crowd of people in front of cloud

Census plans cloud option for self-response

As the Census Bureau gears up for the decennial count, it plans to use a new system of systems called the Census Enterprise Data Collection and Processing to support the 2020 enumeration as well as future bureau efforts. CEDCaP also includes an internet self-response option, which allows respondents for the first time ever to complete their surveys online.

The readiness of CEDCaP remains an issue, with watchdogs including the Government Accountability Office worried that the program is behind schedule and missing key authority-to-operate certifications.

A risk assessment notes that in February 2018, the Census Bureau obtained a waiver from the federal CIO to run the self-response program in the cloud, outside the "trusted internet connection" policy that usually applies to public-facing government websites. That move is necessary, according to Census documents, because of latency issues arising from communication between far-flung survey respondents and the two bureau sites with trusted internet connections – one at headquarters in Suitland, Md., and the other at a Bowie, Md., data center.

Under the bureau's plan, if there's a surge in self-response activity, some traffic will communicate directly with a commercial cloud provider – as yet unnamed. Bureau documents also note that plans for a cloud-based architecture are not yet finalized and still risk not being finished before the start of the 2020 enumeration.

Census reports also indicate that cybersecurity remains a top-three risk for the 2020 enumeration, along with denial-of-service attacks and infiltration of bureau systems. The bureau is using "red teams" from the Department of Homeland Security and industry to conduct "slow and under the radar" cyberattacks on census systems to identify vulnerabilities, the documents show. Additionally, the self-response system underwent security tests by contractors in January and by DHS in February.

Overall, the projected cost of the 2020 census is $15.6 billion, which is more than $3 billion over 2012 estimates that the population count could be done for $12 billion. Still, the bureau is promising some cost savings over the 2010 enumeration, which included a major technology program failure involving mobile devices. The estimate projects the 2020 population count will cost $107 per housing unit, down from $120 per unit in 2010. The biggest spending period is just on the horizon, according to bureau documents, with $10.8 billion to be spent in fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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