The U. S. Census Bureau attempted to employ a Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) program to expedite the collection of information. The FDCA project is important to the Census Bureau for many reasons. The first reason is the reduction of costs associated with the collection of information. Going door to door with paper forms is costly. The actual forms that are used cost the government mass amounts of money to produce. These forms are then peddled door to door by people who are paid wages and completed in ink by residents.
The forms then need to be submitted to a local office where another worker who also needs to be paid for their time then keys the information in manually. These numbers and data are influential in allocating federal monies to certain areas of each state and county. Additionally, senate district lines are drawn based on population. If these figures are inaccurate, due to human error, funds that are generally allotted for a certain area could be reduced. This reduction could affect many programs in the area.
Road upkeep, social services and emergency response are just a few of the areas that could be impacted. Simply put, accurate data collection is needed to ensure that everyone in all parts of the country get their fair share. The failed implementation of the wireless handheld devices was plagued with issues from every level and department. On the federal level, lack of oversight posed the largest issue. The federal sector suffers from lack of oversight because in the private sector incentives are offered for the successful, timely and cost effective rollout of similar programs.
Because no one was to receive bonuses or other incentives on the federal level a lack of oversight was easily achieved. The Harris Corporation was contracted to build and test the handheld devices including the software. The federal government did not effectively convey information about the census program to Harris. This poor communication made the development of the handheld devices extremely difficult. Harris was also at fault for not providing updates on progress. The program was also plagued with technology issues caused by miscommunication.
Risk management was not adequately studied to show potential issues with the handheld devices. The devices were plagued with slow speeds while transmitting information to a central office. Once the information was received other bugs and flaws within the system made the information inaccurate. The government and Harris both share the blame for the conundrum that ended up costing taxpayers billions of dollars. The risks involved with this project were easily visible from the beginning.
With so much federal money on the line simple steps could have been taken to ensure that taxpayer burden would be minimized. The first step that should have been taken was to set up a committee or group of people that including congressmen, technology consultants and financial advisors. When undertaking such a large and costly undertaking with taxpayer money at stake it is necessary to be accountable. Members of the staff on the federal and private end should have been in constant contact with each other to ensure that problems and issues were resolved.
I would have set up a liaison at each end so they could effectively relay the needs of the government to Harris and Harris could relay known issues with the government. Testing and risk assessment should have been a priority and as such should have properly researched and monitored throughout the entire process. All technical specifications should have been clearly communicated between both entities and having a liaison on both ends would have facilitated proper development. I would have ensured that wireless networks were available at certain areas and that proper software was written that was bug free long before actual rollout.