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conducting the next decennial census. in information technology in particu-
This system does not provide for ade- lar that has taken place over the last
quate preparation time. In fact, an associ- several administrations.
ate director for the 2020 Census should Unfortunately, the government has
be appointed in 2009. become dependent on contractors with-
This person would start with a small out the concomitant increase in the ability
staff of fewer than 10 people. In the to manage contractors and information
beginning, he or she would have two pri- technology contracts. This is due to insuf-
mary responsibilities. First is to learn from ficient numbers of well-trained contract-
the activities of the 2010 efforts. No mat- ing officers and to current thinking that
ter how successful a census is, there are mistakenly considers contractors to be
always lessons to be learned and improve- partners with the same goals as the gov-
ments to be made. Often, when in the ernment. A private company has a goal of
midst of planning and conducting an making a profit, which is quite different
activity, it is not possible to take an objec- from the government’s public service goal.
tive view and gain the benefit of these les- Recognition of this should not prevent the
sons. The 2020 associate director would development of a professional business
not be responsible for the operational or relationship, however. Throughout the
preparation activities of the 2010 Census government, more attention needs to be
and would not have to justify the actions paid to recruitment and training of con-
taken for the 2010 Census. tracting officers and to establishing a busi-
Second, the associate director would ness relationship with contractors.
be responsible for developing and car- Because of this hollowing out, most
rying out a program to propose and test government agencies, including the U.S.
changes to the decennial census. While I Census Bureau, do not have the neces-
have made some initial suggestions, the sary technical expertise to provide suf-
associate director would be responsible ficient oversight for contractors. Part
for the public program to add, examine, of the answer lies in the development
and test these changes befor e implemen- and use of “trusted advisors.” Federally
tation. More generally, he or she would Funded Research and Development
be responsible for identifying changes Centers (FFRDC) have traditionally
in the three broad areas of the decennial been used for this purpose. For the rela-
census: administration, operations, and tionship to work, the agency has to be
statistical evaluation. able to trust the FFRDC and share all its
innermost thoughts. This has been dif-
Improve Management of IT Projects
ficult to do in the past. Because of the
The dependence on information technol-
scarcity of FFRDCs, for-profit corpora-
ogy, and perhaps the dependence on con-
tions have attempted to fill the role of
tractors for information technology, is a
trusted advisor and work with govern-
relatively recent phenomenon in the decen-
ment agencies to manage contracts and
nial census. While the U.S. Census Bureau
contractors. There are, of course, possible
has endured its share of criticism over its
ethical considerations, and the success of
management of information technology
these efforts are ongoing. In any event,
projects, it should be noted that this is
the U.S. Census Bureau should con-
not a situation peculiar to the bureau. The
tinue to strengthen its relationship with
difficulty—often the inability—to manage
its trusted advisors. It will become more
information technology projects is endem-
critical, not less, in the future.
ic in the federal government. This stems
from the evolution of information tech-
Improve Information Flows to
nology from a field with largely self-taught
Congress and User Community
and home-grown experts into an exceed-
It is difficult for government agencies
ingly complex discipline. For example,
to be transparent. Sometimes, it almost
security aspects of information technol-
seems all the forces work against being
ogy are daunting. Adding to the problem
open and transparent. Agencies are
is the government’s inability to compete
often reluctant to give bad news for fear
for scarce resources. It also stems from
the news will provoke a killing of the
an intentional hollowing out of expertise
messenger—even if the messenger is
in the government in general and
without fault—instead of a discussion
24 AMSTAT NEWS FEBRUARY 2009
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