Lawmakers grill Census officials on cybersecurity

Lawmakers grilled top Census Bureau officials on Wednesday about the cybersecurity of the 2020 census, which kicks off nationwide next month and marks the first time that Americans will be able to fill out the form online.

Officials are facing new urgency over the issue after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report earlier Wednesday highlighting cybersecurity concerns and following the breakdown of the app used by the Iowa Democratic Party to count votes in the state’s caucuses last week.

Those issues were front and center during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on Wednesday that featured testimony from Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham and GAO officials.

What’s in the report: According to the GAO report, the bureau faces “significant cybersecurity challenges in securing its systems and data.” The report said the Census Bureau, one month before the online launch, still has to fix identified cyber vulnerabilities, implement Department of Homeland Security recommendations and ensure that collected information is safe from data breaches.

The clock is ticking: The census will be available to fill out online beginning in mid-March, while the bureau plans to send out census forms to most U.S. households by April 1.

At the hearing: “All 2020 census IT systems have been successfully tested or deployed and are on track,” Dillingham said, adding that “we have a high degree of confidence.”

But lawmakers were skeptical of those claims, citing the GAO report and the debacle in Iowa.

“Cybersecurity is going to have to be a top priority for you all,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) said during the hearing. “If ever there was a juicy target for those who want to hack in and sow discord and all the rest of it, it would be our 10-year census where we are putting it online like never before.”