Dec 4, 2019

Report: Government workers concerned new digital census isn't ready

Government employees involved in the development of the new digital census system, intended to record all census data in 2020, allege cost overruns, spotty design and foreseeable security concerns, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: The obvious parallel — and worst-case scenario — for a faulty census system would be the rollout disaster during the Obama presidency, which was initially unable to handle the broad scope of its mission. If that's the case with the census, everything from congressional seats to federal funding could be botched for a decade.

Via Reuters, which based its report on 30 interviews with sources associated with the new system, internal communications and budgeting documents, the census system is struggling with problems, including:

  • Design: The system is intentionally designed in a way that makes it difficult to swap out or upgrade faulty code, in favor of a cheaper solution, tangling all aspects of the software together.
    • The contractor hired to build the system is redesigning an off-shelf solution to meet the census' needs, rather than developing from the ground up. Some government workers believe that the commercial system the contractor started with was too far away from the needs of the census to adapt.
  • Budget: The projected cost of building the system ballooned to $167 million — twice the original cost and approximately $40 million more than what the government thought it would pay for in-house programmers to develop it themselves.
  • Security: An internal communication showed concerns that the contractor tasked with defending the site was not adequately staffed to perform digital forensics of a breach. Furthermore, security testing revealed severe enough soft spots to cause internal "panic," including a scenario wherein a computer at a Russian internet address was able to tunnel into supposedly secure areas.

What they're saying: A representative from the census said that the Reuter’s story contained “inaccuracies and outdated information,” but would investigate security concerns.

  • “We are working with leading experts from the public and private sector to ensure the security and performance of our systems make it easy and safe to respond,” the census representative said.

Go deeper:

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Tech industry girds itself for fake census news

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Google on Wednesday offered a roundup of its efforts to keep census misinformation from infesting YouTube, search, ads and other products. It's the latest signal from a tech platform looking to show it's taking the 2020 census seriously.

Why it matters: Census results from 2020 will be used to draw political districts in 2022, shaping democratic representation in the U.S. for a decade.

Go deeperArrowDec 12, 2019

The U.S. communities in danger of being overlooked in the 2020 census

Data: AP analysis of Census Bureau data; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

About a quarter of the U.S. population —and more than 8 in 10 residents of Detroit — live in areas likely to be difficult for the census to accurately count next year, according to census data analyzed by the Associated Press.

Why it matters: "Hard to count" often translates to underrepresentation. The 2020 census will be the basis for allocating political power and government funding for the next decade.

Go deeperArrowDec 12, 2019

House Oversight Committee sues Barr and Ross to enforce Census subpoenas

Attorney General Bill Barr (R) and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross with President Trump. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service/Visual China Group via Getty Images

The House Oversight Committee filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Attorney General Bill Barr and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross for refusing to comply with subpoenas for documents related to the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. 

Why it matters: The White House had previously claimed its aides were "absolutely immune" from congressional subpoenas. On Monday, a federal judge ruled former White House counsel Don McGahn must testify under subpoena in the ongoing House impeachment inquiry, giving House Democrats a stronger hand to enforce its other oversight requests.

Go deeperArrowNov 26, 2019