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.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Census Workers in Danger

Harris Corp's technology

Throughout the ongoing “address canvassing” in preparation for the 2010 Census, the lives of the 140,000 field employees who took part in this operation were oftentimes put in jeopardy. In acts that are just as dangerous as using cell phones or writing text messages while driving, these workers were forced to look at the small screens of their handheld computers, commonly known as HHCs (the ones manufactured by Harris Corp. as part of the $600 million debacle that will likely be talked about for decades as one of the most pathetic partnerships of the U.S. Government with private industry) to find and mark addresses while driving. There is only one word to describe this situation: DANGEROUS.

Not only can driver distraction harm the employees, but it also has the potential to harm individuals, animals, and property in the vicinity of the distracted drivers. If the handheld computers had been built with a speaker that shouted directions (like any consumer GPS device), the employees would not be in this perilous situation.

It shocks the MyTwoCensus team that no individual from the Census Bureau or Harris Corp. ever considered the safety of the people who must operate these devices. Given that many 2010 Census employees are senior citizens, tasking them to drive while operating a computer is a recipe for disaster.

Update: The Census Bureau does its best to discourage employees from driving while using the HHCs, but these rules are not always followed in local offices throughout the country.

Note: Please e-mail MyTwoCensus @ if you are aware of any situations where car accidents or other unnecessarily dangerous situations have resulted from driver distraction due to the use of the Harris Corp’s handheld computers. MyTwoCensus has already heard reports of employees involved in fatal car accidents, and we are hoping to investigate whether the HHC played a role in these deaths.

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11 Responses to “MyTwoCensus Editorial: Census Workers in Danger”

  1. TexasEnumerator Says:

    That’s a load of bologna! We were not supposed to do the map spotting from inside our vehicles or while driving.

  2. Anonymous CL Says:

    Training, policy, and the forms for observing/evaluating listers, repeatedly emphasize that the HHCs should not be used at all while driving. You’re supposed to use it to figure out where you’re going before you start driving there, and pull over and stop your vehicle in a safe place if you need to check it again en-route. A few enumerators may have done this the wrong way of their own accord, but it was not supposed/expected to be standard operating procedure… which is why some of the ELCOs sent out ‘scary’ messages reminding everyone to be alert and not use the HHCs while driving! With over a hundred thousand people, there’s bound to be a few careless drivers in the bunch.

    They had so many fumbles getting the HHCs’ custom software to the point it is at, there’s (unfortunately) no way they could’ve actually managed to add turn-by-turn directions calculation and text-to-speech verbal announcements of them.

  3. Anonymous CL Says:

    If there were 140,000 people driving, say, an average of 500 miles per week for 3 weeks, that’s 210,000,000 miles driven during address canvassing. The average for all drivers seems to be about 250 accidents and 1.1-1.5 fatalities per 100 million miles driven, so it would be unsurprising/normal for there to have been about 525 accidents and 2-3 fatalities during address canvassing.

  4. Anon Says:

    Why are you trying to manufacture issues? There are enough real issues without this kind of thing. All instructions were to never use the HHC while driving. Titling a blog post “Census Workers in Danger” and then having it be about something that it 100% against policy is irresponsible and causing me to have second thoughts about the credibility of this endeavor.

  5. Census Guy Says:

    This posting is only almost right, as other comments have already noted.

    True, the HHC was not up to commercial standards and might better have provided verbal as well as map directions to any highlighted item in the address list. The HHC did not, and the Census covered it’s short comings by demanding no unsafe practices be used, knowing there would be a strong temptation.

    And the HHC won’t be a problem next year when a new crop of temps chase after the 30% who don’t reply to their Census mail. Instead, 2010 duffers will have accidents as they try to drive and look at the paper maps the Census is planning to give them.

  6. ex-ELCO employee Says:

    Unbelievable. As all the previous comments mentioned, field employees were instructed and reminded heavily never to use their HHCs when driving. Help desk employees at my ELCO were told to ask whether the caller was driving and if so, ask them to pull over before continuing. In fact a flyer went out to all field employees about this very issue – safe driving – and I believe it came from up above, so it was likely a national thing.

    Stephen, stop trying to manufacture issues. Doing so just undermines your credibility. There are plenty of legitimate problems with the Census operation, there’s no reason to post trash like this and that article comparing the Census to the Nazis.

  7. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    To my readers:

    As many of you have pointed out, policy is one thing, but what is put into practice is another. Unfortunately, not all ELCO’s enforce the rules. However, I apologize for making a blanket statement without clarification.

    I welcome you sharing with me OTHER ideas for future articles, investigations and stories. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at morse @ with your tips and suggestions. If any readers would like to write for this site, please let me know.

    Thanks so much!


  8. Spokane 0602, too Says:

    In mild defense of Stephen, I’d like to point out two dangers that most likely did exist. Yes, first off, as those of us who worked for the Census know safety and not looking at HHC while driving was probably stressed at least once by all concerned, not to mention simple awareness of many state laws prohibiting texting/cellphone use, etc. while driving it’s probably borderline common sense among most modern folks that you shouldn’t use the HHC while driving, and if not, it’s covered on p. 5-4 of your employeee handbook D590 (which my CL both didn’t have common sense and evidently didn’t read, as he was stopped by police for talking on hand held cellphone while driving…)….but…here’s the 2 points of actual ‘danger’:

    1. The HHC goes to sleep after an unreasonably short time and more than likely if they are being honest, a whole host of enumerators have probably fiddled with/touched the screen on their HHC while driving a distance between LQs to prevent that annoying moment of having to finger-swipe and tytpe in your favorite color all over again to access the HHC just to do the next damn house on your block.

    2. the tiny maps on the HHC have most assuredly caused eyestrain, especially among the afore-mentioned senior citizens employed. Even if it didn’t cause eyestrain, it could have resulted in unsafe driving conditions as older(and I refer to even those of us 40+) eyes that are fatigued from looking for a long time at a close-up computer screen tend to be a bit blurry then when returning to distance vision, as in driving.

  9. Common Sense Says:

    Between “FedEx-Gate” and this “editorial” (hey, you could use an editor, btw) this is some of the most pathetic muckraising I’ve ever seen. Hey Stephen, you went to college… why not try out a real job out? It would sure beat this continual harassment of the quality of work of tens of thousands of Americans.

  10. Anonymous CL Says:

    Here is a scan of the flyer about safe driving that came with one of my paystubs:

  11. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    An Anonymous Crew Leader sent me the following message:

    I saw article “Census Workers in Danger”. While it was very tempting for many to look at their HHC’s while driving, we as crew leaders strongly worked against this practice. At least I did! Just telling them it was prohibited obviously wasn’t enough, because some people will do what is easiest even if it is against the rules, particularly in view of the EXTREME pressure to get productivity numbers. But – as a crew leader, my main concern was the safety of the canvassers. I told them “if you try to find the houses that have existing map spots and match it to what you are seeing out the window, you will have problems”. That is called doing it by “list to ground”. In other words, you are assuming the address list is correct and you need to “find” each house listed. In reality, the lists and existing map spots were dismally wrong and non-descriptive, and I urged them to do the correct procedure of “ground to list”.

    The HHC must be used to find your AA and block – so you read the map on the HHC, sit and figure out the route to the block and then drive there. I know people have sneaked a look at the HHC on the way, though! Maybe they mainly did this while waiting at traffic lights, etc:)

    When working a block, I told them to drive carefully and look out the window, not at the HHC. When you see a house, pull in, stop, then see if there is a matching map spot on the address list. If there is, you’re ready to go. If not, you need to “add” the house. In either case, you then knock on the door, explain why you are there, do the map spot from the front door, get back in the car, and continue looking for housing units. Do this until you have covered the block. Then you can delete everything on the address list that you didn’t find because it doesn’t exist. You are sure of this because you weren’t looking at the HHC while driving, you were looking out the windshield like you were supposed to. Sometimes a description was so bad or an existing map spot so far off that it really did match a house you found, but you couldn’t be sure and “added” a new house and ended up deleting the other one. Much of my territory was extremely rural and house numbers were almost non-existent. At least doing it my way, everything got map spotted and the canvassers could maximize safety.

    This is the way the Census Bureau wanted it done, and it is the only way to do it properly, but it required constant reminding to get people to work from “ground to list” instead of the more dangerous “list to ground”.