My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Archive for May, 2009

Judicial Watch vs. ACORN

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

MyTwoCensus will report more on this story throughout the weekend. For now, here is a press release from right-leaning watchdog organization Judicial Watch detailing their current investigation of left-leaning ACORN:

Judicial Watch Obtains Obama Commerce Department Documents Detailing ACORN Partnership for 2010 Census

Contact Information:
Press Office 202-646-5172, ext 305

Washington, DC — May 28, 2009

Census Bureau refuses to partner with “Hate Groups, Law Enforcement, Anti-Immigrant Groups”

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents from the U.S. Census Bureau detailing the substantial involvement of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) in the 2010 Census. Included among the 126 pages of documents, obtained by Judicial Watch under threat of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, is ACORN’s original Census partnership application. The document describes 18 different areas of responsibility requested by the community organization, which is under investigation in multiple states for illegal activity during the 2008 election, including voter registration fraud.

The documents also list the types of organizations ineligible for partnering with the U.S. Census. They include: “…Hate groups, Law enforcement, anti-immigrant groups, any groups that might make people fearful of participating in the Census…” The release of these Obama Commerce Department documents comes in the wake of an Obama Department of Homeland Security report released in April linking opposition to illegal immigration to “rightwing extremist radicalization.”

In its official statement responding to the ACORN controversy, the Obama Commerce Department downplayed ACORN’s participation in the Census, and labeled “baseless” the notion that ACORN would be involved in any Census count. However, the Census Bureau offered ACORN the opportunity to “recruit Census workers” who would participate in the count. Moreover, as an “executive level” partner, ACORN has the ability to “organize and/or serve as a member on a Complete Count Committee,” which, according to Census documents, helps “develop and implement locally based outreach and recruitment campaigns.”

According to its application ACORN also signed up to: “Encourage employees and constituents to complete and mail their questionnaire; identify job candidates and/or distribute and display recruiting materials; appoint a liaison to work with the Census Bureau; provide space for Be Counted sites and/or Questionnaire Assistance Centers; sponsor community events to promote participation in the 2010 Census,” among 18 requested areas of responsibility. The documents also show the decision to add ACORN as a partner occurred in February, long after the January 15th Census partnership application deadline. (One Census official had bet “it was under Bush.”)

Among other conclusions from the documents:

  • The Census Bureau requested that ACORN “help us highlight [ACORN's] innovation and hard work and share best practices so other organizations can learn from your experiences.”
  • Members of the Census Bureau and Department of Commerce staff assigned to organize the 2010 Census were unaware of when the decision to involve ACORN was made, how the Census Bureau choose and defined partners, or whether partners received payment.
  • The Census Bureau did not conduct background checks on the 3.7 million people hired to conduct the 2000 Census, unless a preliminary name check provided a match. Overall, 8% of the applicants, or over 300,000 people, were considered risks for hire.

According to the U.S. Census documents, among other things, census data is used to allocate $300 billion in federal funds. Census data also “determines how many seats each state will have in the House of Representatives as well as the redistricting of state legislatures, county and city councils, and voting districts.”

“Given its history of illegal activity and fraud, ACORN should be nowhere near the 2010 Census,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “And shame on the Obama Commerce Department for continuing to demonize conservatives by lumping together law enforcement and anti-immigration groups with ‘hate groups.’ This discriminatory policy raises First Amendment concerns. Indeed, these documents provide further evidence that the Obama administration is politicizing the 2010 Census.”

Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Census on March 23, 2009. After the Obama Commerce Department stonewalled, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit on May 14, 2009. The documents were released to Judicial Watch on May 15, 2009.

Update: The Congressional Letter to the OMB re: Same-Sex Marriage

Friday, May 29th, 2009

We apologize for our earlier technical issues from the past 24 hours. Now, for this MyTwoCensus exclusive, please find a scanned copy of the original letter here:

Click to download the PDF file of the letter sent to the OMB from members of Congress that pushes for gay marriages to be recognized during the 2010 Census!

Is Sotomayor the Court’s First Hispanic?

Friday, May 29th, 2009

From our friends at Pew:

by Jeffrey Passel and Paul Taylor, Pew Hispanic Center

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Is Sonia Sotomayor the first Hispanic ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court? Or does that distinction belong to the late Justice Benjamin Cardozo, who served on the court from 1932-1938 and whose ancestors may or may not have come from Portugal?

Unscrambling Cardozo’s family tree is best left to historians and genealogists. Here we take a stab at a more daunting question. Just who is a Hispanic?

If you turn to the U.S. government for answers, you quickly discover that it has two different approaches to this definitional question. Both are products of a 1976 act of Congress and the administrative regulations that flow from it.

One approach defines a Hispanic or Latino as a member of an ethnic group that traces its roots to 20 Spanish-speaking nations from Latin America and Spain itself (but not Portugal or Portuguese-speaking Brazil).

The other approach is much simpler. Who’s Hispanic? Anyone who says they are. And nobody who says they aren’t.

The U.S. Census Bureau uses this second approach. By its way of counting, there were 46,943,613 Hispanics in the United States as of July 1, 2008, comprising 15.4% of the total national population.

But behind the impressive precision of this official Census number lies a long history of changing labels, shifting categories and revised question wording — all of which reflect evolving cultural norms about what it means to be Hispanic.

Here’s a quick primer on how the Census Bureau approach works.

Q. I immigrated to Phoenix from Mexico. Am I Hispanic?

A. You are if you say so.

Q. My parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico. Am I Hispanic?

A. You are if you say so.

Q. My grandparents were born in Spain but I grew up in California. Am I Hispanic?

A. You are if you say so.

Q. I was born in Maryland and married an immigrant from El Salvador. Am I Hispanic?

A. You are if you say so.

Q. My mom is from Chile and my dad is from Iowa. I was born in Des Moines. Am I Hispanic?

A. You are if you say so.

Q. I was born in Argentina but grew up in Texas. I don’t consider myself Hispanic. Does the Census count me as an Hispanic?

A. Not if you say you aren’t.

Q. Okay, I get the point. But isn’t there something in U.S. law that defines Hispanicity?

A. Yes. In 1976, the U.S. Congress passed the only law in this country’s history that mandated the collection and analysis of data for a specific ethnic group: “Americans of Spanish origin or descent.” The language of that legislation described this group as “Americans who identify themselves as being of Spanish-speaking background and trace their origin or descent from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central and South America and other Spanish-speaking countries.” Standards for collecting data on Hispanics were developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1977 and revised in 1997. Using these standards, schools, public health facilities and other government entities and agencies keep track of how many Hispanics they serve (which was a primary goal of the 1976 law).

However, the Census Bureau does not apply this definition in counting Hispanics. Rather, it relies entirely on self-reporting and lets each person identify as Hispanic or not. The 2000 Census form asked the “Hispanic” question this way:

Is this person Spanish/Hispanic/Latino?
Mark (X) the “No” box if not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino.
__ No, not Spanish/Hispanic/ Latino
__ Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano
__ Yes, Puerto Rican
__ Yes, Cuban
__ Yes, other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino – Print group –> ____________

That question wording will be tweaked slightly in the 2010 Census, but the basic approach will be the same: People will be counted as Spanish/Hispanic/Latino if — and only if — that’s what they say they are. These self-reports are not subject to any independent checks, corroborations or corrections. Theoretically, someone who is Chinese could identify himself as Hispanic and that’s how he would be counted.

Q. But the Census also asks people about their race and their ancestry. How do these responses come into play when determining if someone is Hispanic?

A. They don’t. In the eyes of the Census Bureau, Hispanics can be of any race, any ancestry, any country of origin. The result is that there are varying patterns relating to where people come from and how they choose to identify themselves on the Census. For example, some 99% of all immigrants from Mexico call themselves Hispanic. But just 87% of immigrants from Venezuela adopt this label, as do 86% of immigrants from Argentina, 70% of immigrants from Spain and only 67% from Panama. As for race, 54% of all Hispanics in the U.S. self-identify as white, 1.5% self-identify as black, 40% do not identify with any race and 3.8% identify as being two or more races.

Q. What about Brazilians, Portuguese and Filipinos? Are they Hispanic?

A. They are in the eyes of the Census if they say they are, even though these countries do not fit the official OMB definition of “Hispanic” because they are not Spanish-speaking. For the most part, people who trace their ancestry to these countries do not self-identify as Hispanic when they fill out their Census forms. Only about 4% of immigrants from Brazil do so, as do just 1% of immigrants from Portugal or the Philippines. These patterns reflect a growing recognition and acceptance of the official definition of Hispanics. In the 1980 Census, about one-in-six Brazilian immigrants and one-in-eight Portuguese and Filipino immigrants identified as Hispanic. Similar shares did so in the 1990 Census, but by 2000, the shares identifying as Hispanic dropped to levels close to those seen today.

Q.How do Hispanics themselves feel about the labels “Hispanic” and “Latino”?

A. The labels are not universally embraced by the community that has been labeled. A 2006 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 48% of Latino adults generally describe themselves by their country of origin first; 26% generally use the terms Latino or Hispanic first; and 24% generally call themselves American on first reference. As for a preference between “Hispanic” and “Latino”, a 2008 Center survey found that 36% of respondents prefer the term “Hispanic,” 21% prefer the term “Latino” and the rest have no preference.

Q. What about Puerto Ricans? Where do they fit in?

A. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by birth — whether they were born in New York (like Judge Sotomayor) or in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (like her parents). According to the Census, some 97% of all persons born in Puerto Rico and living in the mainland United States consider themselves Hispanics. Overall, Puerto Ricans are the second largest group of Hispanics in the 50 states and District of Columbia — they make up 9% of the mainland Hispanic population, well behind the Mexican-origin share of 64%, but ahead of the 3.5% share of Cubans. In 2007, the 4.1 million persons of Puerto Rican origin living in the mainland United States exceeded Puerto Rico’s population of 3.9 million

Q. So, bottom line: Is Judge Sotomayor the first Hispanic to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, or not?

A. By the OMB’s definition, yes — Cardozo’s Portuguese roots (assuming he in fact had them) don’t make him Hispanic. But by the Census Bureau approach, not necessarily — for it would depend on how Cardozo would have chosen to identify himself. However, there’s an important historical footnote to consider. The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” hadn’t yet been coined for official data when Cardozo was alive. In the 1930 Census, the only effort to enumerate Hispanics appeared as part of the race question, which had a category for “Mexican.” That scheme gave way to several other approaches before the current method took hold in 1980. In short, Cardozo would have had no “Hispanic” box to check — and thus no official way of identifying himself as Hispanic. So, by the ever shifting laws of the land, Sotomayor would indeed appear to be the first Hispanic nominated to the high court. Case closed!

Boring interview with our fearless leader, Gary Locke

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke sat down with The Chicago Tribune for an interview…unfortunately the interview revealed nothing that we haven’t already heard 200,000 times:

WASHINGTON — The third time was the charm for Gary Locke, a former governor of Washington state who was tapped as commerce secretary after President Barack Obama’s first two choices pulled out. In an interview, he discussed the 2010 census.

Q Tell us what models you’re developing to ensure that all ethnic groups and minorities are accurately counted in next year’s census.

A Well, for the first time, we will be sending our forms in different languages and specifically in Spanish. So populations, communities with a large Hispanic population, will actually receive a census questionnaire. We’re going to be very specific. From past information, we know, for instance, in which parts of Houston there’s a large Vietnamese population. We know where in Los Angeles … in the Southwest, we have large populations, blocks of Hispanic families, and so we’re going to be very strategic and very targeted.

Q Will you, in part, rely on (popu- lation) sampling, even though the Republicans are dead-set against it?

A The United States Supreme Court has actually ruled that we are not allowed to use sampling apportionment. Nor do we have any plans to use sampling for any other purpose connected with the 2010 census.

Q Every White House has tried to play a role in the census. What will be this White House’s role in the census?

A The census director reports to me, and, of course, I serve at the pleasure of the president. … It will not be politicized, and the White House assured me that it has no interest in politicizing it.

Multimedia Essay: A Squandered Opportunity for The Census Bureau

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

At Sunday’s Carnaval parade in San Francisco, the Census Bureau made a major blunder by not participating in the parade and only setting up a dinky little booth at an event in the vicinity of the parade that lacked the visibility of the main event.

The Census Bureau could have participated by creating something like this:


  

But instead, all the Census Bureau did to reach out to minorities was this:

The American Community Survey…”Too Nosey”

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Yesterday, young neo-con Meghan Clyne wrote a column in The New York Post bashing The American Community Survey that is delivered to 1 in 40 American households:

UNCLE SAM’S WAY-TOO-NOSY SURVEY

WHERE’S the outrage?

With all the recent ob sessing over the “rights” of terrorists in Guantanamo, and the idea that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee should support “the constitutional right to privacy,” you’d expect the civil-liberties crowd to be inflamed by the federal government forcing Americans to disclose sensitive information about their finances, health and lifestyles.

You would be wrong.

Recently nearly 3 million Americans were sent the American Community Survey. An annual supplement to the decennial Census, the 28-page survey pursues obnoxious nanny-state details such as whether your home has a flush toilet, what kind of fuel you use for heat and how much you spend on everything from electricity and flood insurance to your mortgage and property taxes.

Then come the really nosy questions, ranging from your college major and your health insurance to how you spend each day at the office. The survey even asks what time you leave for work, down to the hour and minute.

It also asks whether, “because of a physical, mental or emotional condition,” you have difficulty “concentrating, remembering or making decisions,” “walking or climbing stairs,” “doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping” or “dressing or bathing.”

So much for keeping government out of the bedroom. The survey also demands your current marital status; whether you’ve been married, widowed or divorced in the last 12 months, and how many times you’ve been married. If you’re a woman between the ages of 15 and 50, you must also answer whether you’ve given birth in the last 12 months. The Census Bureau says this “measure of fertility” is used to “carry out various programs required by statute, including . . . conducting research for voluntary family planning programs.” What was that about a “woman’s right to privacy”?

It’s tempting to toss the survey in the circular file, but recipients are required by law to respond. According to the Census Web site, the fine for nonparticipation can be as much as $5,000, and filing false information can pack a $500 punch.

Why all this intrusion? The Constitution allows for the “enumeration” of Americans for the purposes of taxation and apportioning political representation — but this survey isn’t part of the head-counting. The information is used by the government to spread around your tax dollars and justify federal bureaucracies; it can also be distributed to private businesses.

The feds say the data will stay secure, but after recent episodes in which personal records were compromised by the State and Veterans Affairs departments, some skepticism is understandable.

Jim Harper, a privacy expert at the Cato Institute, calls the survey “a classic example of mission creep over the decades — this constitutional need to literally count how many noses are in the United States has turned into a vast data-collection operation.” Toss in the push for the 2010 Census to be run out of the White House, and it adds up to a real intrusion into private lives, with the goal of further expanding government’s reach.

There is spirited opposition to the survey, ranging from libertarian bloggers to Rep. Ron Paul, who has called it “insulting.” Yet civil-liberties groups are strangely quiet.

NARAL didn’t respond to a request for comment and an American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman said last week that she “couldn’t find anyone to talk.” But an organization fact sheet says the survey is not unconstitutional, adding that the Census “serves a vital role in our democracy . . . it determines apportionment for voting, as well as helps allocate other government benefits such as anti-poverty programs.”

So, we shouldn’t listen in on terrorists to save American lives — but intrusions into your privacy to support causes the left likes are just fine.

The good news is that I called the help number on my form and a Census representative finally conceded that the government was unlikely to pursue punishment if I didn’t respond, saying it would be “a waste of time and money.”

Maybe that’s enough to risk telling the government what to do with its survey. But if you do end up facing a harassing Census-taker — well, don’t count on the civil-liberties crowd for help.

Editorial: Census Bureau Squanders Outreach Opportunity in San Francisco

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

On Sunday, the Carnaval parade in San Francisco’s Mission District brought together tens of thousands of individuals, most of whom who are members of ethnic minority groups. Dozens of Central American, South American, and Caribbean nationalities were represented. All of these people are classified as “hard to reach individuals” by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In addition to the elaborate floats that represented community organizations, schools, arts organizations, and more, government agencies like BART and government partners such as the Sunset Scavengers had their own floats. One organization that was noticeably absent from the parade was the United States Census Bureau.

For a government agency that always touts how many millions of dollars it will save for each household that returns Census forms on time (by Census Day, April 1, 2010), the Census Bureau’s outreach to self-proclaimed “hard to reach” groups has been sub-par.

Yes, the Census Bureau had a tiny stall staffed by two bilingual workers at Carnaval’s accompanying festival. However this stall was inadequate as only a fraction of the people who attended the parade walked past it, let alone stopped to speak with representatives.

Hopefully the Census Bureau will learn from this mistake and correct this problem for next year’s festivities, which fall after Census Day, but before all of the surveys are due back to the federal government.

Congressman says minorities are not counted equally

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

We came across the following blog post written by Sean Rose of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. MyTwoCensus has made inquiries to Asian-American elected officials about their opinions on what Rep. William Lacy Clay has said:

WASHINGTON — Minorities and urban neighborhoods have long been under counted by the U.S. census and officials are hoping that a $312 million ad campaign can reverse the trend for the 2010 tally.

But Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, is wondering if the Census Bureau is spending all of that money wisely.

After hearing testimony today before the House Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee, which Clay chairs, the congressman took exception to the amount of funds targeting Asian-Americans, which have been better represented than other minorities in past census data.

“What was alarming was that in the Asian communities in America, they have tended to be historically over counted,” Clay said.

Of the money headed toward advertising, $27 million will specifically target Asians-Americans, while $36 million and $39 million will target blacks and Hispanics respectively.

Asian citizens were actually over counted in the 2000 census while the numbers from the last two census attempts have consistently under counted blacks and Hispanics. The 2000 census missed an estimated 3 million people.

None of the spending amounts are final and Clay said he expected to see revised numbers at the next subcommittee hearing.

“It’s a work in progress,” Clay said.

This funding from the bureau is meant to increase the response rate among these communities by stressing the importance of the census through ads and school programs. The bureau is also planning to increase spending to $280 million on partnerships with community groups and leaders in places that have a low response rate to better address problems of finding residents and getting a response.

As a whole, Missouri’s 69 percent response rate was higher than the 67 percent national average. In contrast, St. Louis, home to many minorities that the census has not traditionally reached, had a 53 percent response rate in 2000.

Hip-hop Civics presents The 2010 Census Rap

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Since it’s Memorial Day, we’re going to hold off on our more in-depth investigations and complaints. We think our readers will enjoy the song called “Let’s Be Counted” (click here) that has been created by the founders of Hip-Hop Civics, Steven J. Logwood and Keith Holland. Logwood told us via e-mail, “I wrote the song to support the Census and to highlight the use of Music-Based Messaging.  To see our other work, visit www.positiverecords.com and www.groovypyramid.com. We’re looking for a sponsor for the song, so we can get it out to a wide audience.”

Census worker prepares for 6th, and last count

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

We thank the Associated Press for bringing us this story:

CHICAGO (AP) — Stan Moore remembers when the U.S. Census count involved punching paper cards for each household. That was just before the 1960 count, when the nation’s population was around 170 million and he was one of the few men of color working for the Census Bureau.

Since those days, Moore has tabulated five population counts with ever-changing technologies, tracked diversifying communities and watched the U.S. population swell to over 300 million.

Now, as the federal agency’s longest-serving employee, Moore is gearing up for his sixth and final tally: the 2010 Census.

“This has been my life,” said the impeccably dressed man who is the bureau’s regional director in Chicago, sitting at his office table covered with color-coded maps.

Working for 11 presidents and being an organizer of the Census for more than five decades has given Moore a front-row seat to history.

His first official assignment came in 1960 when he joined the Census to help program a computer that weighed eight tons and was the size of a one-car garage. He has been at the forefront of helping create a national digital database that maps neighborhoods, and has overseen the implementation of GPS-equipped handheld computers carried by census workers.

Official Census counts, mandated by the Constitution, are used to determine how billions in federal funds are distributed and how congressional districts are drawn.

“If you need good schools, health care or transportation in your community, all that money is based on Census figures,” Moore said. “If you’re not cooperating, another city will have a good living standard where your city won’t.”

Since he became a regional director in 1976, Moore has pushed for a community-first approach.

In his early days, Census workers used phone books to get addresses and then walked streets to verify them.

“We missed a lot of addresses in those days,” he said.

Moore met with post office officials to develop a more efficient process.

Then he met with mayors, clergymen and school leaders, making sure each understood the stakes of not participating in the Census.

Those informal meetings led to what the agency now calls the Complete Count Committee, groups that are crucial to ensuring the operations of the Census — mapping households, confirming addresses, mailing forms and going door-knocking when the forms don’t get mailed back — run smoothly.

“He understands some of the subtleties, the nature of our work and the technical aspects, but he related it to the community in a way I had never had any experience,” said Dwight Dean, the bureau’s regional director in Detroit who has long known Moore. “It was a pioneer way to do PR using community.”

For example, in his three-state region of Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, Moore has pushed for hiring temporary Census workers who work in the neighborhoods where they live. That means neighbors are looking out for neighbors, he says.

Moore also gets ex-pro football players to talk to schools about the importance of the Census and he sends letters to each of the 6,433 mayors in his region.

His work with aldermen and mayors has earned him some recognition. There’s a street — Stanley D. Moore Way — named after him on Chicago’s southwest side.

He has an air of formality, usually dressing in a suit and tie. He is addressed by most, even some friends, as “Mr. Moore.” He has flecks of gray hair, doesn’t drink and refuses to give his age, jokingly insisting that he has worked at the Census bureau “since kindergarten.”

He took an internship with the agency after his high school civics teacher told his class in the early 1950s that African Americans were undercounted in the Census. He said wanted to help other minorities be counted.

Moore, married with four children, has few plans for retirement. He knows he’ll continue to attend his granddaughter’s basketball games, but he’s still focused on the 2010 count.

He has 38 temporary offices to open throughout the region and has hired former Bears players Otis Wilson and Wendall Davis, among others, to go to elementary schools to talk about the Census.

“It’s a wonderful job,” he said.

From the Pasadena Weekly: Incompetence by the numbers

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Incompetence by the numbers

A worker finds out the hard way that helping with the US Census isn’t what it used to be

By David Czamanske 05/21/2009

In April 1999 I worked for the US Census Bureau as an address verifier, ensuring that residential addresses were correct for census forms to be mailed on April 1, 2000, for the decennial census. The work was fulltime for approximately nine weeks, until early June.
I enjoyed it. An active retired person who likes walking and has an educational background that includes urban geography, I liked venturing into new neighborhoods. Plus, I felt I was making a small contribution to the census required by the Constitution for determining the number of members each state is entitled to in the House of Representatives.

In early 2009, I took and passed the exam that qualified me to work again in this capacity, and in mid-March I was contacted to begin training as an enumerator. Along with 12 others, I attended a basic one-week training class in early April. Most of the first morning was taken up with filling out required forms — there must have been a dozen — each requiring us to provide our name, date and signature. I wondered why the forms had not been consolidated and why we were generating so much paper in this era of computerized data collection.

In the week-long training, we learned how to use the Census Bureau’s new Hand-Held Computer (called our HHC), one of them issued to each of us to help verify the addresses of residents in single-family and multifamily dwellings.

The HHC, which included a Global Positioning System enabling us to “Map Spot” each residence, was accompanied by a needlessly elaborate handbook that contained multiple errors (the list of errors, in small type, accompanying the handbook went on for four pages). I couldn’t help but ask myself: Why was the basic handbook for 140,000 enumerators hired nationally not proofread carefully before 140,000 copies were printed?

The paid training lasted longer than I felt necessary, but did include a day of field work. During the training our crew leader told us that the Census Bureau had set June 5 as the target date for completing all address verification, with June 12 as the absolute deadline. We all looked forward to nine, perhaps 10 weeks of employment.

But toward the end of the second week, our crew leader told us that the regional census office was running out of assignment areas and that our work was just about over. By April 20, all the work was done in our district.

What had gone so grossly wrong in the estimate of time required for the work? Could it have been an error in basic arithmetic? According to national news reports, 140,000 enumerators were hired to verify the addresses of the nation’s 145 million households.
That’s an average of just over 1,000 addresses per enumerator. We were told that enumerators had processed an average of 19.2 addresses per hour in test runs, or almost 800 addresses in a 40-hour week.

In fact, I was often able to accurately verify 30 or more addresses in an hour. In two weeks of full-time work, I estimate that I processed more than 2,000 addresses.

Whatever the reason for the incorrect time estimate, my co-workers and I were extremely disappointed that the Census Bureau had more or less promised nine weeks of employment and then left most of us hanging out to dry after two weeks.

Moreover, we were paid for one week of training and then worked a little more than two weeks, so 30 percent of our pay was invested in training. Additional workers were trained in the week after our training, and they worked for just one week — so almost 50 percent of their pay was invested in training!

Despite my disappointment, I hope to work next year as an interviewer — as I did in 2000 — for the 2010 Census. After all, we do need to know how many members of Congress the state of California is entitled. I just have to hope that’s one calculation they get right. n

David Czamanske can be reached at dczamanske@hotmail.com.

Questions for Census Bureau Field workers

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

MyTwoCensus has received unsubstantiated reports about the following issues, and we are hoping for our readers to share their knowledge with us so we can further investigate:

1. Have you ever been threatened by Census Bureau employees who are higher up on the food chain than you? One reader recently reported, “The ELCO threatened that if I did not collect all the handhelds before the weekend, they would ‘call the police’ and ‘have them go after the listers to get the handhelds back.’”

2. Have you ever received a text message alerting you that “Census Bureau employees were killed in a car crash?”

3. Please let us know if you have heard something similar to the following: “During training, employees were told that a female census worker in Alaska who had been to a certain address was later stopped by police who demanded to know if she had been at that address.  She refused to tell him because of the confidentiality rules, but then the officer showed her a photo and asked if she had seen this person, and she said, ‘yes.’ Subsequently she was fired for breach of confidentiality.”

If you have anything to report or feel that we should look into a problem, individual, piece of technology, or procedure, or any other issue, please don’t hesitate to e-mail us at mytwocensus at mytwocensus.com.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 4)

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

On April 18, 2009, an under-reported yet monumental transaction took place between the Harris Corporation (the company responsible for creating the failing handheld computers used for 2010 Census operations) and Tyco Electronics (formerly part of the company with the same first name responsible for one of 2002′s most notorious financial scandals).

According to Data Week, “Tyco Electronics has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its wireless systems business to Harris Corporation for $675 million in cash, subject to final working capital adjustments. Tyco’s wireless systems business generated sales of $461 million in fiscal 2008. The transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals and is expected to close toward the end of 2009.”

MyTwoCensus is concerned because it is unclear at this point is whether 2010 Census data can be accessed by these companies. It is unknown whether meta-crawlers (excuse the Google jargon) have been installed in the handheld devices created by Harris that could potentially share private and proprietary data with these corporations.

Here’s the official description of Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems:

“Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems is a leading supplier of critical communications systems and equipment for public safety, utility, federal, transportation and select commercial markets. Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems products range from some of the most advanced IP-based voice and data networks to traditional wireless systems that offer customers the highest levels of reliability, interoperability, scalability and security. More information about Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems solutions can be found on the Web at www.tewireless.com.”

With IP technology in the hands of Tyco, is your personal data safe?

Given that Tyco Electronics is based in Bermuda, a tax haven known for its lack of regulation, this acquisition could surely spell significant amounts of more trouble for investors, the SEC, and the Commerce Department if Tyco’s assets turn out to be less than stellar.

On a sidenote, it is clear that from a financial perspective, Harris is not performing well for its shareholders. However, it’s interesting to note how long the Harris Corporation’s stock rose until its peak of more than $65 a share on March 30, 2008, long after other companies had already started losing significant amounts of money. But today, the company’s value has been cut in half.

MyTwoCensus urges financial and security experts to share their opinions with us.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Challenges ahead for Robert Groves

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

MyTwoCensus has obtained Census-director-to-be Robert Groves’ pre-Senate hearing questions and answers. We urge our readers to carefully review these documents.

Overall, MyTwoCensus is pleased with the selection of Mr. Groves as President Obama’s nominee for Census Director. In particular, we are glad that he plans to focus significant efforts on recruiting highly qualified individuals to join the Census Bureau. However, our main concern about Mr. Groves is not over his ability to remain non-partisan (we are confident that he will stay true to his word). Rather, we are worried that Groves will have difficulty cleaning up the mess that has been made of the Census Bureau in time for the 2010 Census. With antiquated procedures, failing technology and incompetent beaurocrats awaiting him, Groves faces significant challenges that will be extremely difficult to overcome before the decennial headcount. While Groves is an accomplished academic and has successfully managed smaller operations, we are yet to see him prove himself on such a grand scale of leadership as he must do in the very near future. With 12,000 permanent employees and 1.4 million temporary workers  joining  the Census Bureau’s team for the 2010 count, Robert Groves must carefully preside over his agency and put politics and public relations aside by holding all individuals accountable for their actions.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 3)

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Here is a first-person account (written by a highly qualified Census Bureau employee who has requested anonymity) submitted to us about the Harris Corp’s handheld computers that have been used in the field by the Census Bureau’s address canvassers during the first stage of 2010 Census operations:

I’d say the biggest bug in the handhelds was due to the government trying to assure privacy. They had the handhelds set up to hide information from us after we entered it. So after declaring a street or an area “done,” the computer hid that information so we couldn’t go back to check, or to compare or verify our work. (So, we learned to avoid marking things “done” until we were absolutely sure we wouldn’t need to check back.)

The handhelds provided an advantage, in that they served to level the information-recording playing field amongst the canvassers. When the GPS was working (which was 99% of the time for me, the only time I had a bad signal was in a very wooded area), it made it quite easy to “map-spot” all the residences, and those spots will be used by USPS workers when delivering the census. Remember that in addition to the easy, obvious residences, there are plenty of residences that aren’t so evident. Cabins at the end of dirt roads, where people live there but have no mailboxes in favor of a PO Box. Trailers parked in driveways with separate families renting space. Rental apartments in the back-rooms of businesses or the basements of libraries. Our handhelds let us map all those places, and made it possible for everyone’s map-spotting to be equivalent. If we had been doing pencil-and-paper mapping, each canvasser’s information would have been different, because each would just be guessing where on the map each house was. Since we all had the same GPS technology, we’re guaranteed to be mapping residences at the same quality level. Also, by using the GPS/handheld technology, we probably cut our work time down by 3/4.

So I definitely think adding the handhelds was a good idea, it’s just too bad they implemented it poorly via a custom-contractor.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 2)

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Even in the post-Jack Abramoff era, when the government issues a contract, there is surely party-politics and patronage at play. In the case of the Census Bureau’s $800 million contract to develop handheld computer technology suitable for counting each and every person living in America, Harris Corp. won the contract. The Melbourne, Florida based company lies within the Congressional district of GOP Rep. Bill Posey, an eight-year veteran of the House of Representatives who has a long record of taking money from Harris Corp. employees, including $2,300 in May, 2008 (the maximum contribution permitted by law) from Harris Corp.’s CEO Howard L. Lance — as well as a matching $2,300 contribution from Lance’s wife, Christine.

These contributions are a small price to pay for the significant amount of pork delivered by Posey to his Harris Corp. constituents back in the Sunshine State.

Among the list of Harris Corp.’s other senior executives who made large contributions to Posey’s re-election bids is Peter Challan, who left the FAA after 36-years to chum it up with his pals in Washington on behalf of  Harris Corp. as the VP of their Government Affairs division.

At this juncture, MyTwoCensus is just scratching the surface on the many potential problems and conflicts of interest that are behind this failed $800 million contract between the Census Bureau and Harris Corp. We have already requested information from the government via the Freedom of Information Act. If you have inside information about any Harris Corp. transactions, we urge you to contact us immediately.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 1)

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Just as MyTwoCensus was getting ready to launch our multi-part investigative series detailing the many problems associated with Harris Corp. and their failed attempt to create a handheld computer suitable for all aspects of the 2010 Census, Government Executive’s Brian Friel beat us to the punch and published this column:

The Right Stuff

As Census Bureau officials continue to salvage what they can from the bureau’s failed decennial automation project, it has increasingly become a real-time case study in core problems plaguing the federal government’s contracting practices.

The original $600 million contract, awarded to Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. in April 2006, would have allowed census workers to collect decennial data for the 2010 count by handheld device, rather than the old pen-and-paper way. The devices also would be used to update Census’ massive address list. Third, Harris would provide a variety of technology support services.

Two years went by, and then the entire contract went kaput. In 2008, Census and Harris officials ran to Congress with fingers pointed at each other as $200 million already sunk into the project basically went to waste: The handheld data collection project was a failure.

Now the Census Bureau has dropped the data collection and the major support services from the contract with Harris, leaving only the handheld-driven update of addresses. The new contract has a drastically reduced scope, but a significantly higher price tag. It will cost nearly $800 million.

The Commerce Department inspector general and other watchdogs have identified two big problems with the contract.

First, Census didn’t know what it wanted. As the IG noted in a March 2009 report, a significant problem was “the failure of senior Census Bureau managers in place at the time to anticipate the complex IT requirements involved in automating the census.” Its initial list of “requirements” in the contract grew and changed exponentially, adding layer upon layer of complexity. “Census changed requirements several times, which caused delays and increased costs,” the IG reported.

Second, Census set up a contract with Harris that allowed costs to spiral out of control. If the bureau had known what it wanted from the beginning, it could have written a fixed-price contract, which basically says: “Here’s what we want, here’s what we’ll pay you.” Instead, Census wrote a cost-plus contract, which basically says: “We’re not sure what we want, so we’ll pay you whatever it takes.”

In April, Vivek Kundra, the new federal chief information officer, told Congress these two problems are common across federal contracts. “The federal government doesn’t do a good job of defining what the requirements are,” he told Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., at an April 28 Senate hearing. According to Kundra, if agencies do a better job figuring out what they want, they can set up more fixed-price contracts, which control spending more than cost-plus contracts. “Fixed-price should be most common,” he said.

Kundra identified a common problem that leads to “runaway contracts.” Every contract involving technology has two main sets of requirements. First, a set of business needs that an agency’s operational office defines. Second, a set of technical needs that an agency’s IT department defines. If the two groups aren’t working together to jointly define all the requirements — if one leaves the other out — then an agency won’t really know what it wants. “The way that happens is ensuring there’s a high degree of engagement from both the business side of the house and the technology side of the house,” he said.

In the Census Bureau’s case, officials realized they had that problem only after they already had sunk $200 million into their automation contract, and at a point when starting over was impossible. “By the time you find out the requirements have increased or the budget is out of control, it’s too late to make an adjustment,” Kundra said. “For far too long we’ve put good money after bad money.”

If you don’t know what you want but you pay for it anyway, chances are you’ll repeat that long-running mistake.

Statements and Video from Robert Groves’ Confirmation Hearing

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Please check the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs website for the complete video feed of Robert Groves’ confirmation hearing from Friday, May 15th. The same page also provides Groves’ prepared testimony (PDF) as well as statements prepared by the committee’s Chairman Joe Lieberman (Ind. – CT), sub-committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE), and ranking member of the minority party Susan Collins (R-Me).

Update on the “Caribbean” category on the 2010 Census form

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

This just came into our inbox:

cid:image001.png@01C9D887.139EAB40

CONGRESSWOMAN YVETTE D. CLARKE

REPRESENTING NEW YORK’S 11th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 19, 2009

Contact: Ronnie Sykes: 347.213.1533

Rep. Clarke’s Caribbean Count Bill Garners Support from New York Senators

Checkbox would better represent diversity, encourage higher census participation in the Caribbean community, and help to achieve a more accurate count in the 2010 Census

Washington, DC— Today, Senators Charles Schumer and Kristin Gillibrand proposed a Companion Bill to Rep. Yvette D. Clarke’s Caribbean Count Bill (H.R. 2071), an historic bill that calls for Caribbean nationals to have their own origins check box on the U.S. Census form.  The Bill requires that all questionnaires used in the taking of any decennial census of the U.S. population, to include a checkbox or a similar option be included so that respondents may indicate Caribbean extraction or descent.

“I want to commend Senators Gillibrand and Schumer for demonstrating great leadership by introducing the Senate companion to HR 2071: Caribbean Count Bill,” said Rep. Yvette D. Clarke.   “Census Day is less than a year away, and it is imperative that every household participate in order to ensure an accurate count.  Data generated by the Census is used to help equitably distribute federal funding from a wide range of government sources. A higher response rate from the Caribbean immigrant community would help ensure that more public resources are available to all New Yorkers.”

Clarke continued, “the bill does not call for an additional race category, but rather a self-identifying ancestry category/national origin in order to get a more accurate count of people of Caribbean descent living in the United States.”

“New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world and must be fully represented in the census,” Schumer said. “Including this checkbox would surely provide better representation of our great city and its Caribbean American population. New Yorkers of Caribbean descents are an essential part of the New York City population and they deserve to be accurately counted.”

“It’s time to make sure all New Yorkers are counted fairly and accurately in the census,” Senator Gillibrand said. “New York’s Caribbean community contributes so much to our economy, our diverse culture and the way of the life that makes New York the great state it is. By failing to recognize Caribbean families in our census data, we are failing to obtain a true picture of the people, families and communities that make up New York and all of America. It’s time to make this important change.”

The Companion bill proposed by Schumer and Gillibrand states that in conducting the 2010 decennial census and every decennial census thereafter, the Secretary of Commerce shall include, in any questionnaire distributed or otherwise used for the purpose of determining the total population by states, a checkbox or other similar option by which respondents may indicate Caribbean extraction or descent.

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H.R. 2071- Caribbean Count Bill

This bill requires that a checkbox or other similar option be included so that respondents may indicate Caribbean extraction or descent in the questionnaires used in the taking of any decennial census of population.

This bill is important to the District because:

· It draws attention to the significance of the 2010 U.S. census to the Caribbean community, which because of cultural sensitivities and other factors can sometimes be reluctant to complete the forms.

· Census Day is less than a year away, and it is imperative that every household participate in order to ensure an accurate count.

· Today, data generated by the census is used not only to determine voter representation, but also to help equitably distribute federal funding from a wide range of government programs.

· Census data is an invaluable resource to private industry, helping businesses make sensible decisions about how and where to expand their capital.  An accurate count of the Caribbean community will highlight their purchasing power and economic impact both in the U.S. and global markets.

Art Mirrors Life at Telemundo

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Attention Census Bureau employees: Get your Tivos ready, because if you speak Spanish, you may soon find a character on television whom you can relate to.  As The New York Times reports, the joys and pains of working for the Census Bureau will be chronicled from the perspective of a character on the Spanish-language telenovela “Mas Sabe el Diablo” who works for the 2010 Census. Here’s the full story:

Upfronts: Telemundo Talks Up Branded Entertainment

Executives of Telemundo, specializing in Spanish-language programming, gave an upbeat presentation on Monday morning to kick off the 2009-10 upfront week.

Although “this is a challenging time for everybody,” acknowledged Don Browne, president at Telemundo, part of the NBC Universal unit of General Electric, “it’s a good time to be in the Hispanic media business, because it’s growing, and it’s growing fast.”

The Telemundo presentation was focused on the advantage that its flagship Telemundo broadcast network has over its larger rival, the Univision network owned by Univision Communications. Telemundo carries programs that are produced for Telemundo, while Univision carries programs produced overseas, by the Mexican TV giant Televisa.

“We offer the best value proposition,” said Michael Rodriguez, senior vice president for sales at Telemundo, because advertisers can arrange for their products and brands to be integrated into Telemundo programs as they are produced. He gave examples like the Chevrolet Malibu sold by General Motors and the Pantene line of hair-care products sold by Procter & Gamble.

A major integration coming up on a Telemundo show is not a paid placement for an advertiser. Beginning next Monday on the telenovela “Mas Sabe el Diablo,” loosely translated as “The Devil Knows More,” “we are going to write in a Census theme and character,” Mr. Browne said. “The character will actually work for the Census Bureau.”

The federal government will get the freebie plugs for the 2010 Census because “it’s part of our Constitution,” Mr. Browne said, “and it should be done correctly.”

“It’s also good for business,” he added, referring to the fact that the results of the 2000 Census, which showed significant growth for the Hispanic population, fueled significant growth in advertising sales for the Spanish-language TV networks.

The presentation was an informal one, because Telemundo discontinued its big upfront week shows after May 2007.

Among the new series described to reporters for the 2009-10 season was “El Clon,” or “The Clone,” which was appropriate because other shows came across as clones of popular English-language content. Among them are “Perro Amor,” which evoked the movie “Cruel Intentions,” and “Ninos Ricos, Pobres Padres,” which evoked the CW TV series “Gossip Girl.”