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 ‘Vivek Kundra’

From Our Inbox: A New 2010 Census iPhone App

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

From Zubin Wadia of CiviGuard:

MyTwoCensus Team,

I figured you as someone who might be interested in publishing our Census taking app for the iPhone…

http://www.icensus2010.com

The Census Bureau will not allow people to respond to surveys online… I assume this is because it is very difficult to ensure no duplicity or contamination of results (from hackers etc.).

The http://2010.census.gov site debuted about 2.5 weeks ago… and it had the 2010 form available in English and Spanish for anyone to review. A few days earlier at the Government Technology Conference I had the privilege to hear Vivek Kundra speak to us.

One thing that resonated deeply with me was his vision for a world where agencies share their data and vendors organically come up with solutions. The Census Bureau did just that. They put the form online. They made their travails public. I thought it was a travesty that the USA, in 2010, cannot allow people to do electronic censuses.

So I created an iPhone app with my team for it. It can easily be ported to the Android platform in 2 weeks. And even if the public may not be able to use it – the Census Bureau perhaps can. We are still 100+ days away from Census day 2010… which leaves plenty of time to perform any back-end integration with their address database.

The paper version of the form can be downloaded in PDF here:

http://2010.census.gov/2010census/pdf/2010_Questionnaire_Info.pdf

About the App:

- Checkboxes are hard to do on the iPhone (not a supported component out of the box) – but it works great for this use-case and we made it happen.

- Once a survey is done (takes 2 mins for normal cases), a JSON message is created, it is encrypted, compressed and sent to a REST-style web service on Google’s App Engine.

- The system uses GeoTagging to add a layer of validation. You must be within US territories. You must be within 1 mile of your home billing address related to your cell number. Then you can do a census. One census per household.

- Integration with Telecom databases and the Census Address DB is of course pending. Our expectation is that the application will have enough buzz to yield next steps with the Census Bureau.

About CiviGuard:

http://www.civiguard.com

We focus on Public Service 2.0 solutions for the US Government. Our core focus is emergency management – our CiviCast platform is the first solution in the world to offer guided evacuation or isolation guidance to civilians during a crisis. This is far more capable and detailed vs. the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) specification currently being pursued by the Fed.

Will the CIO bring about changes in the Census Bureau’s tech spending?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Check out this post from the New York Times’s Bits Blog:

The Nation’s C.I.O.: Government Needs a Dashboard


By Saul Hansell

Vivek KundraHO/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Vivek Kundra

It is sadly too easy to find examples of federal technology projects gone awry. To Vivek Kundra, the nation’s new chief information officer, one seems to stick in his craw: An effort to build a handheld computer for examiners conducting the 2010 census was abandoned last year, wasting $600 million. Mr. Kundra, who when I met him earlier this month was juggling both a BlackBerry and an iPhone, is shocked that the government could not simply find a way to use an existing smartphone or similar device.

Mr. Kundra’s job is to manage what will be $76 billion in spending to maintain 10,000 government systems as well as 800 active projects to build major new systems (those costing $50 million or more). I asked him how he could possibly keep tabs on all this to prevent the next $600 million albatross. He had a one-word answer:

Dashboards.

By the end of June, Mr. Kundra hopes to start yet another federal Web site that will give officials and the public a window into all of the active government technology projects. For each project, it will show the purpose, schedule and budget. It will show the name and photo of the federal official responsible and the names of which contractors are working on the project, a fact that Mr. Kundra says oddly has not been made public before.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 1)

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Just as MyTwoCensus was getting ready to launch our multi-part investigative series detailing the many problems associated with Harris Corp. and their failed attempt to create a handheld computer suitable for all aspects of the 2010 Census, Government Executive’s Brian Friel beat us to the punch and published this column:

The Right Stuff

As Census Bureau officials continue to salvage what they can from the bureau’s failed decennial automation project, it has increasingly become a real-time case study in core problems plaguing the federal government’s contracting practices.

The original $600 million contract, awarded to Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. in April 2006, would have allowed census workers to collect decennial data for the 2010 count by handheld device, rather than the old pen-and-paper way. The devices also would be used to update Census’ massive address list. Third, Harris would provide a variety of technology support services.

Two years went by, and then the entire contract went kaput. In 2008, Census and Harris officials ran to Congress with fingers pointed at each other as $200 million already sunk into the project basically went to waste: The handheld data collection project was a failure.

Now the Census Bureau has dropped the data collection and the major support services from the contract with Harris, leaving only the handheld-driven update of addresses. The new contract has a drastically reduced scope, but a significantly higher price tag. It will cost nearly $800 million.

The Commerce Department inspector general and other watchdogs have identified two big problems with the contract.

First, Census didn’t know what it wanted. As the IG noted in a March 2009 report, a significant problem was “the failure of senior Census Bureau managers in place at the time to anticipate the complex IT requirements involved in automating the census.” Its initial list of “requirements” in the contract grew and changed exponentially, adding layer upon layer of complexity. “Census changed requirements several times, which caused delays and increased costs,” the IG reported.

Second, Census set up a contract with Harris that allowed costs to spiral out of control. If the bureau had known what it wanted from the beginning, it could have written a fixed-price contract, which basically says: “Here’s what we want, here’s what we’ll pay you.” Instead, Census wrote a cost-plus contract, which basically says: “We’re not sure what we want, so we’ll pay you whatever it takes.”

In April, Vivek Kundra, the new federal chief information officer, told Congress these two problems are common across federal contracts. “The federal government doesn’t do a good job of defining what the requirements are,” he told Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., at an April 28 Senate hearing. According to Kundra, if agencies do a better job figuring out what they want, they can set up more fixed-price contracts, which control spending more than cost-plus contracts. “Fixed-price should be most common,” he said.

Kundra identified a common problem that leads to “runaway contracts.” Every contract involving technology has two main sets of requirements. First, a set of business needs that an agency’s operational office defines. Second, a set of technical needs that an agency’s IT department defines. If the two groups aren’t working together to jointly define all the requirements — if one leaves the other out — then an agency won’t really know what it wants. “The way that happens is ensuring there’s a high degree of engagement from both the business side of the house and the technology side of the house,” he said.

In the Census Bureau’s case, officials realized they had that problem only after they already had sunk $200 million into their automation contract, and at a point when starting over was impossible. “By the time you find out the requirements have increased or the budget is out of control, it’s too late to make an adjustment,” Kundra said. “For far too long we’ve put good money after bad money.”

If you don’t know what you want but you pay for it anyway, chances are you’ll repeat that long-running mistake.