Congress Poses a "Challenge" to the Census Bureau

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A few days ago, I wrote about the Government Executive story about the problems that the Census Bureau appears to be having with its plans to use hand-held computers instead of paper to conduct the 2010 census.

Well, the story sparked more than a bit of Congressional interest. Representatives Tom Davis (R -Virginia) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) sent a letter (posted at Federal Computer Week who have a story on the letter) yesterday to their Democratic counter-parts Representatives Henry Waxman (D-California) and William Clay (D-Missouri) to schedule a hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee to look into issues raised by MITRE, especially the allegation that the hand-held project is in "serious trouble" and a contingency plan is required.

What really seems to have irritated Davis and Turner, and as it most likely will Waxman and Clay as well, is that when the Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon testified to Congress on the 11th of December 2007, he never mentioned any meeting with MITRE, nor did he mention MITRE's concerns, which he supposedly heard on the 29th of November. According to the Davis and Turner letter, "Instead, Mr. Kincannon, in his written statement, offered a brief picture of the FDCA program, acknowledged some 'challenges,' but in general gave the impression that nothing was wrong."

You know, it always brings a hearty chuckle when I read or hear that a high risk IT project situation is euphemistically called a "challenge." You just know that when someone uses that word, they are scared-xxxxless.

Anyway, Davis and Turner want the hearing to clear things up, specifically asking for answers to four simple questions:

1. What is the true status of the FDCA program?

2. Given that the Information Policy, Census and the National Archives Subcommittee held a hearing on FDCA a full 12 days after Senior Bureau staff were reportedly briefed on MITRE's conclusions, why did the Bureau not divulge the FDCA information at that hearing?

3. Did the Bureau intentionally withhold information about MITRE's concerns?

4. Are there other technology programs, such as the Decennial Response Integration System (DRIS), about which the Bureau has received troubling reports?

It should be very simple for the Census Bureau to answer these four little questions and for Congress to get a good feel for the true state of the project: all it has to do is just count the number of times the word "challenge" is used in the testimony.

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