Will a $2.3B Boost in FY 2019 Suffice for the 2020 Census?

Published: February 21, 2018

BudgetCENSUSDOCInformation Technology

According to the President’s FY 2019 budget request, the Bureau of Census would receive $3.8B, a $2.3B increase targeted for the 2020 Census.

The 158% increase aimed for the 2020 Decennial Census in the Census Bureau’s FY2019 budget compared to enacted 2017 numbers seems astounding at first, however, the larger figure makes sense with the upcoming count just a hop, skip and a jump away. Yet, will this burst of money be enough?

Within the Census’ proposed budget, the FY 2019 time frame for the 2020 Census is described as the Department of Commerce’s highest priority. It is when major field operations for the decennial census will begin, including in-field address canvassing to finalize the country’s address list, setting up field offices to support field management and temporary staff and conducting final preparations and refinements to the newly developed IT infrastructure for the collection of data. In other words, FY 2019 will be when the 2020 Census exits its design and implementation phase and enters into the execution phase. As the budget puts it, “at the start of FY 2019, the scope and design of the 2020 Census can no longer be altered.”

Specifically, the first 40 field offices are slated to open between January and March 2019 with the remaining 248 offices open in the summer. An upwards of 9,000 temporary employees are expected to be hired to finalize the 2020 address list. Moreover, decisions will be made on which households will get a paper questionnaire vs. those invited to respond online.

In terms of technology, FY 2019 will be spent ensuring all systems are secured and in line with best practices, tested and flawlessly integrated. The Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCaP) program has integrated and standardized the suite of systems of shared data collection across the entire organization under one enterprise system. The system will be used for the 2020 Census, which funds several of the systems under CEDCaP, and will be the decennial survey’s permanent data collection and processing unit. Cost savings from the new system will begin as older systems are retired.

Looking into the IT budget for FY 2019, many of the IT investments listed have seen increases in funding, while showing the transition of dollars from research and development IT programs for the 2020 Census to the ramp-up, operational investments of the count. Below is a breakdown of direct 2020 Census or 2020 Census-related investments with a comparison of FY 2017 to FY 2019 levels:

Investment Title Total IT Spending FY2017  ($M) Total IT Spending FY2019  ($M)
2020 Decennial Census, FY 2019 - FY 2023                      -                      661
Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing (CEDCAP)                   143                    130
Schedule A Human Resources Recruiting, Payroll System (C-SHARPS)                     15                      76
IT Delivery, Platform and Other Services                      -                        63
Center for Enterprise Dissemination Services and Consumer Information (CEDSCI)                       6                      42
IT Data Center & Cloud                      -                        41
Part 1 Small/Other Projects Roll-up                     41                      37
IT Security                     14                      30
Geographic Support Systems (GSS)                     21                      27
IT Management                     23                      26
Field Support Systems                     20                      26
IT End User                      -                        17
IT Network                     20                      15
Other Financial Management                       3                         3
Local Employment Dynamics IT Support (LED)                       3                         3
2020 Decennial Census Research and Testing, Operational Development, and Systems Testing, FY 2015 - FY 2018                   317                        -  

Back to the original question, does $2.3B seem enough of an increase for FY 2019?

According to the latest Program Management Review from January for the 220 Census, the revised life cycle cost estimate for the program is $15.6M. Should the full FY 2018 adjusted request of $987M be granted, a total of $3.1B will have been spent on the program since FY 2012. The program review also points out that while many of the major contracts for the 2020 Census have been awarded including Decennial Device as a Service, Census Questionnaire Assistance, fingerprinting, and printing and mailing services, the Field IT Deployment (FITd) effort to provide IT infrastructure for all field sites still remains to be awarded. The review also cites two major risks remain that represent concerns that could affect the design or implementation of the census: public perception of ability to safeguard response data and cybersecurity incidents. These two risks unquestioningly must be mitigated before the count.

Per an article by Federal Computer Week, Terri Ann Lowenthal, a Census expert, states that the allotted funding for the 2020 Census in FY 2019 comes up short, “I think the census bureau will need several hundred million more dollars to support a more robust outreach and promotion effort and expanded field infrastructure.”

The ball is now in Congress’ court and we’ll see just how much the Census Bureau will be appropriated in order to successfully pull off an innovative and dynamic decennial count.