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.

Questions for Census Bureau Field workers

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

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25 Responses to “Questions for Census Bureau Field workers”

  1. anonymo Says:

    short answers: No, Yes, No

  2. Barb S Says:

    Working as an address lister has been interesting; met a lot of funny people, and MANY Dogs! Most dogs were friendly, even barking ones. Had one lady ask if we were “putting chips in houses to tell where they are” – told her NO we are NOT – and if a “Census Employee” offers to DO THAT – call the COPS !

  3. BB Says:

    Also No, Yes, No.

  4. Anonymous CL Says:

    The handheld computers from any departing employees are supposed to be rushed straight back to the ELCO within one business day of their resignation/dismissal, if I recall correctly. As told to me, the official procedure for collecting any belated returns of the handheld computers, would involve use of the local police, after collection attempts within reason by the relevant CL/CLA and FOS. It isn’t a threat per-se, just a matter of “we’ve got to get these confidential expensive devices promptly returned”, and there’s not much option other than the police if an enumerator doesn’t want to cooperate promptly on this with the CL/CLA and FOS (or if the CL/CLA/FOS don’t want to bother getting them promptly).

    Some supervisors informed their subordinates about this in advance, while many others didn’t, but they’d all have to resort to it regardless if the difficult situation were to arise with one of their subordinates.

    There have been some comments posted on this site which reported actual unreasonable threats experienced by a few people who worked for indecent supervisors, and those are cause for concern. But this point about retrieving the computers isn’t really a good example of that.

    As for the second and third questions, my answer is “no” for both. But I was already out of work when comments about a car-crash message started showing up on this blog, so my “no” is probably an inaccurate indicator on that.

  5. QC CL Says:

    The Census management style seems to rely on threatening to fire people. I ran into one of the full-time ELCO staff at a training site, and all she could talk about was all the various reasons I should have been fired at that point.

    Our ELCO sends out at least one message a week threatening to terminate people if we don’t follow some new procedure that we’ve never heard of.

    They don’t seem to understand that threatening to fire people from a temporary job doesn’t have much of an impact. And if you threaten to fire people all the time, you have to fire someone once in a while to make the threat real.

    I never saw the message about the traffic deaths, nor heard of any one being terminated for a breach of confidentiality.

    My ELCO said there was not a rush to return HHCs from released listers. Of course the HHCs have to be turned in, but not by the next day as one poster said. I am a bit worried about collecting HHCs from some of my listers who won’t answer my calls.

  6. QC Anywhere USA Says:

    Was anybody else told that a census worker was killed, hit by a train, while operating his/her hhc while driving?

  7. Anonymous CL Says:

    So many regional variations… different areas’ staff make up their own rules/procedures, have different interpretations of existing rules/procedures, and decide which existing rules/procedures to ignore entirely.

  8. Anonymous CL Atlanta Says:

    No to all three questions in the post, and no to QC Anywhere‘s question.

    I suspect that threats of termination are part of the management style because it’s far easier to teach “warn them and give them 48 hours to shape up” (which is what the CL manual advised for most performance and conduct issues) than anything that might require actual leadership skills. That said, terminating listers was discouraged in my FOSD. We were required to terminate listers who still had serious problems after retraining (and, of course, those who falsified work or exceeded 40 hours in a week), but that didn’t prove to be an issue in my CLD. I asked about firing one employee for cause and was advised to try OJT and a second observation and then to consider retraining; ultimately, the employee resigned before the second observation.

    As far as returning HHCs, we were directed to return them “ASAP!” (exclamation point and all), which in practice meant no later than the next business day. We were told that the reason for this was that the ELCO had a very limited supply of HHCs, and I have no reason to doubt that explanation based on my experiences with IT. We didn’t get as far as threatening to involve law enforcement, but we did remind listers that their paychecks would be withheld until we got the HHC back. I had no problems collecting HHC kits from terminated listers.

    Barb S, the “putting chips in people’s houses” thing comes from various bits of FUD that have been circulating on the Internet about the Bureau’s use of GPS; there are some fairly elaborate conspiracy theories out there.

  9. YourMomIsEnumerated Says:

    A crew leader I know was threatened by an ELCO drone with having his pay withheld because of some paperwork snafu with returned HHCs. It was complete bullshit, of course. In America, people are entitled to be paid for work.

    I have never been to our ELCO but I envision it as a tiny office with a dozen petty, simple-minded people who revel lording their power over people in the field. Those people talk out of their ass, frankly, and say stuff like “if you don’t do xyz we’re going to withhold your pay” or “if your lister doesn’t do xyz we’re going to send the cops.”

    Re: “calling the police” to go after listers with computers, bull. Cops don’t work that way. You can’t walk into the Los Angeles Police Department, claim to be from the U.S. government (with that sad, fake-looking ID card), and get an officer in a marked car to start knocking down doors in search of missing handheld computers. The cops would laugh you out of the stationhouse.

    At best, I suppose a census representative could file a stolen property report and have the errant employee charged with theft. But before such a charge is filed, the police or the district attorney’s office would likely insist that the census make a vigorous effort to collect the computer on its own.

    Two bits of irony:

    1. These computers contain no “confidential information.” No names, no biographical data. Just lists of addresses, data that is available to everyone walking down the street.

    2. These computers will not be used for any future phases. This is it. They will very likely be sold in bulk as surplus property for pennies on the dollar. The are pieces of shit with no other use inside or outside the census. They’re worthless.

  10. Lister Says:

    No, Yes, No.

  11. anon Says:

    1. Yes. Lots of threats. Plenty of write ups and all petty. Appeared to me to be a case of people wanting to throw their weight around or issues because of the disorganization and flip flopping of those “in charge”. CYA, is rampant in upper Mgt.

    2. No, but a Census CL was killed in an auto accident. The news article didn’t say whether he was working at the time. Suspect he wasn’t as a friend was in the car at the time.

    3. No.

    As one of the other commentors said, totally ridiclous to threaten temp employees and most of them are retired. Brow beat older employees because they have a problem using the crap handheld. Numerous employees listed no computer skills on their application but their form at training said they had previous computer experience. And the fingerprint scan problem…we were told it’s the person, not the handheld. To terminate them. What a big old fat lie.

  12. QC Anywhere USA Says:

    I was fortunate(?), regarding the fingerprint scan problem, that my CL has had much more difficulty than I have had with this issue, so there has been total empathy in that department. There’s that definition of insanity: that we do the same thing repeatedly and expect different results. With the hhc’s, that can indeed happen. The different results, I mean. (Although my sanity may be questioned at times…) I can do exactly the same thing over and over again, with different results. I’ve been locked out for 1 1/2 hours at a time, in the field, just sitting there waiting for it to decide to let me in. Then, I yell at it a bit, verbally threaten it a bit, and, voila, it lets me in! I’m not doing anything different! “Swipe too short.” “Swipe too far right.” “Swipe too short.” Then short-cut to “Verification failed (5)”, and I’m locked out for 15 minutes.

    Regarding threats: there are the constant threats of “fine or imprisonment” for everything. During training, we were told to *never* show our hhc’s to *anybody*, “under penalty of fine or imprisonment” and sure termination, “you *will* be fired”. There was all this “confidential information” in them. Are we truly to believe that the citizen who lives at 1234 Main St. does not know that there is another house at 1238 Main St., and that it is a manufactured home, and is habitable? Or that the folks at 1242 Main St. have their in-laws living in an RV in the side yard that likely the county wouldn’t approve of? Or that there is a new development around the corner, on 2nd Avenue, with a whole bunch of new houses going in? That’s all these things have in them! Addresses, types of houses, and little dots where the houses are! If a person wants to see *their own* address listing and *their own* little mapspot, what’s the big deal?? I never had anybody ask to see it, but if they did, why hide it from them?

  13. Anonymous CL Atlanta Says:

    QC Anywhere: That’s all these things have in them! Addresses, types of houses, and little dots where the houses are! If a person wants to see *their own* address listing and *their own* little mapspot, what’s the big deal??
    That’s not such a big deal, but theirs isn’t the only map spot that comes up. It’s showing the HOA vice-president at 1244 Main St the map spot and address list entry of the little-known back housing at 1252—housing that violates the deed restrictions—that presents a problem.

    I hate to say it, but my experience was that the lion’s share of fingerprint verification problems were due to user error. My people suffered very few lockouts, and AFAIK no one was locked out for more than 30 minutes. A little lotion (or oil from one’s temple) went a long way. So did consistently verifying prints the same way they were registered, something my CLA and I reinforced during training. Our help desk also advised us to call if we had serious lockout problems so they could diagnose any hardware problems. (Then again, my ELCO didn’t impose the sort of production pressures that most people here have reported; we could afford to lose a bit of time to the occasional HHC mishap.)

  14. QC Anywhere USA Says:

    Re. the fingerprint verification – I tried the lotion/oil trick, it worked once but not again; I earlier learned to carefully swipe my finger *just so*, that worked for quite awhile, but the very same technique isn’t working anymore; I carefully make sure that things line up the very same way from one time to the next, but to no avail. Fortunately, these things will not be used in future phases of the project!

  15. Anonymous CL Says:

    The tip I used was the opposite, removal of oil/moisture — rub the fingertip back-and-forth (making friction) vigorously on fabric (such as the side of the provided bag), before attempting sign-in. I heard about that after several lockout problems despite identical swipe motions, and from then on, doing that every time got it to work on first or second attempt, so never had another lockout.

    The fingerprint readers shouldn’t have been so finicky to begin with though, shouldn’t need all these odd tricks to convince them to temporarily cooperate.

  16. QC Anywhere USA Says:

    I would think that excessive oil or lotion might gum up that little reader device.

    There were several weeks, after the initial rocky path of using it, when I was able to get into it rather reliably, usually at most after one lock-out. But now I can hardly get into it at all. If my CL has sent me a message about picking the dang thing up, I can’t get into it. But then my CL has been locked out a lot lately as well! Maybe the gadgets figure we’re done, why let us in anymore??

  17. Anon Says:

    I had lots of issues with being locked out but I don’t have readily identifiable fingerprints. I was told that at the police station when I was being printed for permanent employment. Everything had to be aligned just right – moisture level, HHC temp, finger temp, etc for it to work.

    Are some people still working?

  18. QC CL Says:

    Seems like older people (55+) had more frequent fingerprint problems in my crew, but everyone had problems at some point. The problems also seemed to come in bunches. Maybe it had something to do with the humidity. It would have been nice to change the lockout period to something like 5 minutes rather than 15 minutes. Would have saved a lot of time.

    The ELCO staff will work some next week and maybe a few people for a short time after that. The help desk was shutting down on 5/28 or 5/29. I heard the Group Quarters work will start in July.

  19. QC ? Says:

    No to all of the above questions. However, the following did occur:
    *I was instructed to allow all mapspots to pass reguardless of distance.
    *I was told to overlook descrepencies some large & small
    *I was told many lies
    *I was instructed to let an AA set idle for an undetermined amt of time

    It was almost like people were job scared and willing to lie to save it. Shortly after traing, the main focus was quantity and definitely not quality.

  20. QC Anywhere USA Says:

    “Everything had to be aligned just right – moisture level, HHC temp, finger temp, etc for it to work.”

    I wonder…the weather in our area has become quite lovely and warm over the past week. I wonder if it’s been too warm for the hhc? I don’t have a/c in my home, and my office space is near the western wall of the house. Maybe its delicate little innards have cooked??

    “Seems like older people (55+) had more frequent fingerprint problems”:

    That could also be a factor. Maybe our fingerprints are worn down from a lifetime of work, chores, and life in general? Maybe they got worn off by trying to swipe the hhc so much? Little bits of our whirls and whorls adhering to the front of the hhc reader? Each time we swipe, a little more gets left behind?? Acckkk!

    The last time I worked was last weekend. Our crew is pretty much done.

  21. Wanna disable this requirement Says:

    No No(might have happened before I came on) and No

    I think overall many of the management anger comes in that the ELCO management at no point is told how to interact with employees. Labor-Management relations at the census are really really bad in terms of if we’ll still be working in future operations or not. The local ELCO offices are relying on management to communicate and that shouldn’t be there job. Several messages come off very odd and are a barrage of bullet points with no real cohesion inbetween them and you never know if its a good or bad thing.

    It’s mostly just a power thing- the management is trying to get done fast so they look good and can move up- we’re trying to get done fast so we’re EMPLOYED afew months from now.

    As to this:
    “It was almost like people were job scared and willing to lie to save it. Shortly after traing, the main focus was quantity and definitely not quality.”

    The census is going, my understanding, for a margin of error- how many towns are going to actually check what our actual error is? Since you can’t legally talk about the actual addresses then that makes it even more difficult. The whole secrecy, in my eyes, comes from 2 sources:

    1) Maintaining the margin of error- you can’t prove more error if the ENUM’s cant talk to the local officials. That way the data is the data and no ones gonna be able to argue it. I might be wrong here based on what FOIA will allow local governments.

    2)Typical government fear- the main example I always use is the nuclear bomb. Anyone who can get ahold of a few thousand centrifuges can make a bomb but our government is still incredibly protective about how they’re made- the census is the same way. Does it REALLY matter that you tell your friend you worked in cleveland? No, but it matters to the government because that’s the easiest way to deal with it.

  22. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    As the founder and editor of MyTwoCensus, I would just like to thank our thousands of readers for your comments, commentary, and continued support. Though this is obviously a niche blog, MyTwoCensus has already conducted some great investigations in our short history. We rely heavily on our wonderful readers to give us tips that can lead us to new investigations. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you are interested in helping MyTwoCensus in any way! We are always looking for contributors to help us diversify what information we can offer the public. Also, we would love feedback sent to us about what features of this site you enjoy and what features of this site could be improved.

    Many thanks,

    Stephen Robert Morse

  23. Anonymous CL Says:

    Stephen, I’d like to see an easier way to keep up with all the new comments. Some blogs do this by providing a second RSS feed, of all the comments.

  24. greenviking Says:

    RE:“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.”

    this happened at the Anchorage LCO in early April, I was working for the Census at the time that this AC lister was “let go”. The listers were given sips to hand to law enforcement officers, stating “with all due respect,please do not ask me to assist in your investigation. I will face termination and possible fines and jail time.” it further goes on to list the info on Title 13 and 44 of the US Code and directs the officer to contact the LCO manager. We were also told The LCO Manager filed a complaint with the AK State Troopers about the incident as the trooper involved may have improperly forced the lister to comply with the trooper’s request.

  25. Sam7 Says:

    Yes, got threatened by a worker yesterday, who wanted into on my neighbor. I called the #in Maryland and spoke to a supervisor who stated, “They ARE allowed to covertly threaten you for the information, and YOU CAN BE HELD LIABLE IF YOU DON’T PROVIDE INFO ON YOUR NEIGHBORS!!!” Isn’t that lovely, we now have to be threatened and forced to give info on our neighbors. I called the ACLU, I hope they take this up. – Florida