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GAO Urges Census Bureau to Revamp Life-Cycle Cost Estimate Process

budget analysis reviewThe Government Accountability Office has asked the U.S. Census Bureau to change the bureau’s life-cycle cost estimating process in order to meet GAO’s recommended characteristics for what a cost estimate entails.

GAO said Thursday the bureau’s 2015 cost estimate for the 2020 Census did not contain the characteristics of what auditors referred to as a “high-quality estimate” and was unreliable as a result.

“Best practices state a risk and uncertainty analysis should be performed to determine the level of risk associated with the cost estimate,” GAO noted.

GAO found that the bureau narrowed the estimated costs analysis down to only the fiscal years 2018 through 2020 and that the narrow analysis covered nearly 37 percent, or $4.6 billion, of the $12.5 billion total estimated life-cycle cost.

For future fiscal years, auditors said the Bureau’s models totaled less than half of the total estimated cost of the census during future fiscal years after 2020.

Government watchdog agency GAO attributed the low overall assessment for the Census Bureau to the lack of a well-documented estimate.

“Improving cost estimation practices will increase the reliability of the Bureau’s cost estimate, which will in turn help improve decision-making, budget formulation, progress measurement, course correction when warranted, and accountability for results,” GAO noted.

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