OIG: GPO lacked ‘due diligence’ in awarding 2020 census form contract

A watchdog report finds contracting officials with the Government Publishing Office mismanaged the awarding of one of its biggest contracts — selecting a vendor to print and mail forms for the upcoming decennial census.

“Our investigation revealed GPO did not do an adequate job of protecting the interests of the government when it awarded the 2020 Census printing and mailing contract to Cenveo,” a paper products manufacturer, former GPO Inspector General Michael Raponi wrote in a March 28 report obtained this month by Federal News Radio.

Last month, Melinda Miguel took office as GPO’s inspector general.

In October 2017, GPO awarded Cenveo with a $61 million contract to print questionnaires for the upcoming population count. Four months later, the company declared bankruptcy.

In a ruling last month, a bankruptcy court judge awarded Cenveo $5.5 million “for all properly invoiced work completed under an existing print order under the census contract,” and the Justice Department successfully terminated the contract.

Prior to the bankruptcy court ruling, Cenveo had submitted 13 invoices to GPO for payment, but Raponi wrote in the March 28 OIG report that GPO had not yet paid them.

GPO spokesman Gary Somerset said the agency intends to award the replacement printing and mailing contract in November. The awarding of a replacement contract, he added, should have no negative effect on the 2020 Printing and Mailing Operation or the overall 2020 Census.

“Given the importance of the production of the U.S. Census, GPO is working with the Census Bureau on an expedited timeline for the release of a solicitation,” Somerset said.

Cenveo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In addition, Judge Robert Drain ruled that Cenveo must “destroy or sanitize all confidential information received in connection with the census contract at no additional cost to the United States.”

According to Title 13 of the U.S. Code, Census employees and contractors who publish personally identifiable information are subject to a prison sentence of up to five years and a $250,000 fine.

According to the OIG report, agency contracting officials “did not follow key provisions in GPO’s Printing Procurement Regulations (PPR) when awarding the contract.”

For example, the agency officials allowed Cenveo to lower its original bid by nearly $9 million prior to awarding the contract, and did not demonstrate “due diligence” in investigating whether the company would have the financial resources to fulfill the contract.

“GPO management has taken steps to improve the procurement process and is committed to doing our part to ensure a successful production of the 2020 Census,” Somerset said.

In a statement, the Census Bureau said that after Cenveo filed for bankruptcy, the company discussed the pending contracting with the federal government, including any impact it would have to the 2020 population count.

“The United States concluded that because of the constitutional mandate to conduct the 2020 Census, it was in the public’s interest to terminate Cenveo’s contract,” the agency said.

Not the only concern for 2020 Census

Two years out from the start of the first internet-driven population count, the Census Bureau has faced a growing set of concerns.

Last week Census CIO Kevin Smith provided an in-depth look at the agency’s effort to ramp up its cybersecurity focus.

In addition, the Census Bureau awarded its last major IT contract for the 2020 count to Unisys, which will provide IT equipment to nearly 250 field offices.

By the end of August, the Census Bureau will wrap its work on the 2018 field test in Providence County, Rhode Island. At a quarterly performance management meeting among stakeholders, Census officials found that 52.3 percent of the test population self-responded to the questionnaire — higher than the 49.3 percent the agency projected.

Of the more than 147,000 people who participated in the field test, 61.2 percent responded through the internet, while 31.3 percent mailed back their paper questionnaires. Only 7.5 percent responded over the phone.

“Cenveo completed all of the work with which it had been tasked for the 2018 End-to-End Census Test in Providence County, Rhode Island, prior to the execution of the agreement terminating its contract and it will be paid for all completed work properly invoiced and accepted by GPO,” Somerset said.

Last month, President Donald Trump nominated Steven Dillingham, a current Peace Corps official, to serve as the Census Bureau’s newest permanent director. Ron Jarmin, a career employee with more than 30 years of experience, has served as acting director for more than a year.

The Census Bureau has also navigated several lawsuits following the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 questionnaire. While the question appears on the annual American Community Survey, this would be the first time in more than 50 years that the question would appear on the decennial census.

“The Government Publishing Office will issue a new solicitation and intends to award the replacement printing and mailing contract in November, which will ensure there is no negative effect on the 2020 Printing and Mailing Operation or the overall 2020 Census,” the Census Bureau said in a statement.

The trade publication PrintingImpressions first reported this story on July 23.