Inspector General Scolds the Ask U.S. Panel Project at Census Bureau as the Bureau Plans to Insource - Articles

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01Mar

Inspector General Scolds the Ask U.S. Panel Project at Census Bureau as the Bureau Plans to Insource

A federal watchdog has criticized the Ask U.S. Panel project, concluding an investigation of the Census Bureau’s attempt to develop an online research panel to compete with the insights industry.

The Office of the Inspector General (IG) for the U.S. Commerce Department issued a final report on February 27, 2023 (OIG-23-011-I) of the office’s investigation of the Ask U.S. Panel project, noting that “the Bureau’s management and oversight of the cooperative agreement lacked transparency over key financial assistance award processes” and that the Bureau was providing significant taxpayer dollars to a private entity “without validating costs.” Most importantly, the IG found that the Census Bureau “did not document research or analysis conducted to determine whether the need for the Ask U.S. Panel could be met by existing commercial platforms or developed internally.”

As summarized by Howard Fienberg, Senior VP Advocacy for the Insights Association, “The IG report effectively scolded the Ask U.S. Panel project as a waste of taxpayer money in multiple fashions, including that the Census Bureau never bothered to check if the research services they were trying to expensively develop from scratch could have been affordably sourced from the private market. In fact, multiple private insights companies and organizations already provide these services, including to the federal government!”

As the IG finished its investigation, the Census Bureau disclosed that it would terminate the “cooperative agreement,” the contracting arrangement used to fund a private entity to build the online research panel. In the end, that panel “was not developed.”

Even as the Bureau’s attempt to build the panel via a private contractor came to an end, the IG discovered that the Census Bureau planned “to incorporate elements of the panel into studies the Bureau has underway” and that a new Bureau “panel would have some similar features to the Ask U.S. Panel but would differ in that it would be (1) built on Census systems, by Census staff, using Census data and (2) available on a cost-reimbursable basis for other federal government data collection efforts but would not serve nonprofit researchers.”

The Insights Association responded to that discovery with intense suspicion.

“We remain worried that the Census Bureau still intends to use taxpayer dollars, from multiple agencies and funding sources, to develop a service that already exists in the private market. The Bureau’s attempt to fund a private entity to learn how to build a probability-based online research panel failed, as we predicted it would, since it is a specialized area of expertise. Rather than throwing even more scarce federal resources at such an expensive effort by trying to insource the panel, the Insights Association continues to urge the Census Bureau to save a ton of money by simply purchasing the service from one of the multiple existing insights providers,” commented Fienberg.

For further background, see the Insights Association’s:

About the Author

Howard Fienberg

Howard Fienberg

Based in Washington, DC, Howard is the Insights Association's lobbyist for the marketing research and data analytics industry, focusing primarily on consumer privacy and data security, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), tort reform, and the funding and integrity of the decennial Census and the American Community Survey (ACS). Howard has more than two decades of public policy experience. Before the Insights Association, he worked in Congress as senior legislative staffer for then-Representatives Christopher Cox (CA-48) and Cliff Stearns (FL-06). He also served more than four years with a science policy think tank, working to improve the understanding of scientific and social research and methodology among journalists and policymakers. Howard is also co-director of The Census Project, a 900+ member coalition in support of a fair and accurate Census and ACS. He has also served previously on the Board of Directors for the National Institute for Lobbying and Ethics and and the Association of Government Relations Professionals. Howard has an MA International Relations from the University of Essex in England and a BA Honors Political Studies from Trent University in Canada, and has obtained the Certified Association Executive (CAE), Professional Lobbying Certificate (PLC) and the Public Policy Certificate (PPC). When not running advocacy for the Insights Association, Howard enjoys hockey, NFL football, sci-fi and horror movies, playing with his dog, and spending time with family and friends.

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