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Census Report

In: Computers and Technology

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The U.S. Census Bureau Field Data Collection Project: Don’t Count On It
Dominique Reed
IT/205 - MANAGEMENT OF INFORMATION SYSTEMS
10/13/2012
Jennifer Gilmore

• How important is the FDCA project for the U.S. Census Bureau? How does it impact decision making and operational activities?
The U.S. Census is an enumeration of the American population performed once every 10 years, also called a decennial census. It is the responsibility of the United States Census Bureau and is used to determine allocation of congressional seats, allocation of federal assistance, and realignment of the boundaries of legislative districts within states. Correctly managing the census leads to billions of dollars in savings, improved service to the public, and strengthened confidence and trust in government. Reports from the U.S. Government Accountability
Office (GAO) and other sources suggest that the 2010 census represents a high-risk area that has been mismanaged for years. The bureau botched implementation of the Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) program, an effort to integrate handheld electronic devices into the census data collection process. The handhelds were intended to replace the millions of paper forms and maps that census workers carried when going door to door to collect household data. Paper-based methods for collecting and recording data made gathering census information time-consuming and difficult to organize. The FDCA program is intended to assist with the initial step of the process: the collection of respondent information. The goal of the program is to implement handheld devices that make census participation as simple as signing for a package. The result would be reduced costs, improved data quality, and better collection efficiency. In 2006, the bureau contracted with Harris Corporation for $595.7 million to oversee the implementation of these mobile computing devices. Harris develops communications products for government and commercial customers worldwide, including wireless transmission equipment. As of this writing, the handhelds have been far too slow and report data too inconsistently to be used reliably for the 2010 census.( Kenneth C. Laudon and Jane P. Laudon Pp.413)

• Classify and describe the problems the Census Bureau faced in implementing its new wireless data collection system. What people, organization, and technology factors caused these problems?
Lack of executive oversight is more common in the federal sector as opposed to the private sector, because there are more incentives in the private sector for executives to perform. Federal projects such as the FDCA project can suffer from lack of accountability for the same reason. The federal government doesn’t use certified program managers and highly qualified executives for these kinds of projects, and they didn’t for the FDCA program. The FDCA suffered from poor communication and appropriate testing procedures. For example, the project team did not specify the testing process to measure performance of handheld devices. It also did not accurately describe the technical requirements of the census to Harris Corp. Due to the immaturity of the mobile technology selected and the inexperience of Harris regarding projects of this size and scale, it was important that the bureau give accurate system requirements and scheduling information, which it failed to do. Implementations of mobile technology tend to be very complicated, requiring sound management and careful planning. The systems have a variety of components, carriers, devices, and applications to organize and coordinate. The initial contract contained 600 requirements for the mobile handheld systems, but the Census Bureau later added 418 more. The constant addition of more requirements made designing the product unnecessarily difficult. The bureau did not press Harris hard enough to provide continued updates on project progress. Yet Harris also did not present the bureau with an accurate initial estimate to begin with. .( Kenneth C. Laudon and Jane P. Laudon Pp.413)

Describe the steps you would have taken to control the risk in this project.

The initial estimate was that rolling out mobile devices and providing complementary systems would cost $3 billion of a total $11.5 billion project cost. The total costs of the 2010 census will approach $14.5 billion, well over the initial budget. The bureau’s blunders set census modernization back at least another decade. The bulk of the FDCA “dress rehearsal” was slated to take place during 2008 and 2009 in order to ensure the success of the handheld devices in 2010, but these setbacks forced the rehearsal to be less comprehensive than was originally planned.
The most critical area in the bureau fell short with the FDCA program were in its risk management activities. One of the steps I would have taken to control the risk in this project would have been making sure the estimate was for seeable. No organization likes when cost changes, especially when it's because of miscalculation. I would take time to ensure there would be no issues with the slow speeds in processing and the mobile devices tendency to fail while transmitting data to the central processing center. Taking to make sure things are managed properly would have help prevent much of what took place, doing this will almost always save time and money.

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