blacklisting them from receiving government contracts because of their tumultuous history of poor performance. (To the multitude of Harris Corp. employees who, according to Google Analytics, regularly read this blog, maybe your company should take some action to correct its mistakes now before the feds do it for you!)  Here’s a press release about their latest earnings:

Harris Corporation Reports Strong Third Quarter Orders, Revenue and Earnings

Increases Fiscal 2010 Guidance; Expects Higher Revenue and Earnings in Fiscal 2011

MELBOURNE, Fla., April 28, 2010 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Harris Corporation /quotes/comstock/13*!hrs/quotes/nls/hrs (HRS 51.97, +2.18, +4.38%) reported GAAP income from continuing operations for the third quarter of fiscal 2010 of $166 million, or $1.27 per diluted share, compared with $136 million, or $1.02 per diluted share, in the prior-year quarter. Excluding acquisition-related costs, non-GAAP income from continuing operations in the third quarter of fiscal 2010 was $170 million, or $1.30 per diluted share, compared with $136 million, or $1.02 per diluted share, in the prior-year quarter. Revenue for the third quarter of fiscal 2010 was $1.33 billion, compared with $1.21 billion for the third quarter of fiscal 2009. Orders in the third quarter were $1.45 billion, compared with $1.03 billion in the prior-year quarter. A reconciliation of GAAP to non-GAAP financial measures is provided in Tables 5 through 7, along with the accompanying notes.

“Earnings in the third quarter increased 25 percent, reflecting continued excellent operating performance in RF Communications and Government Communications Systems,” said Howard L. Lance, chairman, president and chief executive officer. “Revenue increased 10 percent for the company, and higher orders across all of our segments should continue to drive double-digit revenue growth in the fourth quarter. Our strategy of investing in new technology and applications to solve our customers’ complex, mission-critical, and quickly evolving communications and information technology needs is working. Higher orders, strong backlog and a robust opportunity pipeline should position Harris for achieving another year of higher revenue and earnings in fiscal 2011.”

Increased Earnings Guidance

The company has increased its guidance for non-GAAP income from continuing operations for fiscal 2010 to a range of $4.35 to $4.45 per diluted share ($4.23 to $4.33 per diluted share on a GAAP basis). This increase compares with a previous range of $4.25 to $4.35 per diluted share ($4.13 to $4.23 per diluted share on a GAAP basis). Fiscal 2010 non-GAAP earnings guidance excludes acquisition-related costs. Revenue in fiscal 2010 is still expected to be in a range of $5.2 to $5.3 billion.

Guidance for fiscal 2011 earnings is being initiated in a range of $4.55 to $4.65 per diluted share, representing a year-over-year increase of 3 to 6 percent, compared with the mid-point of fiscal 2010 non-GAAP guidance. Fiscal 2011 revenue is expected to be in a range of $5.5 to $5.6 billion, representing a year-over-year increase of 5 to 7 percent compared with the mid-point of fiscal 2010 guidance.

RF Communications

Third quarter orders for the RF Communications segment totaled $656 million, including $488 million in the Tactical Radio Communications business and $168 million in the Public Safety and Professional Communications business. At the end of the third quarter, total backlog in RF Communications was $1.50 billion, including $1.01 billion in the Tactical Radio Communications business and $489 million in the Public Safety and Professional Communications business.

Revenue for RF Communications in the third quarter was $551 million, compared with $439 million in the prior-year quarter. Revenue included $429 million in Tactical Radio Communications, driven primarily by deliveries to the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Air Force. Revenue in Public Safety and Professional Communications was $122 million.

Operating income for RF Communications was $205 million in the third quarter, compared with $151 million in the prior-year quarter. Non-GAAP operating income, which excludes acquisition-related costs, was $208 million. Non-GAAP operating margin was very strong at 37.8 percent due to favorable product mix, cost-reduction actions implemented in the second half of fiscal 2009, and operational efficiencies.

New orders for tactical radio communication systems in the quarter were driven by:

accelerating customer adoption of the company’s next-generation Falcon III(R) radios in U.S. and international markets;

equipping the military’s 6,644 M-ATVs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles); and

strengthening international demand.

Demand has increased for the company’s JTRS-approved, Falcon III family of ground tactical radios. At the end of the third quarter year-to-date Falcon III orders totaled $620 million. The field-proven radios are providing warfighters with unprecedented situational awareness, bringing new applications such as streaming video for the first time to the tactical edge of the battlefield.

Major Falcon III radio wins in the third quarter included a $73 million order from the U.S. Marines for Falcon III AN/PRC-117G multiband manpack radio systems to provide high-speed networking applications such as streaming video and a $12 million order from the U.S. Marines to upgrade existing Falcon III AN/VRC-110 multiband, multimode vehicular tactical radio systems from 20-watt to 50-watt systems to improve communications over longer distances and enhance reliability in rough terrain. Harris also received a $74 million order for Falcon III AN/PRC-152(C) multiband handheld radio systems in vehicular adapters to equip the military’s new 6,644 M-ATVs. Following the close of the quarter, Harris received a $20 million order from a Department of Defense customer for Falcon III AN/PRC-117G multiband manpack radio systems.

Other significant U.S. orders in the third quarter included a $78 million order for Falcon II(R) AN/VRC-104 high-frequency (HF) tactical radio systems also to equip the military’s 6,644 M-ATVs. Following the close of the quarter, Harris received a $101 million order for Falcon II AN/PRC-117F multiband vehicular radios to equip the next phase of M-ATV purchases and to retrofit other existing MRAP vehicles.

International tactical radio wins in the third quarter included a $112 million order from the Australian Department of Defence that was predominantly Falcon III AN/PRC-152(C) multiband handheld radios to provide next-generation battlefield networking capabilities. Other major international orders included a $44 million order for Falcon II RF-5800H HF radio systems from a country in Asia, and a $10 million order for Falcon II RF-5800H HF radio systems from the Iraq Ministry of Interior.

In the Public Safety and Professional Communications business, Harris was awarded orders totaling $100 million to upgrade the Miami-Dade County public communications infrastructure to a modern, P25 standards-based digital radio system. The flexible system platform will serve more than 80 agencies and 32,000 users, increasing functionality and improving interoperability among first responders and other radio system users. Also, a $13 million order was received in the quarter for our OpenSky(R) system to connect employees at a Texas-based public utility serving 50 counties.

Following the close of the quarter, Harris received an order from the New York State Police for 1,100 Unity(TM) XG-100P multiband radios. The Unity radios will provide interoperability between the state police and local, metro and county law enforcement organizations. In a single radio, the state police will be able to communicate with local systems that are conventional or digital, and that operate on the various VHF, UHF, 700 MHz or 800 MHz bands.

Government Communications Systems

Third quarter revenue for the Government Communications Systems segment was $666 million, compared with $649 million in the prior-year quarter. Operating income was $90 million in the third quarter, compared with $74 million in the prior-year quarter. Operating margin was strong at 13.6 percent and reflected continued excellent program performance and award fees.

Revenue increased for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-Series R Ground Segment (GOES-R GS) weather program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Modernization of Enterprise Terminals (MET) program for the U. S. Army, the IT services relocation program for the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) and several classified programs for national intelligence customers. Revenue also benefited from several small, recent acquisitions related primarily to the new growth initiatives of Cyber Integrated Solutions and Healthcare Solutions. Revenue from the Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) program for the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 census declined as the program nears completion.

MyTwoCensus files Freedom of Information Act request to better understand Census Bureau tech failures

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Dear Ms. Potter and Staff:

Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I am requesting the records of all technical and information technology glitches, failures, and errors that involved the Census Bureau and its technology systems from January 1, 2006 through the present. This includes everything from e-mail systems going down to fingerprint scanners not working properly to the recent paper-based operational control system failure. Most important to me are items pertaining to the 2010 Census. I would appreciate if you started with the most recent failures and worked your way back. These should include every piece of technology that the Census Bureau uses at field offices as well as at headquarters in Suitland.

As you probably already know, I run MyTwoCensus.com, the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 Census. My work has also appeared on MotherJones.com, governingpeople.com, and other publications.  Since this is a non-commercial request and the release of these documents will serve the public interest (because analyzing these documents is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government), I am requesting that all fees be waived.

I am also requesting expedited processing of these documents under the clause on your web page that states I can do so if this information is “urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity.” With the 2010 Census just around the corner, and recent reports by the Associated Press and other organizations that language translations have been inadequate and sub-par, this request deserves your prompt attention.

If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your withholding of information. Notify me of appeal procedures available under the law.

Sincerely,

Stephen Robert Morse

Anonymous Census Bureau Official: Major Nation-wide IT FAILURE at the Census Bueau

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The following piece comes to us from a Census Bureau official from the Mid-West region who has requested anonymity but has had her identity verified by MyTwoCensus.com. Her discussion of a major week-long IT systems failure has effected every Census Bureau office across the country and demonstrates how disgraceful operations are being handled (and subsequently covered up, as MyTwoCensus has requested information about this failure numerous times yet has not received any responses from the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office):

I have a problem in my local census office. The problem is 493 of those offices across the nation are having the same exact problem. You see, in November and December 2009 when I first started at the Census Bureau, one of my first assignments was assisting in a system load test known as the Decennial Application Load Test (or DALT for short). DALT simulated the conditions of every census office employee logging on at the same time across the nation and what would happen. This was my first taste of our federal tax dollars hard at work. As is typical of any large scale government program the whole system went kaput; users couldn’t log-on and applications crashed.

The Bureau’s contingency plan was to limit users and ask offices to spread out their staffing. We started to run an evening shift which meant paying night differential (an additional 10% pay) to our night employees.  One application of concern was PBOCS the Paper Based Operational Control System that was unveiled in January 2010 to complete the rest of their field operations. The system was developed after the Census decided to nix the Harris Corporation as their contractor. The PBOCS system was used to check out assignments into the field, make assignments to enumerators, check work into the office after completion and check out for shipping. In February 2009 after the two big snowstorms that hit Washington DC the same thing happened. The Bureau’s contingency plan for PBOCS was to limit users to four per local census office and remove functionality they didn’t deem was mandatory.

In the last few weeks we are experiencing many more problems as we near non-response followup the most massive operation of the decennial census. Some of PBOCS problems include but are not limited to:
* individual census reports (ICRS) from group quarters enumeration that PBOCS claims are missing for shipment.
* daily progress reports that are outdated or showing the wrong numbers
* numerous system crashes where work is lost or has to be rescanned
* wrong or missing work being selected for reinterview

At the beginning when these problems started, the RCC pointed fingers at the local census offices accusing them of not using the system or processing the work properly. However when several offices reported the same issues the blame then shifted to the software.

To further complicate things is the divide that also occurs between the local census office employees and the the regional census center and headquarters staff. The headquarters and regional census center staff are mostly career employees. The local census office employees are temporary Schedule A hourly employees. Although both are referencing the same procedures in the same manuals the local census office employees are the ones who are doing the grunt work (the enlisted men per say). The RCC and headquarters staff (the commissioned officers) manage and oversee but do not realize the difficulties and nuances because they are not out there getting their hands dirty.

The LCO employees are finding that the PBOCS system actually will not update the report numbers or sometimes show the wrong numbers. The RCC and headquarters are lead to believe if the work doesn’t show in the system as completed then it is not completed. However when the reports don’t show the quotas are being met the career census employees usually get on the phone to threaten the temporary employees and even sometimes terminating their employment.

This weekend is the third weekend PBOCS has gone offline. On Wednesday April 14 it was announced PBOCS was to go down at 8pm (actually went down about 5pm) and will not be back up until Monday morning April 19th. We are somewhat relieved to hear through the grapevine that the RCC and headquarters will be more lenient and readjust their production goals for the entire nation. However I think that much of the intimidation and harassment will occur again so that the career census employees can cover their asses and recover any of the money they were probably paying in overtime for programmers to fix this crap piece of software. This is all the while they tell the temporary employees at the LCO that overtime will be strictly prohibited.

The career employees at RCC and headquarters hold the temporary LCO employees accountable for mistakes they [RCC and headquarters] made in the ten years they had to prepare since the last decennial. But who is held accountable at the highest levels when a multi-billion dollar piece of software doesn’t work and they constantly have to fix it? I hope the Inspector General and my congressmen are reading this because PBOCS is government waste at its finest. How ironic it is happening in the nearing days of the largest operation of the decennial census.

pio@census.gov STILL DOWN!

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

The Public Information office is still bouncing e-mails back to us….and this has gone on since Monday! Is there an IT department at the Census Bureau? Is anyone being held accountable for this? Some answers please!

Follow up: Transcript from Robert M. Groves conference call

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

There were some technical glitches during a media conference call last week with Census Bureau director Robert M. Groves about the status of the 2010 Census.

Stephen got dropped off the call, and we wrote an editorial criticizing the Bureau’s technical problems with the conference call and failure to make a transcript available.

This afternoon, Stacy Gimbel of the Census Bureau responded in the comments to the editorial with this link to the transcript of the briefing (as a pdf).

Some highlights from the end of the call:

  • In response to a question on the economy, Groves said the recession has led to a larger applicant pool for Census workers, but the vacancy rate (due to foreclosures) means forms will be sent to addresses where no one lives.
  • According to Groves, self-identification questions (such as about ethnicity) change on almost every Census form. The Bureau wants people to write-in how they identify themselves if none of the provided options apply.
  • And some upcoming key dates: Census road tour begins Jan. 4, media kickoff event in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 14, paid media ads start airing Jan. 18, Groves travels to Alaska for the first enumeration of a remote village on Jan. 25.

Interview With Robert M. Groves: Census Director focuses on putting IT to the test before the big count

Friday, November 27th, 2009

H/t to Gautham Nagesh of NextGov for the following interview with Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves:

Since his confirmation in July, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves has found himself in charge of the costliest and most controversial census to date.

Well-publicized technology issues and budget overruns have hampered the bureau’s preparations for the 2010 count. Last month, Groves told lawmakers that the budget overruns leading to the decennial count’s $15 billion price tag were “intolerable.”

But he told Nextgov on Monday that the bureau plans to push the limits of new technology in tests scheduled for after the Thanksgiving break in hope of making sure the census goes as hitch-free as possible in April 2010.

Groves was the director of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and served as associate director of the 1990 census in 1990. Nextgov reporter Gautham Nagesh spoke with him on Monday about the preparations for the 2010 census and the bureau’s progress on solving some of the technology problems that the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general found.

Nextgov: What is the status of the bureau’s preparations for the 2010 decennial census, especially concerning the information technology systems needed to support it?

Groves: I came in July and had not been there since 1990. There are a couple things to note on the IT side: First, I’ve been focused clearly on decennial IT issues, not on looking backwards. We have a new chief information officer, Brian McGrath, who came in weeks before me, and he was engaged in sort of the same thing I’m doing — checking the nature of the infrastructure for the decennial.

We had on our table GAO and IG reports concerning the lack of testing in an integrated way of the various subsystems used for the decennial census. We had some outside folks take a look at whether core subsystems were being tested in an integrated way.

We also have a new set of software we’re building as a result of the abandonment of the handhelds that will support paper-based nonresponse follow-up. That is the critical task on the software side I spend the most time on. After Thanksgiving we will perform a load test on systems that will be in action during nonresponse follow-up. We’re going to make sure we break the system to measure the capacity.

The other thing that’s notable from your readers’ perspective: We’re 80 percent through opening 500 different local Census offices, each of which has its own computer network issues. That was done through Harris Corp., part of the Field Data Collection Automation contract. We’ve got 400 local offices up and running, each site is its own little story. After some initial bumps that seems to be going well.

Nextgov: What was the situation like when you arrived regarding IT systems development? What in your view caused or contributed to the IT challenges at the Census Bureau?

Groves: I haven’t spent much time going back and diagnosing those problems. I have to focus on the future.

But I am a believer in certain philosophies when you develop software and hardware products for large, diverse sets of users, including that a user has to be at the table from Day One. The user has to be part of the inspection process for all the intermediate products as they are developed. The notion of writing down all the specs for complex systems and getting them right the first time, having programmers go away for a while and code those specs, that’s an approach that brings with it big risks.

In my past life in software development I have learned from a management perspective that you’ve got to get the user there all the time. They have to be part of the development. Humans can’t anticipate all the features of a software system before they see the first version of it.

But I need to emphasize that my job hasn’t been postmortem on handhelds, I have just not done that.

Nextgov: There were reports that the handhelds had some problems during address canvassing, particularly regarding their mapping function. How are you dealing with those?

Groves: There are two parts of the master address file: the geographical information that provides boundaries for aerial units and the address records. The big good news is that after this gigantic address canvassing operation, the number of records we have is very close to independent estimates of what it should be: 134 million households. That’s a good thing, based on the independent benchmark we get from sample surveys.

Now we’re going out and checking for clusters of records deleted [during address canvassing]. If you were listed in address canvassing and you noted that an address was improperly placed in a block, your job [as a canvasser] was to delete that one address and add it in the correct place [using the handheld]. We’re scrutinizing any clusters of deletes. In some regions we’ve reinspected areas that look suspicious.

Nextgov: What do they find upon reinspection?

Groves: We’re getting spotty results. It’s not a slam-dunk one way or the other. When we go out and have a whole group of addresses deleted, sometimes everything looks fine, sometimes the ones that were deleted were duplicates, and sometimes they were deleted in error. There’s no typical result.

Nextgov: The idea of using the Internet to collect responses was proposed and rejected last year, despite conducting a pilot in 2000. What’s your opinion on allowing responses online? Is that something you think should be explored for 2020?

Groves: My son filled out a questionnaire for the 2000 census on the Internet. The decision to eliminate the Internet option for 2010 was made before I got here. I haven’t diagnosed that decision. I know the most commonly cited reason is concerns about security, which are indeed real and completely legitimate.

Looking forward, I can say I can’t imagine a 2020 census without some Internet use. At the same time, in the same breath we have to know that neither you nor I have any idea what the 2020 Internet is actually going to be capable of. When I say we must have an Internet option, I must admit I’m not quite sure myself. We have to take advantage of the technology; other countries already are. In 2006, 18 percent of Canadian households responded to their census on the Internet.

Nextgov: Do you plan to serve beyond next year? Would you like to be involved in the planning for the 2020 count?

Groves: I serve at the pleasure of the president and will serve as long as he is pleased with my service. I’m terribly interested in 2020 and also interested in innovation in all of the other surveys the Census Bureau does, thousands depending on how you count. The challenge of doing economic and social measurement in this country is never-ending. The rate of innovation lets us use technology in new and important ways; it can change the way we measure the country. That pace has to pick up in any organization like the Census Bureau. I’m terribly interested in being part of that.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Challenges ahead for Robert Groves

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

MyTwoCensus has obtained Census-director-to-be Robert Groves’ pre-Senate hearing questions and answers. We urge our readers to carefully review these documents.

Overall, MyTwoCensus is pleased with the selection of Mr. Groves as President Obama’s nominee for Census Director. In particular, we are glad that he plans to focus significant efforts on recruiting highly qualified individuals to join the Census Bureau. However, our main concern about Mr. Groves is not over his ability to remain non-partisan (we are confident that he will stay true to his word). Rather, we are worried that Groves will have difficulty cleaning up the mess that has been made of the Census Bureau in time for the 2010 Census. With antiquated procedures, failing technology and incompetent beaurocrats awaiting him, Groves faces significant challenges that will be extremely difficult to overcome before the decennial headcount. While Groves is an accomplished academic and has successfully managed smaller operations, we are yet to see him prove himself on such a grand scale of leadership as he must do in the very near future. With 12,000 permanent employees and 1.4 million temporary workers  joining  the Census Bureau’s team for the 2010 count, Robert Groves must carefully preside over his agency and put politics and public relations aside by holding all individuals accountable for their actions.