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.

Fedex-gate pt. 3: FedEx substitues for MS Word

Guide for Document Reviewers 5-14-09.pdf (page 1 of 2)MyTwoCensus obtained an internal memo from the Census Bureau that directs employees to use FedEx every time they want to make a change to a document

Hmmm, in most worlds using Microsoft Word’s “track changes” feature would suffice, but apparently not at the Census Bureau’s Suitland, Maryland headquarters.

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22 Responses to “Fedex-gate pt. 3: FedEx substitues for MS Word”

  1. Jack Martin @ Census Says:

    Census Bureau policy requires the use of a commercial delivery service, when the guaranteed delivery and tracking of documents are required to ensure the protection of an applicant’s or employee’s personally identifiable information (i.e. name, date of birth, social security number, address, etc.). The Census Bureau has a negotiated rate and receives a substantial discount for delivery services from Fed Ex — currently $4.52 for a priority overnight package, with lower rates being available for less urgent packages.

    All termination letters sent to temporary field staff working out of Census Bureau local census offices up until last month included personally identifiable information that required confirmation that packages were delivered and received by the intended recipient. The Census Bureau discontinued the inclusion of personally identifiable data in termination letters last month in part to avoid delivery charges. Local census offices are now using the U.S. Postal Service for termination notice letters as the risk for disclosure of personally identifiable data has been eliminated.

    Additionally, the Census Bureau, like all other federal agencies, uses commercial delivery services when needed for more immediate delivery.

  2. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Note: The above comment is from Jack Martin, who works in the Public Information Office of the U.S. Census Bureau.

    $4.52 for priority overnight? Does that apply if a package is going from, say, San Francisco to Seattle, a far distance, even though Seattle is San Francisco’s regional Census Bureau headquarters? It seems like $4.52 wouldn’t make the service profitable, especially since I know that when I use FedEx’s smallest envelope for Priority Overnight it can easily cost me $27 to send a package a few hundred miles away. On a similar note, why doesn’t the government use the U.S. Postal Service?

    Why did the termination policy change last month? Does that mean that you admit that a significant amount of money was wasted in this process?

    Thanks,

    Stephen

  3. YourMomIsEnumerated Says:

    Where to start….

    The Census bureaucracy fetishizes “protecting” personal information at the expense of common sense. A plain envelope and a 44-cent stamp works fine for most other government agencies. Why not for the census? I suspect because the bureau somehow landed a giant postage budget and they’ve got to find a way to use it up.

    The same fetish was evident during the recent address canvassing operation. The only information collected were street addresses — data readily available to anyone walking down the street. But the census expended a great deal of effort “protecting” that information and browbeating employees about the confidential nature of the information.

    This fetish is in lieu of actual competence. The census can’t manage a complex procurement program (the HHCs) but they can spend $5 to mail out a single sheet of paper.

    A postscript: Social-security numbers and birth dates are not hard to come by. They are often contained in courthouse, voter registration and other government records. And Title 13 doesn’t say anything about employee ID numbers, numbers that are useless and harmless. I could put mine on a billboard tomorrow and what would happen? Someone would impersonate me and start an HHC trouble ticket?

    The census bureaucracy spends so much time obsessing over “protecting” personal information because it’s easier than doing something useful, like ensuring people are properly deployed and ensuring they have the proper tools.

  4. JustTheFactJack Says:

    You should be glad that the Census Bureau “fetishizes protecting personal information” since it is, in fact, required by federal law. Protecting this personal data also helps to ensure participation in the Census. In the Supreme Court Case BALDRIGE v. SHAPIRO (http://supreme.justia.com/us/455/345/case.html), the court held that….

    (a) To stimulate public cooperation necessary for an accurate census — providing a basis for apportioning Representatives among the states in Congress, serving an important function in the allocation of federal grants to states based on population, and also providing important data for Congress and ultimately for the private sector — Congress has provided assurances that information furnished by individuals is to be treated as confidential. Title 13 U.S.C. §§ 8(b) and 9(a) explicitly provide for nondisclosure of certain census data, and no discretion is provided to the Census Bureau on whether or not to disclose such data. Thus, §§ 8(b) and 9(a) qualify as withholding statutes under Exemption 3 of the FOIA. Pp. 455 U. S. 353-355.

    (b) The unambiguous language of the confidentiality provisions of the Census Act — focusing on the “information” or “data” that constitutes the statistical computation — as well as the Act’s legislative history, indicates that Congress contemplated that raw data reported by or on behalf of individuals, not just the identity of the individuals, was to be held confidential, and not available for disclosure. The master address list sought by Essex County is part of the raw census data intended by Congress to be protected under the Act. And under the Act’s clear language, it is not relevant that municipalities seeking data will use it only for statistical purposes. Pp. 455 U. S. 355-359.

  5. ex-ELCO employee Says:

    Title 13 Section 9 doesn’t differentiate between personal and non-personal information. ALL data collected in the census process are protected under law, including addresses.

  6. Spokane 0602, too Says:

    I, personally, think the problem lies at least in part with the fact that any moron can become a temp Census employee manager. It’s not like they’re looking at your resume. You take a test–which I found to be profoundly simple but which I noticed a lot of people in my test session didn’t even finish and in training I heard comments like, “that was one of the hardest tests I’ve ever taken in my life!”–get punched up a few notches for various hiring preferences, and voila! you’re in charge of a crew with no real job qualifications met (wouldn’t happen in the real world, wouldn’t even happen in other gov’t positions, I don’t think….) And so I ended up with a CL who as YourMomisEnumerated said, had a fetish in lieu of competence. He once threatened that the list of enumerators with their phone #’s was Title 13 and I needed to be sure and turn it in when I left work. Evidently he’s never heard of a phonebook… And yet…they hold their enumerator meetings in public places like McDonald’s where any number of non-sworn non-Census employees can overhear the information being discussed, which, yes at times really does contain genuine Title 13 information. I think you nailed it. They must’ve gotten a big budget for postage but none, for example, for renting meeting space. Kinda like recruiter positions we always had zero budget for advertising or test sites and had to beg, borrow.

  7. Spokane 0602, too Says:

    ex-ELCO employee “Title 13 Section 9 doesn’t differentiate between personal and non-personal information. ALL data collected in the census process are protected under law, including addresses.” Yes, that’s certainly true. but they seems to think that any information ever touched by a Census employee or mentioned in training or on your HHC or in your file is Title 13, not, as you pointed out, the information COLLECTED IN THE CENSUS PROCESS. (Key word, there, being PROCESS) Things like Census employee SS#’s, although they may be covered by other privacy rules, are certainly not Title 13, information gathered by the Census data collection process.

  8. ex-ELCO employee Says:

    Which is why the Census has separate Title 13 and PII policies that every employee is trained on. In fact every government agency is required to have a policy in place to protect PII.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/memoranda/fy2007/m07-16.pdf

    I definitely do see this fetishization though. For example, my supervisor felt had to ask for permission to give us a piece of paper with his name and phone number when we left. If we were to request a letter of recommendation, that would have to be approved and audited. But be aware that this is not something originating with the CLs, FOSes, or ELCO managers: it is something that is pushed down and stressed from the RCC level or higher. Based on this, employees down the chain feel they need to err on the side of caution. However due to the scale of the census, this is not exactly harmless, as demonstrated by the overuse of FedEx.

    There is a natural tendency in a situation like this to blame everything on the man behind the curtain the next level up, but remember everyone in the ELCO is a temporary employee and is treated as such in terms of the lack of freedom they’re given to make decisions.

  9. YourMomIsEnumerated Says:

    Now Mr. ex-ELCO is explaining the United States Code to me.

    An inherent problem of a temp operation like the census is that there is no room for any common sense and no exposure to the reasonable, experienced Census career employees in Suitland.

    In a sane world, a staff lawyer from the Commerce Department would explain to census employees exactly what PII is and exactly what Title 13 means. Does it include employee ID numbers? Can I give my wife a QC start address to program into the GPS as we drive around? Do I really need to FedEx every scrap of paper?

    But the Census is not a sane world. People in the ELCOs — to say nothing of workers in the field — would piss their pants if they met a Census staff lawyer in the flesh. Shit, headquarters people avoid contact with ELCOs and other temps at all costs. (ELCO types would be shocked to learn that in Suitland, everyone puts all the temps — ELCO, LCO, CLs, enumerators, listers, QC and the rest — into one giant imbecilic basket.)

    That’s how you end up with millions pissed away, one $5 FedEx shipment at a time.

  10. QC CL Says:

    Yes, there is no room for common sense or judgment. The Census has to mobilize a huge army of people and the best way to do that is to have everyone follow procedures. Even when the procedures fly in the face of all sanity. Or would get you fired from a normal job. It’s like teaching teenagers to work at McDonalds. Make the Big Mac match the picture on the wall.

    I was interviewed this week for a management level LCO job and one of the questions was something like, “When is it OK to not follow procedure?” My answer was “Never, except in the case of life-threatening danger.”

    Obviously I want the job.

  11. Anon Says:

    The Census Bureau conducts a variety of ongoing surveys all of the time. The public needs to trust that the info they give is protected and that is crucial to the success of the surveys. Privacy has always been a huge issue but has become even more so since the news media has told stories about missing laptops in government agencies. People are now very concerned about their info remaining private. The policies have been updated to address those concerns. Have they gone overboard? Maybe and it’s certainly made my life more inconvenient, but I get the reasoning behind it. Anything with a name, address or other identifying criteria is to be strictly guarded to keep the confidence of the public about confidentiality. These policies are also going to apply to the 2010 decennial.

    Your wife should not be with you as you drive around and should not have access to any of the addresses. As a permanent employee, we are told we are not allowed to use GPSs or even the internet to locate an address because of history files. Maps are provided with our laptops for locating them, just as you had a map on the HHC.

  12. YourMomIsEnumerated Says:

    @Anon: What, you won’t Google Maps 123 Main St., Suitland, Md., for fear that someone (who?) will find it in your browser history at work? You are prohibited from entering the address into your dashtop GPS? And it all makes sense to you? This operation is more fucked up than I imagined.

    My wife has not accompanied me on any runs. I was trying to make a point. However, I bet 50 percent — or more — of the retired women who are temp employees have their husbands out with them working as navigator. Many, many, many of the retired women I worked with usually had their husbands along. Yes, I know. Send them to Fort Leavenworth, blah blah blah. But they were more comfortable and effective having someone working as a navigator.

    (P.S. Are you saying these grannies should be navigating — on the fly — with their HHCs instead of their dashtop GPS?)

  13. Anon Says:

    @YourMomIsEnumerated. Those are the policies. I didn’t write them, I am just telling what they are. Would I admit to using Google? I would stay quiet about that. I don’t use a GPS and I find that a local map along with my assignments works just fine. And really, if someone can’t read and follow a map, why are they doing this job in the first place?

    Also, when you take these jobs, you state you are willing and able to go anywhere. That’s part of the deal. Why would you take a job you aren’t really qualified for and then complain about the qualifications?

    For the record, I have a grandchild and I don’t use a GPS and I am willing to go anywhere. There are people like us out there and that’s who should be doing these jobs.

  14. ex-ELCO employee Says:

    Well, apparently my last comment did not pass through because I had a URL in it, so here it is again:

    Which is why the Census has separate Title 13 and PII policies that every employee is trained on. In fact every government agency is required to have a policy in place to protect PII.

    I definitely do see this fetishization though. For example, my supervisor felt had to ask for permission to give us a piece of paper with his name and phone number when we left. If we were to request a letter of recommendation, that would have to be approved and audited. But be aware that this is not something originating with the CLs, FOSes, or ELCO managers: it is something that is pushed down and stressed from the RCC level or higher. Based on this, employees down the chain feel they need to err on the side of caution. However due to the scale of the census, this is not exactly harmless, as demonstrated by the overuse of FedEx.

    There is a natural tendency in a situation like this to blame everything on the man behind the curtain the next level up, but remember everyone in the ELCO is a temporary employee and is treated as such in terms of the lack of freedom they’re given to make decisions.

    Regarding this comment: “Shit, headquarters people avoid contact with ELCOs and other temps at all costs. (ELCO types would be shocked to learn that in Suitland, everyone puts all the temps — ELCO, LCO, CLs, enumerators, listers, QC and the rest — into one giant imbecilic basket.)”

    The funny thing is, the people in the ELCO put all the permanent workers into the same imbecilic basket. No wonder it’s such a smoothly run operation, huh? If the Census were a private sector company, heads would roll. There is no excuse for some of the crap my managers have been forced to deal with. The people in Suitland should be on their knees thanking allah that they wound up with at least a few competent managers in the ELCOs to clean up the mess they (and Harris) made.

  15. Anon Says:

    Heads did roll over the Harris mess. Major heads. Those left are trying to deal with the mess they inherited.

    I guess I was naive. I’m a permanent employee who worked on AdCan. I experienced some outright hostility from people who knew nothing about me other than that. Can’t we all just get along?

  16. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    If I may weigh in to Anon, what heads rolled over the Harris mess?

  17. Anon Says:

    There was a big change high up and I was told it was directly related to the HHC problems.

  18. YourMomIsEnumerated Says:

    Threadjack: I am a CL who is interviewing next week for an LCO management job. Someone from the RCC is coming to town to conduct interviews. Does anyone who has been through the process have any insights to offer? Thanks in advance.

  19. ex-ELCO employee Says:

    Anon, the HHC problems were the major part of it, but the support systems Harris provided (or subcontracted out) were just as buggy and unreliable as the HHCs. Within two weeks of our help desk being open, the ACD (automatic call distributor) side of the 888 help desk line failed and was scrapped. The asset management system provided was slow and unreliable, to a point where we were instructed to no longer use certain features. A complete inventory reconciliation scheduled for the end of May was scrapped because this system was so unreliable, it would’ve made it impossible. By the end, because of software problems we were no longer able to use the barcode scanners provided and had to change the status of each asset manually. In fact, the provided software was such a joke nearly every ELCO developed an ad hoc asset management database or spreadsheet in either Excel or Access in order to have something they could trust to track the HHCs.

    Another fun incident: the first day the listers went live and transmitted with their HHCs, the network couldn’t handle it. Every lister received one of a few transmission errors. The only immediate fix was an SD card reset, which, if done quickly, takes about 5 minutes of phone time plus 10-15 minutes of waiting for the HHC to reboot. Multiply this by the hundreds (maybe thousands) of listers that went in the field that day, and consider that listers were paid overtime without question during training week, and you’re talking quite a bit of money. (I’d be curious to calculate the amount of money listers were paid while locked out from their HHCs, as well.)

    But really, Anon, the biggest problem the managers in my ELCO had is they anticipated almost all of these problems, but their concerns fell on deaf ears. Perhaps this is because the permanent employees thought of them as imbeciles despite the fact that they had experience in high-pressure industries where outages were completely unacceptable.

  20. Anon Says:

    @ex-ELCO employee I guess I have adapted to life in the Census Bureau. What I’ve learned about what you see as falling on deaf ears is that very few people have the power to make any changes to anything. Generally they take your concerns on up, but many times there is nothing that can be implemented in time to change things. As long as the deadline could be met, you were stuck with improvising. AdCan with the HHCs was such a limited time project, as long as the job could get done, that was all that mattered. Changes are very expensive too, so that is likely put into the equation as well.

    I used to get as frustrated as those expressing their views here but I have learned that for the most part, people are just trying to get the job done the best they can with what they have to work with.

  21. QC CL Says:

    @YourMomIs… Be prepared with an answer for the “What is your greatest strength and weakness” question, and also an example of a time when you thought it was OK to depart from established procedures.

    Really a pretty lame interviewing process, half the time was spent with the RCC people reading verbatim about the job.

  22. quinnyboo Says:

    I am an ex-quality enumerator, and I did too receive those 2 documents today via USPS. It came as a state of shock since I was told 4 weeks ago, I was going to be selected to work the next phase GQV. So I called them, after my mail man left. Quote un quote, I asked” Hi, I am Quality enumerator, who was promised to work the up coming phase if I worked well in this passed phase, however I just receive release or termination papers, whatever you want to called them , so When is this next phase supposedly supoosed to start this week or next?,,,And guess what the clek tell me, UHHHHHHHH ,IT PROBABLY WILL START SEPT,i WAS LIKE bull#@%@%@, you guys told me June, I am going to call the atlanta office, (I work out of the montgomery,al office.