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 June, 2009

Census Vets Tapped for New Advisory Board

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Many thanks to Ed O’Keefe at The Washington Post for breaking the following story:

Census Vets Tapped for New Advisory Board

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has tapped three Census Bureau veterans to serve as part-time advisers on operational, management and contracting issues while President Obama’s nominee to serve as Census director awaits a full Senate confirmation vote.

The trio includes Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, who served as bureau director from 1998 to 2001 and was widely believed to be the leading candidate for the position until suddenly withdrawing earlier this year with little explanation.

Kenneth Prewitt
Former Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt will return in a temporary advisory role.

Obama instead nominated Dr. Robert Groves for the job in April, but his nomination has been held up ever since he cleared the Senate’s government affairs panel in late May.

As Groves awaits a final vote, Locke will consult with Prewitt, National Opinion Research Center president John Thompson and former Census chief financial officer Nancy Potok. The trio will draft a list of suggestions for Locke, who will pass them off to Groves if he’s confirmed.

The move, first mentioned in late April and not formally announced until today, has raised the ire of congressional Republicans who fear the White House is “back dooring” Prewitt into the director’s job without formal congressional confirmation.

“By bringing in these outsiders with strong personalities, the Bureau runs the risk of having too many cooks in the kitchen challenging the actions of career civil servants who have worked for 18 months to ensure a successful 2010 Census,” Kurt Bardella, spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said in a statement. Issa leads a House GOP Census Task Force established earlier this year to monitor the Obama administration’s execution of next year’s headcount.

“We are within ten months of Census Day, the last thing we need is a structural change that could jeopardize the success of the Decennial,” Bardella added.

Commerce officials stress that the three are merely serving as advisers and that Groves “will run the agency with the independence and professionalism that the American people expect and the Constitution demands,” according to a department statement set for release today. The consultants “will use their decades of experience to tell us just what steps require immediate attention to make the 2010 Census a success.”

Groves will have to wait until at least July 6 for a Senate confirmation vote. The Senate approved a dozen other Obama nominees last Friday, but at least 30 other nominees are in limbo. Administration officials believe Republicans have blocked them out of anger with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s timetable for Sonia Sotomayor‘s Supreme Court nomination.

Prewitt currently serves as a Columbia University professor and ran NORC before serving as Census director. Thompson is a 27-year Census veteran who had responsibility for the management, operations, and methodology of the 2000 national headcount.

Potok, a 29-year Census veteran, served as principal associate director and CFO during the 2000 census and currently serves as chief operating officer of management consulting firm McManis & Monsalve Associates.

Census Bureau Opens New Facility In Baltimore

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

The following is a press release I received today from the Census Bureau:

Census Bureau Opens Data Processing Center in Maryland

New 2010 Census facility will create thousands of area jobs

The U.S. Census Bureau today opened one of three data capture centers
that will process the 2010 Census questionnaires as they are mailed back by
households across the nation. The 236,500-square-foot facility will bring
more than 2,500 jobs to Baltimore County, Md.

“Processing the 2010 Census questionnaires accurately and safely at the
data capture centers is a crucial step to a successful census,” said Census
Bureau Acting Director Tom Mesenbourg.  “The data from each form processed
at the facility will help provide a complete count of the nation’s
population and a new portrait of America.”

The Baltimore Data Capture Center is expected to process about 40
percent of the census forms mailed back by respondents. The remaining forms
will be sent to the Census Bureau’s National Processing Center in
Jeffersonville, Ind., and the data capture center in Phoenix, which is set
to open in November. The 2010 Census forms will be mailed in March, and the
majority of the data processing will occur between March and July.

The Baltimore Data Capture Center will be managed by Lockheed Martin.
Its subcontractor partner, CSC, will manage the hiring efforts for the
2,500 new employees, most of whom will be hired starting in December of
this year. Each worker will take an oath for life to keep census
information confidential. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share
respondents’ answers with any other government or law enforcement agency.
Any violation of that oath is punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and
five years in prison.

The 2010 Census is a count of everyone living in the United States and
is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Census data are used to distribute
congressional seats to states and to allocate more than $300 billion in
federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year. The 2010
Census questionnaire will be one of the shortest in history, consisting of
10 questions and taking about 10 minutes to complete.

Full Transcript Of Stephen Robert Morse’s Conversation With Kenneth Prewitt

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last week, I, Stephen Robert Morse, had the opportunity to interview former Census Director/current Census Bureau consultant Kenneth Prewitt. The following piece is certainly long (5,000+ words), but I think that it will provide many answers for people who have questions about the 2010 Census. If you don’t have the stamina to read such a long piece, I urge you to read the shortened version of this interview on MotherJones.com. Enjoy the following:

6/23/09: Conversation with Kenneth Prewitt, former Director of the U.S. Census Bureau

Interview by Stephen Robert Morse

SRM: When did you arrive back at the Census Bureau?

KP: By arrive back, you mean in the consultant sense?

SRM: Yes.

KP: I have been sworn in, but I haven’t actually started work, so I wouldn’t say that I have arrived back yet. I haven’t done any work yet because I was hoping that the confirmation process [for Robert M. Groves] would play out. I’ve done very little, but I’m probably going to try to get started in the next week or so.

SRM: Do you have to wait for Robert M. Groves’s Senate confirmation before you begin?

KP: No, I don’t have to wait. I just felt like it made more sense to do whatever I could whatever I could with the leadership who will be in place for the duration of the decennial. But no, it’s partly my own schedule and getting free of my obligations here [in New York] and so forth.

SRM: If you’re not running the show right now and Robert Groves isn’t running the show right now, who is running the show at the Census Bureau in Washington?

KP: Well, they’ve got an Acting Director [Tom Mesenbourg] who is running the show, and even if I had been there I wouldn’t be running the show [He laughs!] They have a leadership structure. The Census Bureau is not unfamiliar with acting directors. If you look across any decade, you will find that about 15-20% of the time, it being run by an acting director. So it’s not an unusual structure.

SRM: That’s a good lead-in to another question. Do you think the Director of the Census Bureau should have a fixed term? If so, for how long?

KP: I very strongly think it should be a fixed term. It should be a presidential appointed, Senate confirmed, five-year term, starting in the year 07 or 02 (or 12 or 17), off-cycle of the decennial Census (which takes place in years ending in 0), renewable once without Senate confirmation. And were it to be renewed again, it would go back to the Senate, so it could be a ten-year term with one Senate confirmation. I feel very strongly that it should be a fixed term.

SRM: And do you think the Census Bureau should be an independent agency?

KP: I very strongly feel that it should be an independent agency. It’s a scientific organization. It’s like the National Science Foundation, like NIH, like the Archives Center. It has a statistical responsibility for society and it should be treated as a science institution and like NASA and I think it would be a much stronger institution if it were independent.

SRM: Do you think the Census Bureau has been damaged by partisan activity?

KP: It’s a complicated question because the partisan activity goes back to 1790. [laughs] The first presidential veto, by George Washington, was a veto of Alexander Hamilton’s formula for apportioning the House, and the one that Washington preferred was one that Thomas Jefferson produced, and that was one partisan issue. The apportionment formula that Jefferson produced gave an extra seat to Virginia. Everybody knew what that game was [laughs]. That was partisan. Look, partisan interest in the census is simply nothing new. Has there been damage over that period? Yes, on and off. For example, after the 1920 Census, the House of Representatives was not apportioned. It was simply not apportioned, for ten years. That was a partisan issue. It wasn’t the Census Bureau itself, but it was a Census Bureau product in which the apportionment numbers simply weren’t used.

SRM: How does partisanship affect the census today?

KP: I think the sampling fight, whatever it was, was deeply unfortunate. And it was a partisan fight. And I have written at great length and argued a great length that it shouldn’t have been partisan. The Census Bureau does not know how to be partisan. If it tried to design a census that had a partisan outcome, it wouldn’t know how to do it. How could you predict in three or four or five years before you are doing the decennial census, a design that would benefit this district instead of that district? If you’re trying to count everybody, you wouldn’t know how to torque it in a way. It’s all about a share basis. All apportionment numbers and redistricting numbers are on a share basis, which means that if you do something here, you’re adjusting the entire system, because it’s allocated on a fixed pie, on a share basis. So the actual assertion that the Census Bureau could behave in such a way as to tilt things one way or the other way in the partisan sense, is, on the face of it, a silly charge. It’s the same Census Bureau that’s considered to be incompetent by some people and then some of the same people are saying that this incompetent agency is so clever and so Machiavellian that it can design a census for partisan reasons. It just doesn’t compute. Now, did [accusations of partisanship] damage the census? Yes, it damaged the idea of sampling. As I quip, I like to tell the people I interact with who are against sampling, I say, “Next time you want to go to the doctor for a blood test, don’t say ‘I want you to take out a little bit,’ say ‘Take out all of it!’ How else will you know? Clearly there’s a fundamental sense in which the public and the leadership understand sampling. When you wake up in the morning and you want to find out whether it’s raining, you don’t look out every window of your house, you look out one window. There, you sampled. Etcetera, etcetera. So, the idea that we turned the word sampling into a dirty word and a partisan word is deeply, deeply damaging, not to the Census Bureau, but the idea of fiscal integrity, the idea of how do you have the best count possible. That’s not necessarily an argument for a particular methodology, dual system estimation. It’s a complicated, difficult methodology, and the Census Bureau has now worked on it, and understands that it hasn’t quite gotten it right yet, but the whole thought that this is about something called sampling, goes against a very particular technical methodology, which the U.S. Congress has not shown the patience to try to understand, is unfortunate. On the other hand, every other number we use to govern society, the CPI, all the lagging indicators, unemployment numbers, trade statistics, healthcare, how many people are uninsured, all of those numbers are based on samples.

SRM: After President Obama was elected, you were the frontrunner to become the next Director of the Census Bureau. Even the New York Times endorsed you for this position. Why did you withdraw your name from the running?

KP: By the way, I don’t know what the word “frontrunner” means in that sense. I am aware that my name was mentioned, but who knows who the frontrunner was or was not? I was aware that I was under consideration. At a certain point, I felt it more appropriate and more useful, because I had decided that I was not going to be able to relocate, I have heavy duties at Columbia University, and I wanted to continue those duties. In that sense, I wrote a note that said, “If you are considering me, please don’t.” But I wouldn’t say that I was a nominee who withdrew.

SRM: Why do you think Bob Groves’ confirmation [to become the next director of the U.S. Census Bureau] has been stalled?

KP: I wish I had a good answer to that question. I really do. I see that some people went through last week. I think maybe nineteen people, or some large number of people, went through last week. But why he wasn’t on that list, I don’t know. As I had quickly e-mailed to you, I had gone along on the assumption that  everybody was being held out because of the start of the hearings on Sotomayor. But if they are letting some people through but not Bob, I simply don’t have a good explanation for that.

SRM: Do you have any suspicions as to who stalled the nomination?

KP: No, I really don’t. I don’t walk the halls of Congress, where I could learn that. I think I would know if it were knowable, if somebody knew.

SRM: When do you think this will be resolved?

KP: How about six weeks ago? [Laughs] That’s when I thought it would be resolved. I just find it sad, on one level, because somebody doesn’t take the census serious enough to recognize that leadership matters. And leadership does matter. It’s June, for heaven sakes. It’s already too late to improve some things, but it’s going to get increasingly too late to improve anything. And the poor Census Bureau is going to get beaten up for something it didn’t have any say-so in. At the end of the day, nobody’s going to remember that you didn’t have a director [currently there is an acting director] for a year and a half, going on two years. But there was also a long period before Murdoch [Stephen Murdoch, Census Director during the last year of the Bush administration] was appointed and confirmed. That’s a slight exaggeration because the deputy census director had been basically eased out (forced into retirement)  and the then-census director Louis Kincannon had said that he would resign. However, he said that he would stay on until a replacement was in place, but once he decided to announce that he would resign, it obviously created a lame duck situation. So it was obviously very difficult for the Census Bureau to move during that period. And it took the Bush Administration a year to find Murdoch and then another six months to get him confirmed, so in that sense there was an 18 month period when you were expecting to have a director and you didn’t have one. Louis was still there for much of it. He’s a very first rate man and a very effective guy but he had already announced that he was leaving, so in terms of planning the decennial, there wasn’t a whole lot that Louis could be doing.

SRM: As we’re now talking about the Census Bureau in the early and mid 2000s, what happened to the 2010 Census? Where did things go wrong? What are your thoughts?

KP: Hermann Habermann, who Louis Kincannon appointed when he was became Director, was a very talented and important Deputy Director (of the Census Bureau). Hermann and Louis both had deep experience within the Census Bureau and both had gone on to do other kinds of things. Louis had gone on to OECD (?) and Hermann had gone on to the United Nations Fiscal Program, so they were real, major professionals and were running, I think, a very good operation. And this is now back in 02, 03, 04. Then there were some money problems, some serious money problems. Not money problems in terms of the Census Bureau’s budget, but it got held up, there were continued resolutions. It had nothing to do with the Census Bureau, they just got chewed up in the process, which meant that there was a period, and I don’t have that period in my mind, but a period in the mid-decade, when they couldn’t actually plan seriously for the decennial, because they didn’t know how much money they were going to have. They didn’t have the kind of money in that year, for example, to do the kind of planning they needed to do. They were really being squeezed financially. Then, after the ’06 election, Hermann was basically eased out by the Commerce Department.

SRM: What does that mean exactly?

KP: He was told that he would be reassigned from being deputy director of the Census Bureau to some other job in the Commerce Department, which was not one he wanted, so in that sense he wasn’t going to be what he thought he was, which was Deputy Director of the Census Bureau. So, that was when Louis Kincannon said “If I can’t have my own Deputy Director, then I myself will resign.” So that’s in ’06 and that was done by the [Bush] Administration for whatever its reasons were. I know what the public reasons were, but I don’t think they were the real reasons.

SRM: What were those reasons?

KP: The public reason was that there had been a laptop issue, and they blamed Hermann for that laptop issue. There were stolen laptops. Look, the proportion of stolen laptops at the Census Bureau that went missing were a tiny percentage of what some other agencies were experiencing. And Hermann was a very responsible civil servant, and when the word came out that he had to let us know what the laptop situation was under the law, blah, blah, blah, he answered forthrightly and quickly, so the Census Bureau took the hit, and for whatever reason they decided to blame him. Ok, now I’m getting all of this back in my mind. So Hermann then leaves and Jay Waite becomes Deputy Director, so essentially Jay Waite was running  the decennial census during that time. It was then in that period, then, this is in 06, after the mid-term, when they begin to run into troubles with the handhelds. As I said, Hermann was first-rate and he was managing the contracts. So, they didn’t really have anyone to be managing those contracts, and Jay Waite, who is a very talented man on some operations, he just wasn’t attuned to some of the issues that could come up with the handheld situation, so that one got out of hand.

SRM: So who’s fault was this? Who’s fault was this whole handheld computer debacle?

KP: The Department of Commerce. This is why I think it needs to be an independent agency. They weren’t paying attention to the Census Bureau during the intermediate years. That’s always true. That’s why it has to be independent. Look, who is to blame? That’s a Washington question. Structures are some times to blame, not people. I mean, you can create a structure which makes carrying out a certain task very difficult, not in order to carry that task out, in order to do something else, but the result is unintended consequences. The unintended consequence of getting Hermann Habermann out of the Deputy Director position in those years was not having anyone pay attention to the handheld debacle. The fact that Hermann Habermann was removed on not a very good charge contributed to the fact that nobody was paying attention to the contract, the Harris contract [the $600 million debacle to create handheld computers for the 2010 Census], at the level of detail he needed to be paying attention to for about a year.

SRM: There were reports by the Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, and they all said over and over again that the 2010 Census was a very high risk situation. It seems like even after these reports came out that there were opportunities to correct these errors, but nobody listened this advice. Again, who is to blame? Why did this happen? What is the root of these failures?

KP: Well, I don’t know. Whoever it was that doesn’t want Bob Groves…I’m not trying to find somebody to blame. I’m trying to say, what is the situation that leads to these kind of outcomes? All of this starts during the mid-term elections in 06. You had a quasi-leaderless situation in 06-07. Then, you get the handheld fiasco, whatever you want to call it. Then the Secretary of Commerce and the Commerce Department tries to put something together in an emergency situation. But then with Steve Murdoch in the Directorship position, but then there’s an election in 08. But because there’s not a term appointment [for the Census Director], Murdoch is clearly not going to go, so it’s now…

SRM: What are your thoughts on Murdoch and his leadership?

KP: Steve was in a difficult position, because if he had a five-year term, he could have run the Bureau differently than if you think you’re going to be there for a year. That’s why this fixed term really does matter. So the Census Bureau gets jerked around, starting in 06, first by the administration, and then by Congress not acting, and then on budgetary issues and so forth. And suddenly you’re walking up to 2010 and you’ve gone almost four years without a permanent, solid, leadership team in place to do the decennial, because the person who was doing it, Jay Waite, also leaves, and I won’t blame anybody, but he leaves. Murdoch leaves because he had to. Tom Mesenbourg [current acting director of the Census Bureau] who I have a great deal of respect for, a very talented man, becomes Acting Director, but he had never done a decennial, so he’s got to learn on the job. He’s doing a first-rate job of learning on the job, but he had never done a decennial. So you have an agency that no one is actually paying attention to until there’s a problem, and then there’s a lot of rushing around and looking for quote on quote, someone to blame. And now, we’re perpetuating it by letting Bob Groves sit around at his apartment in Washington instead of running the Census Bureau.

SRM: So Bob’s not even going into the office yet?

KP: He can’t. He technically can’t.

SRM: There was a Field Data Collection Automation Task Force, known as the FDCA Task Force, and they made another report to Carlos Gutierrez (Secretary of Commerce) in early 2008 with recommendations on how to improve the collection of field data. What has been done since early 2008, for over a year now?

KP: If that’s the task force I’m thinking of, then I was on it. Our only job was to advise Gutierrez on what to do regarding the handheld computers. And that was the task force that said “Keep them for address canvassing but don’t use them for non-response follow-up. So in that sense, it was acted upon.

SRM: Do you think that it’s surprising that here we are, in the year 2009, and we’re conducting the 2010 Census without using technology for all parts of the operation?

KP: Let me put it as follows. I think the Census Bureau has been a technical innovator, certainly since the start of the 20th Century. After all, it was the first agency to use the Hollerith Card, the old punch card which was married to an adding machine which became IBM. It invented sampling theory in the 1930s. It was the first federal agency to use a major mainframe in the 1950s. It was extremely adept in 2000 in doing intelligent character recognition and data capture using very, very high-tech processes. And I think you can say about 2010, that it was technically innovative in using the handhelds in address canvassing. Who’s to say that they had to use handhelds for non-response follow-up? So, they have been technologically innovative once again, with respect to GPS and address canvassing. I don’t know the results yet, but I hope we’ve come out of this with a much better address list than we had in 2000. We won’t know until we start in the field, but at least one has reason to think it is. So, I think it has been technologically innovative. The fact that you didn’t take the extra step for non-response follow-up doesn’t mean that it’s been technologically stagnant.

SRM: But do these handheld computer devices from the Harris Corporation even work properly? And were they designed properly?

KP: Well, that I’m not in the position to judge. They’re doing quality studies on that right now.

SRM: Do you think that Harris Corp. is a worthy company to receive these contracts?

KP: I need to see how well the devices work. Anybody who gives you an opinion on that is doing it before the data are in.

SRM: I don’t know if you’ve read on MyTwoCensus.com and other blogs, where people have complained about the functionality of these devices.

KP: When you payroll 140,000 people, it’s not hard to find people who are disgruntled. And I’m not saying they’re wrong. I actually talked to people who did the address canvassing work, people I know extremely well, people who had no reason whatsoever not to tell me what was going on, and they had some problems, but they are convinced that they ended the process by producing a much better address list then when they went into it. And that’s the test. Of course there’s always somebody saying “this didn’t work” or “that didn’t work.” But the test is, do we have a better address list? And that’s quality control judgment. I’m not trying to slam your website (MyTwoCensus.com) but you have to appreciate that you are getting a self-selected group of correspondents. But I’m not passing judgment on you, and you shouldn’t pass judgment on the technology until the data are in. What I’m saying is that I don’t think the people who are writing to bloggers are the people producing systematic data.

SRM: I understand that. So, what are the greatest obstacles that remain for the 2010 Census operation?

KP: The old ones. They haven’t changed. One, you’ve got to start with a good address list. If it’s a good one, good. If it’s not, then you can’t have a good census because that’s your frame. And when you send non-response follow-up people, there’s that. Secondly, you’ve got to hope for a decent mail-back  response rate, because the workload goes way up and the costs go way up if you don’t have a good mail back response rate. And we simply do not yet know what the response rate is because we haven’t done it yet. But if it’s not in the mid-60s, it’s going to be both budgetarily and operationally very difficult for the Census Bureau. And in 2000, we had expected to be in the low 60s, and we got into the mid to high 60s and that was an enormous boost, and we did it with a first-rate effort. And I think that the people running the advertising campaign right now and all of the outreach are very good professionals and I hope they are successful. But it’s up to the American people to do it. What can the Census Bureau do, other than put it in their mailboxes on schedule. And if they [the American people] don’t send it back in, they have to start knocking on the door. So there is the mail-back response rate and then there’s the willingness to cooperate in non-response follow up, and then there’s the startling problem of the enormous number of undocumented in the country, who will have every reason not to want to cooperate with the federal government.

SRM: What do you think about people like Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who last week, in an interview with The Washington Times, said that she refused to fill out the 2010 Census form?

KP: I think it’s seriously unfortunate when an elected official of the federal government says that I’m going to deliberately break the law. I don’t know what kind of signal she thinks that sends, but if she believes that’s a good signal, I’m sad for the country. She says, incorrectly, because she hasn’t read the law, that the only thing she needed to do is give the number of people who live in her household. If everyone in the country did that, you would have zero quality control. Zero, because you do quality  control not only on how many there are, but is the family structure the way you told it is, is the racial composition, is the gender composition? You do quality control on all those other variables, and it means that you’re eliminating the capacity of the Census Bureau to do quality control. I think that it’s deeply, deeply, unfortunate that a member of Congress would, in effect, announce that, and invite other people who feel that way to say, “Well I don’t have to do it either.”

SRM: Do you think this has become a partisan issue?

KP: I have no idea. You asked me what I thought. It’s my opinion of her behavior. I don’t know her motivation.

SRM: Do you think that radio hosts and other prominent people questioning whether people should participate in the 2010 Census would turn this into a partisan issue?

KP: Everything can turn into a partisan issue. Honestly, I can tell you what the consequences are, but in terms of motivation, when you don’t know the people, I don’t know if it’s a partisan or non-partisan issue. I think it’s unfortunate for what it will do to the 2010 Census.

SRM: I’m sure the Mother Jones readers would be very interested in me asking about President Obama’s announcement on Friday, June 19 that gay marriage would now be able to be counted in the 2010 Census. What exactly does that mean and how exactly would that be done?

KP: Here I’m fairly confident that they have not worked out the exact operational procedures yet, because this was not expected when they were designing the questionnaire and designing the procedures, they did not think this was how they would be tabulating it. There isn’t a good answer to your question yet, or at least I haven’t seen it. Look, any time you are doing something with 300 million people, it’s not easy to get it right in different locales, however the question is worded on this now. Relationships in the household are on the short form.

SRM: Will the government be printing new forms now?

KP: No, it’s impossible. You can’t start reprinting new forms now. This stuff is already being printed. It takes a very long time and a lot of forward planning to run something of this magnitude. The idea of reprinting would probably be impossible.

SRM: So how would gay households know that they count?

KP: Well, that’s something that I can’t answer because I haven’t seen anything yet. There will be some serious effort by Census Bureau personnel to  create an operational plan that will make it work. I think they will go about this very seriously to make sure there aren’t any errors in the data. They want to get it right. This is who they are and what they do.

SRM: I noticed that Steve Jost (political appointee and former Census Bureau communications director) is back at the Census Bureau, and he was one of your deputies during the Clinton administration. Are you bringing back many people who were formerly there during the a Clinton administration.

KP: Jost is probably the only one. Hundreds of people at the Census Bureau were there during the Clinton administration. The Census Bureau has about five thousand employees, and if they didn’t retire or die, then they were still there in 2000. In terms of political appointees, there’s only 4. The director, the communications director, Steve Jost, the legislative director, and I’m absolutely certain that the person I had as legislative director will not be coming back, and then there’s intergovernmental relations, who deals with governors and mayors, and I’m absolutely certain that person is not coming back. So I think Jost would be the only one.

SRM: What about you? What’s your actual title now?

KP: Consultant.

SRM: Is that a part-time job?

KP: Certainly it’s a part-time job. Good gosh, I’ve got a real job. I’m just a consultant for the Census Bureau.

SRM: Are you the only person that has that title or do other people also have that title?

KP: I bet they have two or three hundred consultants out there doing different kind of work right now. You shouldn’t quote me on that number, but I imagine there’s a very large number of people doing some version of consulting work. You’ve got to imagine how big this is. For example, you may have a consultant who tells you how to make sure the trucks which are delivering the census forms to the data capture centers got an extra driver on April 13th to make sure they arrive on time. OR if they’re going to fingerprint everybody, you may have a consultant who tells you how to count a fingerprint to make sure this all runs smoothly and so forth. It’s big. If you’re going to payroll a million people, you may have consultants to make sure the payroll system is functioning. So don’t make my role something special.

SRM: You are the only person whose role as a consultant has been reported, that’s why I was asking.

KP: Okay, fair enough. Don’t quote me on the number, but I would be very surprised to find out that the number is a very large number of consultants, on all kinds of technical issues and so forth.

SRM: I know it’s early, but what will people say when they look back on the 2010 Census?

KP: I hope they say they pulled off a miracle [laughs].

SRM: Will you need a miracle at this point?

KP: That’s a quip, but I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to do this census in the current environment. That has nothing to do with the Census Bureau’s skill set. It has to do with the American people’s not wanting to be bothered, not answering their mail, not having phone lines anymore because they got cell phones, and the Census Bureau wants to do follow-up on the phone, and they can’t find phone number because they’ve only got the landline number. It has to do with the number of mobile people who would have changed houses between the time you did the address listing and when you knocked on the door. Houses will get torn down and houses will be built. The whole foreclosure crisis is a major crisis because whole hunks of the country are empty when they should be functioning neighborhoods. There are just a host of problems. And then there are the ones we can’t predict. Who knows? Natural disasters, strikes, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. I know it’s going to be difficult, it’s always difficult to do a serious census. In this current economic and political and general cultural circumstances. Let me ask you a question. Let’s say there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. What percentage of those people do you think will mail a questionnaire back in?

SRM: 10?

KP: Whatever it is, it’ a low number. So let us say it’s 50%. That’s a 3% undercount before you start. Let us say it’s 25%, then you’ve got an even bigger undercount before you’ve even started.

SRM: So that’s what explains the need for the use of statistical sampling?

KP: That’s one of the reasons we were going to use it, but we can’t. So that just means that you’re doing a census knowing that you are going to miss a very significant proportion of the American population. And you’re obligated to count everyone, that’s just an uphill battle.

SRM: I really appreciate this conversation, and I definitely learned quite a bit. Thank you very much.

KP: It will only get more interesting.

SRM: I hope we can speak again soon. Thank you, goodbye.

Another NYT Editorial re: Robert Groves’ Stalled Nomination

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Robert Groves’ confirmation has been stalled since May 15. Over in Censusville, we’re getting very bored of discussing this issue, but it is of the utmost importance for America, so we will keep shouting about it until someone takes action. From Saturday’s NYT editorial:

Robert Groves, the nominee for director of the Census Bureau, has been on hold since mid-May. He has been deemed suspect for his expertise in sampling, a statistical method for adjusting miscounts. Republicans charge that sampling could unfairly tilt the census results. That is highly debatable, but, more to the point, it is a nonissue. Mr. Groves testified at his confirmation hearing that sampling will not be used in the 2010 count. But the hold on Mr. Groves endures, enfeebling the Census Bureau in the critical final months before the count.

Interview with Kenneth Prewitt

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to interview Kenneth Prewitt, Director of the Census Bureau during the Clinton administration, who is now a consultant for the Census Bureau. A shortened version of the interview was published on MotherJones.com and is currently the site’s lead story, but early next week I will be posting the full 5,000+ word interview here on MyTwoCensus.

Historical Retrospective: Michele Bachmann Has A Point…

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Yesterday, I wrote a piece for Mother Jones that elaborated on my original post about Michele Bachmann. It is important to note that the Census Bureau DID give private data to the Roosevelt Administration during World War II. However, what Bachmann failed to recognize is that in 2004, many Arab-American groups protested the Census Bureau’s decision in the post-9/11 political climate to hand over Arab-American demographic data to the Department of Homeland Security:

Rep. Michele Bachmann Cites War-Time Internments in Her Crusade Against 2010 Census

— By Stephen Robert Morse | Thu June 25, 2009 12:13 PM PST
—Photo from Flickr user the Original Jeff Martin under Creative Commons

Just days after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) told the world (or at least whoever reads The Washington Times) that she would not be completing her 2010 Census questionnaire in its entirety, she has decided to cite as rationale incidents from World War II, when the Census Bureau released confidential information to the Roosevelt administration to aid the government’s effort to round up Japanese-Americans into internment camps.

Yes, the Census Bureau committed a major error during the 1940s. One assumes that such egregious offenses and violations of personal privacy wouldn’t occur today. Right?

A better argument for Bachmann to make would have been to cite the Census Bureau’s disclosure of Arab-Americans’ demographic data to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era (Wouldn’t that be a great coalition: The Arab American Institute Foundation, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Rep. Michele Bachmann?)

As if the 2010 Census didn’t already have enough problems of its own, the continued politicization of this process will only be a greater detriment to the American people.

Utah’s Rep. Chaffetz: Integrate Census With Postal Service

Friday, June 26th, 2009

On Wednesday, it was reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) (whom I know from following stories of his “Freshman Year” on CNN) had proposed integrating the decennial census with the U.S. Postal Service. Thanks to the Salt Lake Tribune for covering this topic:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, wants your mail carrier to count you.

Chaffetz said Wednesday he will introduce legislation to marry the U.S. Postal Service temporarily with the Census Bureau so that the postal workers can help with the once-a-decade count of how many people live in America.

“They really have the workforce in place to do this,” Chaffetz said. “They already go to everybody’s door.”

Chaffetz proposes taking a “postal holiday,” so that mail carriers, instead of dropping bills and magazines to your mailbox, would count the number of people in each household. The Postal Service matches up well with the Census needs, Chaffetz argues.

There are 760,000 postal employees, and the Census is anticipating it will need 750,000 temporary workers to conduct the Census next year. Congress is forking out $11 billion to do the count while the Postal Service is looking at a $1 billion revenue shortfall this year.

The Postal Service had no comment on the bill because the legislation had yet to be formally introduced Wednesday and Census officials did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

And today, Glenn Beck of FOXNews took up Chaffetz’s cause in an interview, so we’ll soon see if this idea gains any momentum in the near future…

Press Release from Sen. Tom Carper

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 25, 2009

CONTACT: Bette Phelan (202) 224-2441

SEN. CARPER URGES SENATE TO APPROVE CENSUS DIRECTOR

WASHINGTON (June 25, 2009) – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Census Bureau, issued the following statement today after urging the Senate to vote to confirm a new Census Director:

“We are just six months away from the first surveys going out nationwide for the decennial census, and already the Census Bureau has encountered serious challenges that threaten to jeopardize the success and cost-effectiveness of the 2010 Census.

“We are very fortunate to have Dr. Robert Groves as the nominee for Director of the Census Bureau. He is a qualified, experienced candidate who has received support by members on both sides of the aisle, and yet the Senate has failed to vote to confirm him.

“A leaderless Census Bureau is not likely to pull off an accurate count or to avoid the costly mistakes that have already plagued preparations for the upcoming census.

“Addressing these problems and getting the 2010 Census back on track gets harder each day the Senate delays confirmation of Dr. Groves.

“I urge my Senate colleagues to put partisanship aside.

“The best thing we can do right now is to confirm the President’s nominee to lead the Census Bureau and let him get to work as soon as possible.”

###

At It Again: Rep. Michele Bachmann Warns Of Link Between Census, Japanese Internment

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Thanks to TPM for the following report about the arch nemesis of the 2010 U.S. Census:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is taking her refusal to fully fill out her Census form, which is a crime punishable by a $5,000 fine, to a whole new level: Invoking the memory of the Japanese internment during World War II, and the evil role that the Census played in it!

During an interview this morning on Fox News, Bachmann mostly focused on the danger of her personal information falling into the hands of the dreaded menace ACORN. But at one point, she made a very interesting appeal to history:

“Take this into consideration. If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that’s how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps,” said Bachmann. “I’m not saying that that’s what the Administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps.”

Your Tax Dollars At Work: The Census Bureau Is America’s New Favorite Charity

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Thanks to The Big Spring Herald in Big Spring, Texas for the following story:

Long: Census request ‘double taxing’

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

By THOMAS JENKINS
Staff Writer


Go back to the federal government and ask for funding.

That’s the message Howard County Commissioner Jimmie Long delivered to representatives of the 2010 Census Monday morning during the court’s meeting, following a request for a $5,000 donation to help fund the nationwide head count.

“Taxpayers have already been taxed to provide funding for the Census once,” said County Commissioner for Precinct 3 Jimmie Long. “That was done through our federal income tax. I feel like the government is trying to force our local residents to put pressure on the local entities to fund something that has already been funded. I agree that you need to have publicity, and they need to fund that. They need to consider that as a part of the cost.”

Charlene Romero McBride, partnership specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce Census Bureau, said the $5,000 is an investment in the community.

“Nationally, the 2010 Census will go ahead with a marketing plan. Unfortunately, it starts dwindling down for our smaller counties,” said McBride. “It doesn’t go to the radio stations, it doesn’t go to the newspapers. It provides us with some marketing items, but not a whole lot. I have 18 counties that I’m working with, and only the two largest counties in that area have their own funds, so I don’t do any of this with them.

“This is an investment in the community. What happens is you’re assisting the Complete Count Committee and help to get the word out. We go out and explain to people what the census does and how important it is. In the end, this helps your non-profit organizations, hospitals, police departments, fire departments… It all comes back to you by the numbers we get in the census.”

McBride said she’s not looking for a check from the commissioners now, just for the county to set aside the money in case it’s needed.

“We’re not saying that we want you to sign a check and give it to us. What we’re asking you to do is go ahead and set aside funds so once we start getting the promotional items we need, it just gets taken out of that (money),” said McBride. “So we might not use the whole amount. We’ve asked Coahoma to consider giving us $1,000, and we did receive $500 from Forsan last week. And we’re also going to ask the city to match whatever the county decides to do for the Complete Count Committee as well. Everyone is investing in this. Everyone is really going in and making sure we do provide the tools for the Complete Count Committee.”

Long, who chided the federal census for asking for funding alongside Precinct  2 Commissioner Jerry Kilgore, said he supports the effort, but feels like it needs to be funded solely by the federal government.

“I support the census,” said Long firmly. “But I don’t support the idea the taxpayers should be taxed again to pay for a census the federal government is already paid for. I’m just not for double-taxing. And I know you need funding for local advertising, and I think that’s when you have to go back to the federal government and tell them you have to have this additional funding.

“There’s a strain on us, and I realize it’s not a lot of money. However, if we keep doing that, from step to step… before we know it we’ve spent $100,000, and I just don’t feel like the taxpayers need to pay double on that.”

McBride reminded the court the census was already adding jobs to the Howard County workforce — albeit temporary jobs — and that incomplete information could spell disaster for area agencies looking to receive grants.

“A big part of what is really funded for census goes for the jobs it creates,” said McBride. “And it creates a lot of jobs in your area. So it is creating jobs and money for your area, as well. And when it comes to the promotional part… the investment can be made by the community.

“The value of this is when you start counting everyone in your community, those are the numbers that your hospitals and non-profit organizations — anyone that is developing a grant — use for those things. It helps your community out a lot.”

According to Long, those complaints from local grant-seekers have yet to come.

“None of those organizations that depend upon the census for their grant writing have gone to their local entities — not to this court since I’ve been on it — and said they are having trouble getting grant money because we don’t have a good census,” said Long.

The court declined to take any action on the matter. The Big Spring City Council, which McBride told county officials plans to follow their lead in the matter, is expected to discuss a possible donation to the 2010 Census this evening during its regular meeting.

Associated Press: Locke urges end to GOP block on census nominee

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009
The following article from the Associated Press echoes MyTwoCensus’s opinion on the stalled confirmation of Robert M. Groves:

By HOPE YEN

WASHINGTON (AP) — Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on Wednesday urged Congress to immediately end a GOP block on President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the 2010 census, saying continued delays are putting the high-stakes head count at risk.

Initially put on hold by an anonymous GOP senator, Groves is now among roughly 30 Obama nominees in limbo after Republicans protested the quick timetable for hearings on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation. Under Senate rules, a senator can hold up a nomination without going public or providing an explanation.

Robert Groves, a veteran survey researcher with the University of Michigan, was easily approved by a Senate committee last month. But Republicans have stalled Groves’ full confirmation vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Republicans aren’t yet in agreement on Groves; his office says it has no information as to why.

“The Census Bureau cannot wait for strong leadership any longer,” Locke said in a statement. “The longer this nomination is held up, the greater the risk to the accuracy and success of the 2010 census. Robert Groves stands ready to run the agency with the independence and professionalism that the American people expect and the Constitution demands.”

Groves, 60, has drawn skepticism from House Republicans. As a former census associate director, Groves pushed for the use of statistical sampling in the 1990s to make up for an undercount of millions of minorities who tend to vote for Democrats, but was later overruled by the Republican commerce secretary.

In his confirmation hearing last month, Groves sought to allay GOP concerns by ruling out the use of broad sampling in the 2010 census, which is used to apportion House seats and redraw congressional districts. Groves has also pledged to resign if he encounters undue partisan interference in tallying census figures.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security committee which considered Groves’ nomination, said she believed it was necessary for Groves to be confirmed soon.

“The Census Bureau has acknowledged that it is experiencing critical problems with its management and testing of key information technology systems,” she said. “I do not know who has placed a hold on Mr. Groves’ nomination, nor do I understand the rationale for holding him up. I am very eager to get this qualified candidate on the job.”

The delay on Groves comes as the Census Bureau heads into its final critical months of preparation for the 2010 head count, including an aggressive outreach campaign aimed at hard-to-find groups such as immigrants, non-English speaking residents and displaced homeowners.

The agency has already acknowledged that tens of millions of residents in dense urban areas — about 14 percent of the U.S. population — are at high risk of being missed. Groves has said that if he is confirmed, one of his first steps would be to conduct a thorough risk assessment study to pinpoint ways to improve the count.

A Bipartisan Call To Action On Redistricting

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Reps. John Tanner (D-Tenn) and Mike Castle (R-Del) who co-sponsored the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act submitted the following Op-Ed piece that appeared in Roll Call:

The 2010 Census has already been front-page news, igniting angry partisan controversies involving Cabinet nominees, potential third-party contractors and even statistical methodology. Little attention has been paid, however, to the Congressional redistricting that will follow and to the abuses that have become inherent in the process.

In dozens of states across the country, politicians will quite literally be sitting down to select their constituents instead of the other way around. And those constituents will be stuck with those decisions for a decade. This is not the democracy that is taught in civics classes across this great nation.

With that process once again so close at hand, it is more urgent than ever that the American people demand that Congress fix this broken system and curb the abuses of gerrymandering that engineer predetermined political outcomes.

Each state has the authority and responsibility to design a Congressional district map that will best serve its citizens, drawn according to population, geography and federal voting rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act. We share the view of many that these district lines should not, however, be drawn to benefit certain candidates or political parties.

We will introduce legislation this week to reform the redistricting process. The Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act would limit redistricting to once a decade, after census data is available, to be carried out by an independent commission made up of bipartisan appointees. Our legislation will be similar to legislation originally proposed in the 109th Congress and that we sponsored in the 110th Congress.

It will not be easy to convince our colleagues to reform a process that often helps ensure their re-election. The push, therefore, must come from outside organizations and grass-roots approaches. Americans for Redistricting Reform and the groups in it, including the League of Women Voters, the Brennan Center for Justice, U.S. PIRG, the Committee for Economic Development, the Campaign Legal Center and the Republican Main Street Partnership, are strong advocates for fixing our broken system. Other organizations from across the political spectrum have joined us in this fight and will continue to decry the implications of a broken system.

Our Founding Fathers wisely knew the American people needed a legislative body directly responsive to their interests. By their vision, the House of Representatives was to be the only federal entity elected directly by the people (Senators were originally selected by state legislatures). They designed the House’s two-year election cycle to make Members directly and immediately accountable to the electorate.

Over time, however, many involved in the system have learned to manipulate it. Gerrymandered district lines, in effect, silence the voices of those who disagree with them politically. Too often, the process today utilizes advanced mapping technology, along with polling and party affiliation data, to draw district lines that protect incumbents and weaken the voice of each district’s minority party.

The judicial system has effectively sanctioned this culture of gerrymandering with various rulings permitting blatant partisan power grabs. A 2006 Supreme Court ruling essentially gave state legislatures freedom to redistrict anytime they want — even in the middle of a decade — for whatever purpose they want, including pure political gain.

Currently districts are engineered with impunity to protect incumbents, with voters’ voices diluted as they are packed together to achieve partisan ends. The resulting preordained outcome feeds citizen apathy, drives down voter turnout, depresses competition and entrenches incumbents who are protected from real competition and real accountability at the polls. The only serious challenges to these “safe seats” come from the extreme wings of their own parties, only serving to further polarize Congress.

Under this system, many Members of Congress are more beholden to a partisan base than to solution-oriented pragmatism. The outcome is a polarized political atmosphere where few are willing to work together in the political center, where most Americans reside.

Unfortunately, the public outrage that is still mustered over partisan gerrymanders builds and crests as the voters are divvied up by politicians every 10 years. By the time the next census comes along, the public, and even the media, is not paying much attention until it is too late.

America’s disaffected voters have been missing from this movement to reform the process, but their voices will be necessary to change the system. Most Americans today do not realize the negative impact many years of gerrymandering has had on Congress’ ability to accomplish the nation’s common goals.

Even as we face the greatest economic challenges most Americans have ever lived through, polarization and gridlock brought on by gerrymandering has limited Congress’ ability to address the issues with effectiveness, common sense and bipartisanship. The time to act is now, before the next election (the last before the census) is upon us and it is too late. We are asking our colleagues, our allies and the American people to help us to rectify this grave miscarriage of democracy.

Retrospective: Statistical Sampling

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

The use of statistical sampling has been a hot political topic that caused a significant amount of partisan debate, discussion, and allegations prior to Robert M. Groves’ U.S. Senate confirmation hearing to become the next director of the U.S. Census Bureau. However this is not a new issue for the decennial headcount. For the readers of this blog who are interested in the history of the sampling dilemma, please check out this article from Science News Online (click here!) about the sampling debate in the days that led up to the 2000 headcount. The result of the  1999/2000 controversy was a ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the case of the Department of Commerce vs. The United States House of Representatives that banned sampling from being used in decennial census counts.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: 39 Days Without A Leader

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

It has been 39 days since Robert M. Groves’ U.S. Senate confirmation hearing, yet one anonymous GOP senator has held up his confirmation. As I have previously stated, if said GOP senator has good reason to hold up the hearing, then explain your reasoning to the public (or your own colleagues at the very least). If said GOP senator is taking this action to stall the confirmation for political gain, this is a terrible detriment to the American people at a critical time for the Census Bureau. I am shocked that the mainstream media has not reported on this delay for the past two weeks. It is a travesty that this lack of transparency and accountability is allowed to take place. MyTwoCensus calls on anyone with information as to which senator has caused this delay to please contact us.

Census to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages in ’10 Count

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Here’s the Associated Press story about the big news…

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Married same-sex couples will be counted as such in 2010, Census Bureau officials said, reversing a decision of the Bush administration.

Steve Jost, a spokesman for the Census Bureau, said same-sex couples would be counted, “and they ought to report the way they see themselves,” adding, “In the normal process of reports coming out after the census of 2010, I think the country will have a good data set on which to discuss this phenomenon that is evolving in this country.”

Same-sex couples could not be married in the United States during the last decennial count. But last year, after two states had approved same-sex marriages, the bureau said those legal marriages would go uncounted because the federal Defense of Marriage Act prevented the government from recognizing them.

Since President Obama took office, his administration has been under pressure from gay rights advocates to take a fresh look at the issue.

The White House announced Friday that its interpretation of the act did not prohibit gathering the information.

$206 Million for the Census Bureau up in smoke

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Update: According to Rep. Patrick McHenry’s office, Rep. Pete Olson withdrew his amendment after he and McHenry discussed how important it was to fully fund the 2010 Census.  This is what prompted the following letter from McHenry’s office:
 
Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act – Oppose Cuts to Census Funding
 
Dear Colleague,
 
            With operational costs increasing as we near Decennial Census Day – April 1, 2010 – the Census Bureau budget has become an easy target for offsets in the appropriations process.  Several amendments have been filed that will strip even more crucial funding from the Bureau that is used for community outreach, advertising, non-response follow-up and data analysis.  This could translate into fewer responses to the initial paper survey and a greater, more laborious effort in door-to-door follow-up visits by census workers. 
 
            Census data guides the allocation of $300 billion in federal funds to state and local governments, and representative districts from Congress to school boards are based on census results.  It is absolutely vital that the census is fully funded to get a complete and accurate count of every person residing in America. 
 
            Help ensure that the 2010 Census is the most accurate decennial to-date by opposing any reductions to funding from the Census Bureau in the FY2010 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

 

MyTwoCensus would like to give a hat tip to TheCensusProject.org for reporting the following information:

CENSUS NEWS BRIEF

June 16, 2009 No. 65

BREAKING NEWS: 2010 Census Funding at Risk on House Floor

Funding for the Census Bureau next year could be slashed significantly as the U.S. House of Representatives begins debating the Fiscal Year 2010 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 2847) today.

Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) is expected to offer an amendment that would shift $566.5 million from the Census Bureau to NASA’s exploration account, more than eight percent of the $6.671 billion the Appropriations Committee allocated for 2010 census operations in the fiscal year that begins on October 1, 2009.

Numerous additional amendments that would siphon off funds from the Census Bureau — always a target for lawmakers seeking to boost funding for law enforcement, science, and other popular programs in the massive spending bill — are expected over the next two days.

According to analyses by the Brookings Institution, almost $400 billion in federal program funds annually — $4 trillion over the decade — is allocated to states and localities based in whole or in part on census data. The analyses, broken down by program and by state, are available on The Census Project web site at www.thecensusproject.org (under Fact Sheets).

The Census Bureau’s FY2010 budget also took an unexpected hit in the Appropriations Committee last week, when a misunderstanding between panel members and the Commerce Department (the Census Bureau’s parent department) led appropriators to reduce the agency’s funding by $206 million. Lawmakers had thought the amount, appearing in the President’s detailed budget request as a carry-over from 2009, represented extra money, when in fact the Census Bureau had committed the funds to a paid media buy.

The Administration told Congress yesterday that if the $206 million is not restored before Congress finalizes the Commerce spending measure, the Census Bureau would reduce a planned $573 million contingency fund for the 2010 census by that amount. The contingency fund, the Administration said, would cover unanticipated conditions, such as a lower-than-projected mail response rate or more vacant units that increase the non-response follow-up workload, or unforeseen events, such as a natural disaster or health pandemic. The emergency fund, Census officials told Congress, “is not a very large reserve for a once-a-decade program of this size and complexity, which must be completed by statutory deadlines.”

###

Census News Briefs are prepared by Terri Ann Lowenthal, an independent legislative and policy consultant specializing in the census and federal statistics. All views expressed in the News Briefs are solely those of the author. Please direct questions about the information in this News Brief to Ms. Lowenthal at TerriAnn2K@aol.com. Please feel free to circulate this document to other interested individuals and organizations. Ms. Lowenthal is a consultant to the nonpartisan Census Project, organized by the Communications Consortium Media Center in Washington, DC. Previous Census News Briefs are posted at www.thecensusproject.org.

Congresswoman Refuses To Participate in 2010 Census

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

According to the Minnesota Independent, “Rep. Michele Bachmann told the Washington Times on Wednesday that she will not be filling out all the questions on next year’s census because ACORN will be one of the federal government’s many community partners for conducting the census. But what she is proposing to do is illegal, the Times reports.

“I know for my family the only question we will be answering is how many people are in our home,” she said. “We won’t be answering any information beyond that, because the Constitution doesn’t require any information beyond that.”

“There’s great concern that’s being raised because now ACORN has been named as one of the federal partners… This is very concerning because the motherload of all data comes from the census,” she said.

But as the paper reports, Bachmann is “misreading” the law — and it could cost her family $100 per question left unanswered.”

NOTE: Below, please find an audio recording of Bachmann’s interview with The Washington Times.

ACORN is back in the news…

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Below, Congressman Steve King discussed Democrat efforts to block his amendment keeping ACORN of out the 2010 census with FOXNEWS on June 17, 2009:

Workers: Problems Cloud W. Kansas 2010 Census Effort

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I rarely classify an article as a MUST-READ, but the article below is surely a MUST-READ. Thanks to the stellar reporting of Mary Clarkin of The Hutchinson News, we have the following piece:

Three who had roles in address check speak of technological, pay issues.

By Mary Clarkin – The Hutchinson News

Lisa Stone, Patricia Wedel and Pamela Richardson thought they knew what they were getting into.

Favorable experience working on the U.S. Census prompted them to sign up to help Kansas count its population for 2010. The process began this spring with the address canvassing phase.

It does not generate much notice because it is not the actual people-counting event, but the address check is the “cornerstone of a successful Census,” the acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau told Congress in March.

Appointed to leadership roles in their respective territories, Stone of Dodge City, Wedel of Wichita, and Richardson of Manhattan, set to work.

But within hours of one another in late May, all three women resigned in protest. In separate interviews, they described what happened – and told why they strongly suspect the data for western Kansas is deficient.

Stone’s territory

At the end of crew leader training, Stone learned she would be in charge of quality control for the western third of the state. She asked if the territory could be divided. She said she was told no, the decision had been made at the regional Kansas City, Mo., office responsible for a six-state area.

“I’m not really a quitter. I’ve taken on big jobs before,” she said, so she tackled it.

Recruiting foot soldiers to verify addresses and then sending out another wave of workers to audit the results became challenging in western Kansas. Stone said the pay was partly to blame.

In western Kansas, the hourly pay rate for Census workers was $10, plus mileage. Elsewhere in the state, some people performing the same task received at least $3 an hour more.

Another handicap was technology. For the first time, Census workers had to use handheld computers, instead of pencil and paper.

“The handheld computers had a pretty high failure rate. By my estimate, about 40 percent of them weren’t usable. They had to be sent back to Topeka and swapped out,” Stone said. “They would send us replacements, but we wasted a lot of time.”

Sprint was the telecommunications network for the Census, but the scarcity of Sprint towers in western Kansas required workers to plug the handheld computers into a phone jack to transmit data.

“That really slowed things down, and there were days when the transmit just wouldn’t go through,” Stone said.

As Census officials monitored progress across Kansas, Stone found her district compared with more urban areas with plenty of workers and better technology connections.

“They kept telling me to go faster,” she said.

Headquarters supplied more people, she said. Unfortunately, extra field workers only exacerbated problems of overloaded handheld computers.

“It did fry out the circuits on one person’s computer,” she said.

Wedel feels the heat

Westen Kansas was always behind in the process, and Patricia Wedel said she “took the heat for that.”

Wedel was field operations supervisor in quality control for about two-thirds of the state, including the western half. As Stone’s superior, Wedel was empathetic.

The territory should have been broken into more districts, in Wedel’s view.

“Topeka claimed they couldn’t get enough employees in western Kansas,” she recalled.

She also attributed part of the problem to the decision to pay workers there the lowest rate.

Wedel, too, was vexed by the technology hurdles, requiring most workers to seek out a landline to transmit data.

Census officials advised workers to use the phone jacks at city halls or police stations, Wedel said, but that had the drawback of potentially tying up the only landline at some public offices.

“It was a very frustrating experience,” Wedel said, citing pressure from both the Topeka and Kansas City offices to move quickly.

Informed by a quality-control worker that the data for Clark County was incorrect, Wedel became concerned. But, she said, officials repeatedly stressed they wanted workers to limit the workweek to 40 hours.

There was “no way” they could accomplish the job under those time constraints, Wedel said.

“They really made it impossible for Kansas to get an accurate count out west,” she said.

Wedel expressed dismay at a lack of professionalism she sometimes experienced, including the time an official in the Kansas City office urged management to “kick their butts” to speed up the productivity of workers in the field.

Richardson takes calls

As a crew leader for a north-central Kansas territory that included Russell County, Richardson also wound up with more counties – 20 in all – than she originally anticipated.

“Really from the beginning, it was like bait and switch,” Richardson said.

She initially received the wrong address for the Abilene training site – the address given belonged to a private residence.

Because of another event occurring in Abilene, the Census ended up booking rooms in a cheap motel for training class participants, Richardson said. Some rooms didn’t have working phones or temperature controls. Richardson used her own card to guarantee rooms at another motel for some of the trainees.

In a perfect world, maybe the four-day allotted training would have been enough, she said.

But handheld computers crashed, delaying training. Some trainees had never touched a computer in their life, she also said.

“I knew it was going to be nothing but chaos,” she said.

Richardson, like other crew leaders, used a handheld computer to do payroll – a daily filing requirement – and to send out regular area assignments to workers in the field.

“I sat here glued to this thing,” Richardson said of a computer that took ever longer to transmit data. Even bathroom breaks did not separate her from the handheld computer.

Phone calls poured in constantly, too, from people with questions. Luckily, she had another cell phone at home, and family used that phone to reach her.

“We were supposed to go out on personal observation,” Richardson said, “but I had nothing but phone calls, phone calls, phone calls.”

Richardson found herself living and breathing the Census.

“You can’t turn in all your hours,” she noted.

Census staff in Topeka “never had any solution to the problem,” she said. “‘Pam, just do the best you can,’” she said she heard.

Richardson knew Stone’s territory lagged behind all the others in the state. The real problem for Stone was transmission, Richardson said, but they kept “threatening her like she was inadequate.”

When Stone resigned, about only 20 percent of western Kansas was finished, but an influx of workers from eastern Kansas arrived and the job was “magically” done in a little over a week, Richardson observed.

“In my mind, it’s impossible that they did western Kansas,” she said.

‘All the nightmares’

The handheld computers achieved notoriety before they were ever placed in the hands of Census workers.

The Florida-based Harris Corp. won a $600 million contract in 2006 to supply the small computers to the 2010 Census. In a dress rehearsal in 2007, however, workers experienced trouble transmitting data. Also, the computers would freeze.

In 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office put the 2010 U.S. Census on the “high-risk” list. The U.S. Department of Commerce scrapped plans to use the computers for the actual census, but deemed it too late to replace the computers with paper for the 2009 address check.

Lyle VanNahmen, Spearville, regarded working on the Census as akin to “a patriotic duty.” As an auditor on Stone’s crew, he said the handheld computer was “pretty slick” in the field.

However, VanNahmen spoke of the transmission problems and the lack of a paper trail. He thought Stone should have been supplied a laptop computer, instead of the more limited handheld computer, for her role.

In VanNahmen’s opinion, western Kansas “was set up to fail.”

“It chaps me,” VanNahmen said, that workers brought in to finish up the canvassing received overtime pay. And he calls it “bizarre” that the job wrapped up in slightly over a week.

Howard Mead, a crew leader responsible for areas in Sedgwick and Sumner counties, said that territory managed to complete the job ahead of schedule.

“Western Kansas had all the nightmares,” Mead said.

State Rep. Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, a former Kansas Speaker of the House whose district is in the western Census district, said concerns about this Census had reached him. He also said he knew firsthand about the challenge posed there, where some physical locations and mailing addresses aren’t the same.

Pressure all around

The address canvassing phase is essentially complete, said Nancee Torkelson, the local Census office manager in Topeka.

“I think we’re probably good,” she said.

As for the status of Clark County, Torkelson said anything that was not done correctly was redone by the quality assurance team.

“For the most part, western Kansas absolutely stepped up to the plate and did most of their own,” Torkelson said.

Asked about transmission challenges, Torkelson said there were “a few areas” that did not have good coverage, but overall, the handheld computers performed better than expected.

“I think they can improve upon the handhelds, but I think they’re on the right track,” she said.

At the mention of Census workers who were not happy with the operation, Torkelson said, “I have not had any feedback on that through this office.”

“I had not had anyone call me,” she said.

Dennis Johnson, regional director of the U.S. Census, said the unit of work was houses, so the projected workload for a territory was based on those numbers. Worker pay varied, he said, because the Census looked at Labor Department wage rates for areas.

“We don’t do that helter-skelter,” he said.

To accommodate areas outside the Sprint network, the handheld computers offered the phone jack functionality, he noted.

There’s always pressure to make sure the work gets done because there is a “very firm” deadline for the Census, Johnson said.

“If they felt pressure, I can believe that,” he said.

“We anticipated challenges,” Johnson said, but for the most part, he was “very pleased” with the work to date.

Still open

Stone and VanNahmen talked hesitantly about their Census experiences. Even though they were dissatisfied by the recent phase, they find the Census an appealing idea and do not want to close doors. They both might take advantage of the chance to work on the final phases of the 2010 Census, if given the opportunity.

It involves meeting people, using problem-solving skills and working independently – an attractive combination, in Stone’s opinion.

Wedel, too, sounded interested in the possibility. She was surprised on the afternoon that she talked to The News to receive in the mail a letter from the Census saying, in effect, that she remained on active status with the Census.

But Richardson won’t be working anymore on this Census or future counts.

“I’m done for life,” she said.

Interesting 2010 Census Op-Ed from The Huffington Post

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
Michael J. O'Neil

Michael J. O’Neil

President, O’Neil Associates

Census Pick Illustrates Broader Obama Strategy

Posted: June 15, 2009 04:07 PM

A strategic retreat on the matter of employing estimation in the Census is thus one illustration of a selective approach the Obama administration has taken to many issues. Choose your battles carefully, prioritize, and do not give the opposition the opportunity to define you.

What does the testimony of a Presidential nominee to a nonpolitical federal statistical agency tell you about the strategic approach of the Obama administration? If you observe how it fits a pattern, it tells you quite a bit.

Robert M. Groves is President Obama’s pick to head the Census Bureau. From a purely technical standpoint, he could hardly have picked a more qualified candidate to head the bureau. Groves is among the most respected survey researchers in the field. In that sense, the pick resembles the choice of Nobel Laureate Steven Chu as Energy Secretary: each is a highly respected scientist and neither has discernible political leanings.

But an 800 pound gorilla loomed over any pick to head the Census Bureau: whether to use statistical estimation to adjust the results of the Census for purposes of congressional apportionment. The issue is a political hot potato: any hint of using estimation for apportionment would result in screams from the Republican side of the aisle that the Census was being manipulated for political purposes.

Why? While the Census attempts to interview everyone, complete enumeration is an especially imperfect business. And the professionals at the Census Bureau not only know this, they know the characteristics of those they miss. Poor people (particularly homeless ones), minorities, and immigrants are those most likely to be missed — over 4 million of them according to a study of the 2000 census. And these groups tend to be Democrats — and live in areas with disproportionately more Democrats. So applying statistical estimation would inevitably increase population estimates in Democratic areas, and thus result in more Democrats in Congress.

Which is more accurate, imperfect enumeration or statistical estimation? There is really no scientific dispute here. The Census conducts hundreds of surveys and produces tens of thousands of population estimates. The Census uses estimation, to my knowledge, for every one of these estimates — except for congressional reapportionment. The users of the Census want the most accurate data possible. The apolitical scientists know what is accurate and how to derive accurate estimates, and that is achieved through the application of carefully derived and tested estimation models rather than a highly flawed actual headcount with known and systematic errors.

(If you need a non-statistician’s explanation of why sampling and estimation is as accurate as an actual enumeration, consider your last blood test: did they remove and test ALL your blood?). These matters are beyond any scientific dispute. Yes, sampling is theory — the same way gravity is theory.

Groves is a professional sampling statistician. He knows all of this from a lifetime of work in this and related arcane methodological matters. If a purely scientific panel of the most eminent sampling statisticians in the country were commissioned to make recommendations in this area, Groves name would be on the top of almost any list of preeminent experts in this area. Indeed, while serving as Assistant Director of the Census after the 1990 Census, he recommended using sampling and estimation to correct for the known errors in that Census. While from a scientific perspective the issue is a complete no-brainer, Republicans in the Senate have seized on this to assert that he has a partisan agenda.

They clearly do not know the man. I do. I have known Bob Groves for over 30 years as a professional colleague. I have read his work, and even collaborated with him on a couple of papers on some of the specialized methodological issues of survey research that have been his life’s work.

And after 30 years of professional acquaintance, I can tell you that I have not a clue about Bob’s political leanings. (And those who know me for the political junkie that I am will find this astounding, for the political realm has always been my personal passion: it tends to be among the first topics I gravitate to in any casual conversation). This fact, I think, attests to Bob’s nonpolitical nature. He is not motivated politically, he is a Scientist, and one of the first order.

But, curiously, Groves, in his confirmation hearings, indicated that he had no intention to employ or advocate the use of sampling or estimation in conducting the 2010 Census. What gives?

I think this says something very revealing, but far more about the Obama administration than about Bob Groves. I have no doubt whatsoever what Bob’s private counsel would be if asked about whether applying estimation principles to the Census would increase its accuracy. Indeed, his scientific judgment on this matter is already a matter of public record. But what is interesting here is how this new position mirrors the Obama administration’s approach to dealing with many controversial matters. There is a pattern: President Obama does not want the political distraction of Republicans screaming that the Democrats have “fixed” the Census to produce a partisan result. It would not matter that as a matter of scientific certainty, such claims would be wrong; they could score political points in making the charge. (This is the type of technical issue that is difficult to explain to a statistically lay audience; many intelligent people simply won’t understand it.) Obama looks willing to forgo the congressional seats, perhaps a dozen or so, Democrats would gain in order to avoid this political distraction and pursue higher priorities. He has bigger fish to fry.

This strategic retreat resembles the back-burnering of issues such as gun control and gays in the military. Each has been delayed out of a fear that it could be divisive and derail his core agenda, especially the economy and health care reform. To pursue key objectives, he has been willing to delay action on other issues that could distract or dilute his mandate. While he has pursued many initiatives, he has carefully avoided those with the explosive potential to blow up the broader agenda. And an attempt to use estimation for reapportionment has that potential. While the scientific merits are indisputable, getting the public to understand such arcane statistical principles is a lost cause. The Obama administration has concluded that it is simply not worth the political capital to try.

One need look no further than the impact the gays in the military issue had on the early Clinton administration to see the risks he seeks to avoid. The strategy does not necessarily mean that such issues will be avoided indefinitely. But it does argue that they should be held back lest they come to define his Presidency. And, in the case of gays in the military, it allows time for proposals to percolate up from the military establishment rather than appearing to be imposed on them.