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 September, 2009

MyTwoCensus Investigation Part 2: The Smoking Gun Audio Files

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

After MyTwoCensus investigators were tipped off about the lax hiring procedures at the nation’s three data capture centers, we decided to call some of the people involved in the hiring process to verify that it was still okay to be hired to work at one of these centers  (that process significant amounts of private/sensitive information) if one had misdemeanor convictions, drug problems, and was awaiting the outcome of a felony charge…The answer: Despite these issues, you’re good to be hired!

On the following call from Baltimore, we intentionally blocked out our operative’s voice to shield his identity. On the line you will here Tiera Dorsey, an employee of Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon’s office who is responsible for helping people to find jobs. Let’s go to the audio recording:

Baltimore Recording

TRANSCRIPT:

Tiera Dorsey: Miss Dorsey.

TD: Okay, who am I speaking with, sir?

TD: Okay, are you talking about working at the Census or working at the Baltimore Data Capture Center?

TD: Okay, you need to go to their web site. You ready? J-O-B-S-T-H-A-T-C-O-U-N-T-dot-O-R-G.

TD: Oh, they don’t drug test there. There they don’t. The Baltimore Data Capture don’t drug test.

TD: They go case by case with misdemeanors.

TD: Ohhhhh, I do know that when they did the presentation here they said felonies, their not going to hire people with felonies, but if you wasn’t convicted then it shouldn’t come up right?

TD: Okay. Because I’m not the employer. Bye.

Are 13.5 million bilingual forms enough for America?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

In the below report, the AP discusses the ongoing efforts of the Census Bureau to integrate bilingual measures into the decennial headcount. However, as we wrote yesterday, many government leaders in California feel that these efforts don’t go far enough to reach the millions of Americans who don’t speak English:

LONG BEACH, Calif. — When Teresa Ocampo opens her census questionnaire, she won’t have to worry about navigating another document in English.

The 40-year old housewife who only speaks basic English will be able to fill hers out in Spanish — which is exactly what U.S. officials were banking on when they decided to mail out millions of bilingual questionnaires next year.

For the first time, the decennial census will be distributed in the two languages to 13.5 million households in predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. Latino advocates hope the forms will lead to a more accurate count by winning over the trust of immigrants who are often wary of government and may be even more fearful after the recent surge in immigration raids and deportations.

“If the government is reaching out to you in a language you understand, it helps build trust,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. “I think the community has become really sensitive to political developments, and the census is the next step in this movement that we’re seeing of civic engagement in the Latino community.”

Traditionally, experts say, the Census Bureau has undercounted minority and immigrant communities, who are harder to reach because of language barriers and distrust of government.

Latino advocates hope the bilingual forms will help show their strength in numbers to underscore their growing political influence and garner more in federal funds that are determined by population.

Census officials say they designed the bilingual forms after extensive research, using the Canadian census questionnaire as an example. Over a six-year testing period, officials said the forms drew a better response in Spanish-speaking areas.

The bilingual forms will be mailed out to neighborhoods where at least a fifth of households report speaking primarily Spanish and little English, said Adrienne Oneto, assistant division chief for content and outreach at the Census Bureau in Washington. The cost of preparing and mailing the bilingual questionnaires is about $26 million, which is more than it would have cost to send only English forms.

More than a quarter of the forms will be distributed in California from Fresno to the Mexican border, with Los Angeles County topping the list. The Miami and Houston areas will also receive sizable numbers of the questionnaires.

Automatic mailing of the bilingual forms debuts in 2010. In addition to Spanish, census forms will be made available in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian upon request. That’s similar to the 2000 census, when participants could request questionnaires in several languages.

But none of those other languages compares to the proliferation of Spanish. Roughly 34 million people reported speaking Spanish at home in the United States in 2007, more than all the other languages combined except English. Eighty percent of the U.S. population reported speaking only English at home.

The question is whether the bilingual forms will help overcome immigrant fears of federal authorities after seeing friends and family swept up in immigration raids over the last few years. While census data is confidential, many immigrants are wary of any interaction with the government.

“It is a difficult time for immigrants and I could see where there might be concern where being counted might lead to future negative consequences,” said Clara E. Rodriguez, professor of sociology at Fordham University in New York.

There are also concerns that the recession has dried up funding used to encourage people to fill out their census forms.

California, for example, pumped $24.7 million in 2000 into efforts to boost the state’s count but has only $2 million budgeted for the upcoming year, said Ditas Katague, the state’s 2010 census director.

The Census Bureau has worked with Spanish-language TV giant Telemundo to help get the word out. The network’s telenovela “Mas Sabe el Diablo” (The Devil Knows Best) will feature a character who applies to be a census worker.

Adding to the challenge of getting more people to participate is a boycott of the census called by Latino Christian leaders. They want illegal immigrants to abstain from filling out the forms to pressure communities that depend on their numbers to support immigration reform.

Census officials say they don’t expect a backlash from English speakers because those likely to receive bilingual forms are used to hearing the two languages side by side.

Trouble Brewing in California

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

The following is a letter from the state of California’s 2010 Census office to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in Washington. (In other related news, 2010 Census boycotts have kick-started in California):

September 28, 2009

Director Katague Sends Letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Locke on Advance Letter

Director Ditas Katague today sent the following letter to Secretary Gary Locke urging reconsideration of the U.S. Census Bureau’s English-only Advance Letter policy:

September 28, 2009

The Honorable Gary Locke

Secretary of Commerce

U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Avenue, Northwest

Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Locke:

It has come to my attention that the U.S. Census Bureau has made the policy decision to send the Advance Letter in English-only in March 2010.  The Advance Letter is one of the first official communications coming directly from the U.S. Census Bureau for the decennial census.  By not including any in-language instructions or messages, I believe you are missing a huge opportunity to engage limited or non-proficient English speaking households in preparing them for the arrival of the census questionnaire.

I strongly urge you to reconsider this decision, as this decision risks completely missing the opportunity to communicate with those Hard-to-Count populations in our state.  Hundreds of languages other than English are spoken at home in California.  Based on 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) data, only 19,646,489 out of more than 30 million Californians speak only English .  That leaves millions and millions of California residents that could effectively not receive advance notice of the decennial census.

Lastly, we believe that any investment in sending a multi-lingual Advance Letter to Californians will ultimately serve to increase the Mail Back Response Rate (MRR), which will decrease the amount of Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) the Bureau conducts.  This could save valuable time and taxpayer money.

Again, I strongly urge you to reconsider your English-only Advance Letter policy immediately so that operations are not impacted and to ensure all Californians are counted.

Respectfully,

Ditas Katague
Director, 2010 Census Statewide Outreach

Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

cc:     The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

The Honorable Diane Feinstein

The Honorable Barbara Boxer

Robert Groves, U.S. Census Bureau Director

B16001. LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME BY ABILITY TO SPEAK ENGLISH FOR THE POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER

Universe:  POPULATION 5 YEARS AND OVER

Data Set: 2008 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates

MyTwoCensus Investigation Part 1: Security Concerns At Data Processing Centers

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Background: The United States Census Bureau will be operating three data capture centers to process the information collected from the approximately 300 million Americans who will be counted in the 2010 Census. These data capture centers are located in Baltimore (Maryland), Jeffersonville (Indiana), and Phoenix (Arizona).

After speaking with human resources professionals who have significant knowledge of US government and subcontractor practices, MyTwoCensus is concerned that the screening processes for people who will have access to highly sensitive information is inadequate.

Here are the criteria for employment at the Baltimore data capture center, which is ostensibly similar to the procedures at the other facilities as well:

Job Title: SCA General Clerk I – Paper Data Processing
City: Essex
State/Province: Maryland
Post Type: Full-Time/Part-Time
Requirements: There are basic requirements for BDCC employment which include:

• U.S. citizenship with documentation or Permanent Residency status (requires valid documentation from the past 2 years authorizing employment)
• 18 years of age or older
• High school diploma or GED
• English literacy
• No felony convictions
• Submission of personal information and fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for a suitability assessment. All applicants are required to meet Department of Commerce suitability requirements before employment.

MyTwoCensus is extremely concerned that mandatory drug tests are not part of the criteria for these positions because of the access to sensitive material that will inevitably come with the job. We are also concerned that the lax “no felony convictions” clause means that people who have been accused of felonies but have plead guilty to misdemeanors will likely be working in these facilities. In Maryland, the following crimes are considered misdemeanors:

  • Driving with a Revoked License
  • Reckless Driving
  • Petty theft
  • Prostitution
  • Public drunkenness
  • Resisting arrest
  • Failure to appear in court
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Trespassing
  • Vandalism

With so many Americans who have no criminal records currently unemployed, it is even more ludicrous that the standards for these positions are so low.

Another major loophole is that recruiters are trying to fill these positions now (September and October), but the jobs won’t actually begin until the spring (after Census Day – April 1, 2010). This means that during the next 6 months, people who pass background checks may surely be involved in criminal activities, but because of the time lag, their employers will likely never be aware of the situation.

It should be noted that the “Baltimore Data Capture Center will be managed by Lockheed Martin. Its subcontractor partner, CSC (Computer Sciences Corporation), will manage the hiring efforts for the 2,500 new employees, most of whom will be hired starting in December of this year.”

2010 Census Operational Briefing Transcript and Commentary

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Editor’s Note: Last week, I live-blogged Census Director Robert M. Groves’ first monthly press conference to discuss the 2010 Census. I was able to ask a question to Dr. Groves at the meeting, but unfortunately, it wasn’t answered in the comprehensive way that I’d hoped for, in part due to a poor telephone connection. The transcript from this press conference is below.  Starting tomorrow, MyTwoCensus will be publishing the results of our investigation into what we believe are lax human resources procedures at America’s three 2010 Census data capture centers.

National Press Club

September 23, 2009

Stephen Buckner:  Good morning everyone.  My name is Stephen Buckner.  I’m in the Public Information Office at the U.S. Census Bureau.  I’d like to welcome everybody today to our first 2010 Census Operational Press Briefing.

To run down how the day is going to proceed a little bit, this will be the first in a series of operational press briefings of which the Census Bureau will provide, as we get closer and closer to the 2010 Census – as of October 1st, we’ll be about six months out.

Right now we’re currently looking at doing them every month.  As we get closer to the census, we’ll be looking at increasing frequency as operational milestones approach.

Today we’re lucky to have the Director of the Census Bureau, Robert Groves, who will be talking about his assessment of the 2010 Census operations, both from our address canvassing operation and looking ahead in terms of some of the challenges we have heading into the 2010 Census.

So after his presentation, I’ll come back up and will be moderating a question-and-answer period, of which we have here in the room as well as on our telephone line that media are listening into.  So we’ll alternate between in the room and on the telephone.

So if you could just hold your questions until after the presentation, then we’ll have ample time to do that.  For the television in the room, we’ll have media availability afterwards where you can do interviews with the director as well.

At this time I’d like to introduce our Director, Dr. Robert Groves.

Robert Groves:  Thank you, Stephen.  Good morning.  I’m going to have two parts of my comments today and then take questions.  The first part is really just an update on where we are.  As Stephen said, we’re six months out.  The April 1, 2010, date is looming ahead of us.

And we are on target for the major operations that plan this event, which is a gigantic mobilization of people and resources to enumerate the American public.

We have just completed over the summer an effort called Address Canvassing whereby hundreds of thousands of workers visited every address in the U.S. to verify that we knew where it was, that we had an appropriate mailing address, and we entered those addresses into a massive file that we call the Master Address File.

That is a big milestone in the planning of the census, because it’s from that address file that we mail out millions of forms.  That was completed on time.  We’re examining the file right now.  It’s a big deal for us to get this right.  And within a matter of weeks, certainly at our next conference, we can give you evaluations of that.

In just a couple of weeks we’ll do a follow-up operation on that.  One of the problems in doing a census in a country like ours, when we have large multi-unit structures, things we call group quarters, things like dormitories and assisted living facilities and things like that, that it’s easy to miss one of the residents of those things unless we make sure we have the address information and the characteristics of the units correctly documented.

We’re doing something special this decade to cover those well and we’re doing a big operation just in a couple of weeks visiting all those around the country.  We are in the middle of opening about 500 local census offices spread throughout the country.  These are small offices where enumerators at the last phase of our work will be supervised and trained and guided in their work.  That’s on schedule, on time. We are printing questionnaires.  We are using a good portion of the printing capability of this country.  We will print 183 million questionnaires, plus 15 million bilingual questionnaires, getting them ready.  This is going on right now.  You can sort of feel the presses whirring away.  We’re on schedule on that as well.

We have opened three very large processing centers; one in Baltimore, one in Phoenix, and one outside of Louisville and Jeffersonville, Indiana that will receive these forms and scan them in and extract the electronic data from those questionnaires.  That’s going pretty well.

And we’re in the middle of opening up call centers that will be used, incoming call centers, for questionnaire assistance, when people need it.  We’re also at the first stages of a pretty massive communications campaign that we could talk about later, if you want.

So to sum up that, things are looking pretty good.  All the steps that need to be in place have been done at the right time.  We have much to do.  This is a massive effort.  And we’re happy to share with you our progress on that.

And indeed that takes me to my second major point.  I pledged when I was nominated to run a transparent Census Bureau.  And what I did following that pledge is also promise that I would do an evaluation, a personal evaluation of where the Census Bureau planning effort was.  I’ve completed that.  I’ve reported to the Secretary of Commerce those results and just yesterday we had a hearing on the Hill that reported that.

And I want to report through you to the American public the same sort of assessment, because I’ve promised it.  And there’s sort of three parts to this:  One is, as a survey methodologist, comparing the design of the 2000 Census to the design of the 2010 Census.  And here the headline I’m very comfortable to say is really that I would prefer the 2010 design.  And I’ll tell you why that’s the case.

This is a short form-only census.  If people don’t understand that term, you can look inside your packet and see an image of the questionnaire that we will send out.  This is one of the shortest questionnaires we’ve done in a decennial census.  Why are we doing it this way?  We’re doing it this way because we learned in prior decades that long questionnaires generates more burden on the American public, and cooperation, participation in the census goes down.

So we’re trying to reflect the busyness of the American public’s lives and reducing the questions to the bare minimum.  We’re very hopeful that will act to increase public participation.

Secondly, as some of you know, we’re sending out for the first time bilingual questionnaires to targeted areas where Spanish-only speakers are prevalent.  On one half — I think you may have that in your packet, too.  On one half of the questionnaire is an English version, and the other half is a Spanish version.  Our research over the years has shown us that that improves participation in Spanish-only households.  And that’s an important and growing component of the country and we’re proud of that design.  I think it’s a preferable design to the 2000 design.

Thirdly, in a large portion of the areas, if you don’t turn in your questionnaire the first time, you’ll get a replacement questionnaire in the mail, just as kind of a gentle nudge that you haven’t done your part to make the census successful.

We’ve studied this process in survey methodology for some decades, and that works.  Most people who don’t turn in the questionnaire immediately aren’t deliberately doing so.  They just forgot about it.  They put it over on the desk on the side with other papers they have to work on.  And that replacement questionnaire helps.

Thirdly, there are things that are going to make this a stronger census if they work properly.  We have a couple of questions on the questionnaire that address a problem that we have and that’s relevant to today’s world, and that is it’s a question about whether there are people staying in your home who also have a residence elsewhere.

You and I both know we’re going through a recession in this country where houses are doubled up in ways that are unusual.  That question is going to be an important way to help us evaluate and follow up to help people follow the rules of census residency appropriately.  And we have another question about whether the people living here also might stay somewhere else at another point.

So those questions should improve the differential undercount of the 2010 Census.

There are a couple of other operations that should improve the master address file.  And for those of you following this story routinely, you know that the Census Bureau was given about a billion dollars in stimulus funds that we’re using to good goals, I believe, in improving the advertising, the paid advertising program and a massive outreach for partnerships at a very local area to improve our access to trusted voices in small communities that have the credibility we need to tell people that it’s an important thing to do.  It’s really easy, and it’s a safe thing to do for communities that have those concerns.

So on this first part, if I as a survey scientist, put the design features of the 2000 design next to the 2010 design, I’m really quite comfortable that we have planned in this country a better census than we executed in 2000.

And then there are two sets of challenges in my professional judgment that the Census Bureau faces.  I want to go through those briefly, by way of informing the country of those judgments.

First, on the internal side, we have a new leadership team at Census.  As you know, the terminated development of hand-held computers for non-responsive follow-up produced a change of leadership.  This is a new team.  It’s a team that’s structured quite well in terms of identifying management risks and planning risks.  And that’s a great benefit to them.  To bolster that team, I will continue the use of a set of outside advisors that I’ve brought in when I entered.  This includes Former Director Ken Prewitt and Principal Associate Director John Thompson, as well as drawing on Nancy Potok, Former Principal Associate Director, now the Deputy Undersecretary for Economic Affairs.

The second thing that worries me about the Census Bureau is something that I worry about for all federal statistical systems and that is there’s been a set of key retirements of senior mathematical statisticians.  This is true of a lot of federal agencies.  This is a weakness I’m worried about.  And my reaction on that, too, is to bring in advice from the outside when we need it on those sorts of matters.

Third, the problem with the hand-held development led to the Census Bureau taking on a big programming development operation.  We’re in the middle of that.  It’s a group of people working night and day to finish up a set of software that we need for the non-response follow-up phase.  Things are on schedule on that.  But the schedule is very tight.  We’ve developed a set of outside review groups, who have been giving me advice on that.  We’ve made some changes in that process with the intent of integrating their activities with others and addressing IT security issues.

We’ll continue to do that.  Fourth, I’ve referred to already, I can’t wait to see the quality of the Master Address File.  I’ll be able to tell you about that in a few weeks.  That’s an important building block.  And, finally, I’m worried and concerned about cost estimation and cost control in the Census Bureau; but this, too, is a problem shared by many federal agencies.

We’re beefing this up with more real time data to watch the process of spend-down of our rather large budget.  There are four principal challenges in these external challenges that I want to mention.  I think the most important thing for you to remember is that the behavior of the American public is the keystone of a successful census.

Estimating what percentage of American households will complete their questionnaire and mail it back in is a very important burden and challenge for the Census Bureau right now.  For every one percentage point reduction in the mail return rate, scores of millions of dollars are going to be spent by the taxpayers to send people out and knock on doors.

For the American public who are worried about the national deficit, here’s something you can do.  If you return your questionnaire, you save the federal government money.  And I can tell you right now I would be overjoyed as the Census Bureau to give back money to the U.S. Treasury because the mail response rate was overwhelmingly large.

This is a big challenge.  It’s a challenge that we’re focused on very intently.  But we need your help.  As voices to the American public we need the help of all social, political and religious leaders to get the word out that the census is a nonpartisan event.

It’s a safe event for everyone to participate in, and its success depends on the behavior of each of us.  That’s the biggest challenge.  There are some other challenges that are worth noting.  The new media environment is a challenge for us.  The blogosphere produces hourly minute-by-minute news articles on the Census Bureau by people from around the world.

Getting the facts out about the census is a challenge in that environment.  We’ve organized an internal group to work on that.  We have Web-based media outreach plans that will be launched within the next few weeks.  Thirdly, the same environment challenges our desire to remain a nonpartisan apolitical organization, and to run a nonpartisan census.

There are tugs on us daily to get into the political fray.  It’s my firm belief that the basis of credibility of the census rests on the belief of the American public that we are nonpartisan and we’re apolitical and we’re a professional statistical bureau, and I need to fight that battle daily, I can tell you.

Finally, we are not collecting data via the Internet in 2010.  It’s an important story to get out.  But we expect that at one point or another someone will put up a Web site that will wrongly say that they’re from the Census Bureau and attempt to deceive the American public and collect data from them.  We’ve established a group that’s going to look for this, troll the net looking for these things and bring down these sites as fast as we can.

We don’t want that deception to harm the basis of the census.  So those are my remarks.  I’m going to make four changes to the census design that are really looking forward to the 2020 Census.  They are that we will build what’s called a Master Trace file that allows us to track the characteristics of cases throughout their whole lifecycle.

This is really a cost/quality trade-off tool, research tool.  We will mount a small Internet re-interview study for purposes of studying how people respond to Web versus paper.

We will mount in one fashion a post-hoc administrative records census.  We’ll match census records to the administrative databases we’ve acquired in cooperation with other federal agencies to see, if we did an administrative records census, say, in 2020 what kinds of people would be covered and what kinds of people would be missed, what kinds of data would be well reported in the records, which would not.

Then finally the fourth change that we’re making is I’ve looked at the tool that we call Census Coverage Measurement.  This is a large sample survey that’s used to measure the quality of the census.

And when I look at the design of that and read evaluations from other scientists on that design, there are features of that that I’d like to improve.  I think we can do better on that design.  We’re beefing up the measurement and the match procedures on that tool at the risk or at the cost of reducing the sample size of that evaluative tool.  So those are my remarks.  I’m happy to hear questions, if you have them.

Question:  Could you discuss a little bit your decision to sever ties with ACORN?  Was it the video, or was that the last straw?  Or could you give us your thinking on that?

Robert Groves:  Let me first set the context.  I think it’s important to understand what our goals are in this thing we call the “Partnership Program.”  Every western country has learned that doing a census in a diverse country requires outreach to trusted community members.  Running the census out of Washington D.C., running our census out of Washington D.C. alone doesn’t work.

So the effective way to get participation from diverse American publics is to use voices in their community that understand the facts of the census, the importance of it, the simplicity of it, and the safety of it, and to communicate that message directly to their relevant groups.

ACORN was one of those groups.  These are groups that are not paid.  These are volunteer groups.  Their commitment to us is that they’ll help us get our message out.  That’s about it.  They are not paid employees.  We don’t have contracts with them.

We’re going to seek to have over 100,000 of these groups around the country.  I’ve been traveling the country, talking to some of these groups and they are fundamentally good ideas.  These can be as small as a few-block neighborhood, a community neighborhood organization that’s worried about the beauty of the neighborhood.  But they have ties to the houses in that neighborhood.

Now, how do we decide who is a good and who is a not good partner?  Our decision on that is the effectiveness of their communication to one of the groups that we care about.

We’re most interested in what we’ve labeled as hard-to-count groups.  These are people who normally participate in the census at lower rates.  And through our studies over the years we have a fair idea about the characteristics of those people.

ACORN served people that fall in those groups.  We care about those people participating in the census.  But when one of our partners produces problems in the overall mission of the census, then we have to rethink that.

I just came back from the Chicago region, and I talked to partnership specialists, and they were telling me:  The existence of ACORN as a partner and the negative press and the actions of the local groups affiliated with ACORN were actually impeding their getting other partner agreements in Chicago.

So I want to carefully say that the people served by ACORN are important to us.  We need their participation in the census.  The press on ACORN and the actions of these local affiliates of ACORN became a distraction for us and it was actually hurting our overall effort of getting the census facts out.

Question:  I have a question and – Sheila Buzzard with Fox News.  You talk about transparency as one of the very important things for your Bureau.  What assurance, talking about ACORN, can you give to the American public that your efforts will not be motivated politically, because you said that you get pressure every day?

Robert Groves:  My efforts at what?  I heard your question but I don’t understand your question.  What do you mean by “efforts”?

Question:  Your efforts and your cooperation with local organizations such as ACORN in your work.

Robert Groves:  Let me say a bit about the Census Bureau and what we’re all about.  This is an organization that is explicitly apolitical.  So I am protected and all my colleagues are protected by certain legal infrastructure that gives us great courage and strength.  If political officials want to see data that we have collected confidentially and we’ve given a pledge of confidentiality to the person who gave us the data, we can refuse this.  In fact, if we don’t refuse it, I can go to prison for five years and I’ll have a $250,000 fine and all my colleagues have that.

We take that really seriously, because we also have a culture and a belief system that is completely consistent with that.  We know that our business, our organization succeeds only if the American people believe the numbers we put out.  I know of countries in the world where there have been political interference into numbers from statistical agencies and the people lose faith in those numbers.  Rebuilding the faith in those numbers takes decades.

I took this position not because I needed a job, but because I believed this thing very strongly and I want to strengthen that feature of the Census Bureau.  So up and down our organization, we are apolitical, nonpartisan, and we are fiercely so.

Question:  Were you already – just a follow-up.  Were you already thinking of dropping ACORN when the video came out?

Robert Groves:  We’re evaluating – we’re constantly evaluating things.  One thing about statisticians is they do something and then they stop and they say:  How well did we just do with what we did?  We’re obsessed by this.  We’re always evaluating our partnership effectiveness.  We have partnership specialists that reach out to individual partners to help them succeed.  And that is also an evaluation step.  So it’s an ongoing process.

Stephen Buckner:  We need to take one from the phone.  We’ll open up the phone line for our first question, please.

Operator:  First question is from Amos Brown, WLTC Radio.

Question:  Good morning, Director.  A couple of questions from the heartland of America - Indianapolis.  I heard you talking about the importance of these smaller groups working with the census, what you all are calling Localized Complete Count Committees.

But here in Indianapolis there’s been a lot of confusion and a lack of direction from census staff in terms of what are the responsibilities of these Complete Count Committees.  When census employees have gone into neighborhoods, the neighborhoods think they’re coming on behalf of the city Complete Count Committee.  That’s one issue.

The other thing is it just seems – and this will be my fourth decennial working with the Census Bureau.  It just seems that there’s a lot more confusion and disconnect this time.  As you evaluate how this census is working, how are you evaluating the level of communication out at the local level, out in the real heartland of America?

Robert Groves:  Well, thank you for the question, first of all.  And, secondly, I’m glad for the information.  This is also a useful way to evaluate how we’re doing.

The risk – one comment on what you’re saying, we do run a risk when we have hundreds of thousands of partners that the message get conflicting unintentionally.  We’re on this problem.  It’s a trade-off decision between reaching different groups and having the same group reached by multiple people.  It’s one that we’re constantly monitoring something that concerns us.  On this difference between the Complete Count Committee and other census activities, let me do by way of a little definition.

Complete Count Committees are often established by local communities, often have government officials and community leaders populating them as a formal way to get their message down and sometimes they sponsor their own events to get the word out from the census and it sounds like in this particular case there’s a little mixed messages going on.  And thanks for the input.

Question:  My name is Matt [Inaudible] from the Tribune.  Senator Bob Bennett introduced legislation last week that would add a question to your form that would require the person to identify whether they were in the country legally or not.

The purpose of this, he said, would be to back those people who were here illegally out of the count for apportionment purposes.  He thinks that’s inappropriate.  My question to you is, is it feasible to add a question to the form at this time?  And, two, do you think that’s a good idea?

Stephen Buckner:  We’ll take this question, then go back to the phone lines.  Dr. Groves.

Robert Groves:  First, I think as I said when I was doing my introduction, a lot of the forms are already printed and that train has left for the 2010 Census clearly.

The good idea, question I think is best answered by going back to history.  Why are we doing what we are doing? In March of 1790, Congress passed the Census Act.  The Census Act said that the census, the decennial census every 10 years should count everyone living in the country where they usually reside.  That applied to every census since 1790.

The proposal to back out noncitizens where you could imagine – well, you could imagine such a census design, would break that tradition that we’ve had these many, many decades.  Whether it’s a good idea or not, I think the answer to that is that if you read the Constitution carefully, you will see that the decennial census is done in a manner that Congress, by law, shall direct.  It is a creature of Congress in the Constitution.

So the introduction of new laws about how the census might be done, if you study the history of this, come up routinely.  They tend to come up a lot around the decennial census time.  That’s true.  But they come out – they come up throughout the history.  This is the proper role of Congress to discuss these things.  But it would be a change from our history of many, many, many decades.

Question:  Do you think it would impact who would respond?

Robert Groves:  I have no idea how people would react because of that question.  That’s a really hard question to answer.  I don’t know.

Stephen Buckner:  Just for clarification, we do not ask the legal status of an individual on any census survey or decennial census.

Any questions on the phone?

Question:  I have a follow-up.  You spoke about all these addresses and the completion of the process of collecting all the addresses.  Did ACORN work in that effort?  And if so how confident are you in acting –

Robert Groves:  ACORN didn’t work on that effort.  All those employees were paid census employees.  They were screened through FBI checks about their criminal background.  They were trained in how to do their work.  They were supervised.  There were quality control procedures, and if they didn’t follow those procedures they were terminated.  They took this oath that I just described to you.  They were held to that oath, because we treat their work as subject to the same confidentiality law as when people knock on doors and ask questions of people.

Question:  Deborah Berry with Gannett Washington Bureau.  Senator Ritter and Shelby and have raised concerns about sampling.  How do you balance that with the concerns raised by civil rights groups that many groups, particularly minorities, are undercounted?

Robert Groves:  Well, we at the Census Bureau must do our work under the law as passed by Congress, as acted on and interpreted by the Supreme Court.  And for the 2010 Census, it’s absolutely crystal clear what our guidance is.  The Supreme Court ruling that said that statistical adjustment, I think that’s what you mean by sampling, statistical adjustment of the census for reapportionment purposes is not permitted.

We are not planning, and I testified on this, and Secretary Locke is very clear on this as well, we’re not planning – we’re not prepared to adjust the census for any purpose.  We’re not planning it for reapportionment or redistributing.

Question:  Meredith Simmons, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau.  You said you faced pressure every day to politicize the census in some way.  Could you be more specific about –

Robert Groves:  Gee, I hope I didn’t say that.

Question:  I those that’s what I heard.

Robert Groves:  I hope I didn’t use those words.  I’m glad you asked your question.  But finish your question and let me respond to it.

Question:  Maybe you used the word “tug.”  But could be a little bit more specific about what sort of tugs you’re experiencing and how you respond to them?

Robert Groves:  This isn’t unusual, first of all.  And you would only know that if you – it would be an interesting exercise in your spare time to go back to your paper, your medium 10 years ago and read the stories that your colleagues wrote.  The same thing happened 10 years ago.  The same thing happened 20 years ago.  The census is really important.  It really is.  It’s important because we reapportion the House of Representatives on it.  We distribute over $400 billion a year based on the figures.  We redraw the portrait of the United States every 10 years.  We tell ourselves what we’re about.

So people care about this.  One of the purposes of the census is inherently explicitly political, the reapportionment of the House.  That is proper.  That’s constitutional.  The Founders thought about it.  It’s a great idea.  Because it is political, people with very strong political viewpoints care about the census.  That’s the tug.

And what we have to do as statisticians, as a nonpartisan group, is to acknowledge that the product of what we do has political uses.  But the process can never be politicized.  And that’s the thing I have to focus on as the Director every day.  And so while these voices that you hear and you write about care about the census for political purposes, I have to keep a deaf ear to that side and make sure that we’re focused on a census that is right down the middle, and that’s what we do.

Question:  Voices, do you have people calling you – when you say “voices,” do you have people calling you and asking you to add questions, or are you talking about what you read and what you –

Robert Groves:  I do the same thing you do, right?  So we’re constantly seeing what people are saying.  That’s your job.  And I have a little bit of your job of watching what people are saying about the Census Bureau.  That’s part of my job, because I want to make sure that the facts are represented right.  So I read the same things you read, and that’s what I mean by that.  So people aren’t calling me on the phone or anything like that.

Stephen Buckner:  We’re going to try to take just two more questions, then we’ll have media availability afterwards.  In the back row.

Question:  I’m Libby Casey with Alaska Public Radio.  And some officials up in Alaska have said that Norvik, a village up there, will be the first.  There’s been some back and forth.  And could you describe the length you’ll be going to in rural parts of America, like rural Alaska, what sort of efforts you’ll be making that may be different than 10 years ago or that you learned from 10 years ago?

Robert Groves:  This is the most damaging leak that has occurred.  Norvik, Alaska, a very small village in Alaska, will be the first village, the first population that will receive the census forms.  This is in a way a ceremonial event.  But it’s an important event.  We have to, it turns out, enumerate Alaska early, because there are some parts of Alaska that get really inaccessible later on.  So Alaska is first out of the blocks on this one, and it is true that Norvik is our selection this decade.

Your other question was broader.  And that is what do we do in rural areas.  I’ve been emphasizing, I think in my remarks so far, about mailing out the census.  There are some parts of the country that don’t have mailing addresses.  They don’t get their mail at home.  They drive into the Post Office, pick up their mail.

In areas like that, and in some areas where the address system and change in the area has been quite dramatic.  For example, the Gulf Coast and areas that Katrina hit hard, really badly, we’re going to actually hand deliver questionnaires.  And we will drop them off and people will fill them out and mail them back in.

In some areas we’re actually going to go out and immediately enumerate people.  So the one-liner on this is we figure out the best way to enumerate depending on the area and we’ll tailor our methods to the area.

A recent change on this, we’re very interested in customizing our methods to language groups, groups that don’t speak English.  And we’re studying where we could effectively actually give out in language information in groups, small geographically clustered groups that are non-English speakers to be an effective outreach, too.

The big moral is we sort of try to figure out the best way to get people to participate and then we’ll change our methods to fit their situation.

Stephen Buckner: Max in the back.

Question:  Thank you.  Max Tackus from WTOP and Federal News Radio.  Dr. Groves, you sort of weren’t here for the whole situation with the hand-helds kind of falling apart for the Census Bureau.  Can you give us a readout of sort of what you know about how the address survey canvassing has been going with the use of the hand-helds?  And with the benefit of hindsight, what do you think the Census Bureau could have done better to have made for a better outcome in terms of being able to use the hand-held computers also for the census, for the follow-up surveys, the nonresponse follow-up surveys?

Robert Groves:  You’re right.  I wasn’t there when that decision was taken or the developments went on.

I can report on the address canvassing side because I’m terribly interested in the product of that.  So I’ve studied that and got briefed on that.  And all the reports there are there were some glitches, operational things that people found workarounds on.

We removed some things that are called large blocks.  So if an enumerator went to a place where there might be a thousand or 2,000 housing units, say places around here where they’re densely-filled apartment buildings, we didn’t use the hand-helds there, we used another method.

So one of the things the Census Bureau does well, in my opinion, and I thought this before I got this job, too, is when they hit a little glitch, they get workarounds developed pretty quickly.  With those workarounds, these hand-helds worked well enough for address canvassing.  I don’t see anyone critiquing that.

They are not ready and explicitly not ready for other uses of them, and indeed those other uses were the problematic developmental glitches that led to the decision to turn the nonresponse follow-up into a paper operation.

Your other question is what would I have done differently?  I haven’t even looked at that decision process carefully.  I view that as sort of water over the dam.  I’m worried about the product now and going forward.  So I’m not very good at answering that question.

Stephen Buckner:  Okay.  We had just a couple late additional questions on the telephone.  We’re going to take those, then we’ll go to media availability.

Operator:  We have a question from Stephen Morse of mytwocensus.com.

Question:  Hi, can you hear me?

Robert Groves:  Hello.  Good morning.

Question:  Hi.  Dr. Groves, my question actually, census processing centers in Phoenix, Baltimore and Nevada, and I was wondering how well the workers are being screened at these processing centers, the subcontractors?  The screening process in terms of getting background checks on the people who have access to very sensitive information.  I was wondering if you could talk about that.  I know there are people who have misdemeanors and people accused of felonies working at these processing centers.

Robert Groves:  You know, Stephen, are you on Skype?

Question:  I am right now.

Robert Groves:  I’m having trouble understanding you.  I got about every third word.

Question:  Let me try one more time.

Robert Groves:  Let me try to paraphrase.  Are you asking whether we screen the workers of the contractors in the processing centers, is that –

Question:  I want to know about that process, exactly.

Robert Groves:  They go through the same process that our Census Bureau workers do, I mean our employed, our Census Bureau employees do.  There’s a reason for it.  They’re handling the same protected confidential information that our workers are.  And so that process is the same, if that’s your question.

Question:  I wonder, if these people have access to very personal information from millions of Americans, and if the person, say, commits a crime [indiscernible], and they start working six months later, they might [indiscernible] for the Bureau, are there any checks in place to prevent that kind of action from happening?

Robert Groves:  I’m sorry, what is it?

Stephen Buckner:  Stephen, we’ll follow up with you.  I believe the paraphrase was whether or not those employees within the contracted facilities that are processing the forms as they come back in are under the same employment conditions and quality control procedures that are employed in the field.  And the answer is yes.  They are census employees via the contract mechanisms to process those forms.  So it is a lifetime confidentiality.  The same penalties apply.  They cannot share any of that personal information.  They are census employees via the contract that is set up to process those questionnaires over 130 million of them as they come back to those data processing facilities.

All right.  Do we have any more questions on the telephone?  Okay.  We’re going to end the question-and-answer period.  Right now we’ll have a brief media availability.  I know the television cameras want to do a couple of interviews.  Thank you so much for coming.  We’ll try to set up a schedule for these and send out notices to you in the near future about our next one, but probably every month or as we have developments around the 2010 Census.  But thank you for joining us here today and thank you for joining us on the telephone.  Have a nice one.

UPDATE: MyTwoCensus Investigation Into The Murder Of Census Employee Bill Sparkman

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

The Associated Press has obtained some additional details on this case that are featured below. However, many questions still need to be answered in this case. Though this area of rural Kentucky is rife with meth-addicts and a rampant drug culture, was Sparkman actually the victim of an anti-government crusader? Was this act committed by a single person or a group of individuals?

Again, where were Sparkman’s superiors? Why  did a family visiting a cemetery first encounter this body rather than Sparkman’s fellow Census Bureau employees? What data was left behind in Sparkman’s  computer?

H/t to Roger Alford and Jeffrey McMurray of the AP for the following:

Family cemetery visit led to hanged census worker

BIG CREEK, Ky. — A family’s visit to a rural Kentucky cemetery led to the shocking discovery of a part-time census worker’s naked body hanging from a tree with the word “fed” written on his chest.

Jerry Weaver of Fairfield, Ohio, told The Associated Press the man had been gagged and his hands and feet were bound with duct tape.

Weaver said Friday he was certain from the gruesome scene that 51-year-old Bill Sparkman was killed deliberately.

“He was murdered,” Weaver said. “There’s no doubt.”

Weaver said he was in rural Clay County, Ky., for a family reunion and was visiting some family graves at the cemetery on Sept. 12 along with his wife and daughter when they saw the body.

“The only thing he had on was a pair of socks,” Weaver said. “And they had duct-taped his hands, his wrists. He had duct tape over his eyes, and they gagged him with a red rag or something.”

Two people briefed on the investigation said various details of Weaver’s account matched the details of the crime scene, though both people said they were not informed who found the body. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

Authorities have said a preliminary cause of death was asphyxiation, pending a full medical examination. According to a Kentucky State Police statement, the body was hanging from a tree with a rope around the neck, yet it was in contact with the ground.

“And they even had duct tape around his neck,” Weaver said. “And they had like his identification tag on his neck. They had it duct-taped to the side of his neck, on the right side, almost on his right shoulder.”

Both of the people briefed on the investigation confirmed that Sparkman’s Census Bureau ID was found taped to his head and shoulder area. Weaver said he couldn’t tell if the tag was a Census ID because he didn’t get close enough to read it. He could see writing on Sparkman’s chest, but could not read that it said “fed.”

Authorities have said the word was scrawled with a felt-tip pen.

Weaver, who works for a family topsoil business in Fairfield, said the body was about 50 yards from a 2003 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck. He said Sparkman’s clothes were in the bed of the truck.

“His tailgate was down,” Weaver said. “I thought he could have been killed somewhere else and brought there and hanged up for display, or they actually could have killed him right there. It was a bad, bad scene.

Census Bureau Press Release: Frequently Asked Questions on Death of William E. Sparkman, Jr.

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions on Death of William E. Sparkman, Jr.

Statement from Census Bureau Director Bob Groves:

“We are all deeply saddened by the loss of our co-worker, William Sparkman. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Sparkman’s family and friends. We are monitoring the developments closely.

“The work of everyone in the Census Bureau depends on the success of our field representatives. They are the front line of the work we do. Mr. Sparkman was a shining example of the hard-working men and women the Census Bureau has in the field. The work they do on a daily basis is not easy but is a great and important service to our nation.”

Q: What can you tell us about the investigation or the circumstances of Mr. Sparkman’s death?

    A:  The extent of information we have about the investigation is that the FBI is currently gathering evidence to determine whether this death was the result of foul play. Any other questions related to the investigation or the circumstances surrounding Mr. Sparkman’s death should be directed to:
    • Kyle Edelen
    • Kentucky U.S. Attorney’s Office
    • 859-685-4811

Q: When did the Census Bureau learn of Mr. Sparkman’s death?

    A:  After the Census Bureau was informed of this tragedy by the FBI on September 12, Census Bureau Director Bob Groves and local regional director Wayne Hatcher flew to Kentucky to meet with law enforcement officials and the family of Mr. Sparkman to convey our condolences and to offer any assistance they could. They also met with other Census Bureau field representatives in the area to share our grief, to thank them for their service, and to advise them to seek any counseling that they might wish to have.

Q: Are you worried about the safety of other Census Bureau staff?

    A: We have no information that this tragedy was related Mr. Sparkman’s work with the Census Bureau. Over the past decade Census employees have maintained a high level of safety on the job.
    Employees learn that safety is of the utmost importance from their first day on the job, when they receive intensive training on steps they can take to protect themselves in a variety of settings. All employees receive ongoing reminders to take safety precautions when they are in the field. That practice will continue. Violence against Census Bureau employees is extremely rare.

Q: How many people are going door to door in the field?

A: We have an ongoing workforce of approximately 5,900 field representatives who conduct the American Community Survey and other surveys the Census Bureau conducts throughout the year and throughout the decade. In the spring of 2010 we will have nearly 700,000 temporary workers in the field conducting follow-up on the 2010 Census.

MyTwoCensus Investigation and Editorial: Census Bureau Employee Murdered!

Friday, September 25th, 2009

As was reported here and across the news media yesterday by the Associated Press, Bill Sparkman, a Census Bureau field worker in Kentucky, was murdered on September 12 with the word “fed” scrawled into his chest. Unfortunately, the MyTwoCensus team can’t be in rural Kentucky at this time to investigate this matter on the ground, but that doesn’t mean that we are not using all available resources to determine what happened.

10 Questions that MyTwoCensus Hopes To Answer ASAP

10. If Bill Sparkman’s body was found on September 12, why did it take 11 days for this story to come to the media’s attention?

9. Why was it the Associated Press that broke the story rather than local news sources? (Did the police and FBI fail to report this incident to the press?)

8. Why was Bill Sparkman working alone?

7. If the Harris Corp. Handheld Computers (HHCs) functioned properly, is there a GPS record of his last known wherabouts? (Is it possible to mine data from Bill Sparkman’s handheld computer and the Census Bureau’s data network to determine Mr. Sparkman’s duties on the day he was murdered?)

6. Noting that this incident took place in a rural area, would such an incident have occurred if Sprint, the network that the Census Bureau contracted to handle telecommunications, functioned properly in rural areas, allowing Bill Sparkman to call for help when he was in trouble?

5. How did Sparkman’s body make its way to the forest? If his vehicle was nearby at the time of his death, why couldn’t he escape?

4. Where were Mr. Sparkman’s supervisors when he didn’t complete his tasks on time?

3. Did the Kentucky State Police and FBI fail to properly investigate this incident?

2. Is there a violent movement brewing in America against Census Bureau employees or was this an isolated incident? (Were any threats made against Census Bureau employees prior to this incident? If so, were ALL EMPLOYEES warned of possible dangers?)

1. Who committed this horrific act?

Today, the Louisville Courier-Journal provided some updates on the story that could be of interest:

Police said the area has a history of drug trouble, including methamphetamine trafficking and marijuana growing in its forested valleys between steep hills and ridges.

“That part of the county, it has its ups and downs. We’ll get a lot of complaints of drug activity,” said Manchester Police Chief Jeff Culver.

He added that officers last month rounded up 40 drug suspects, mostly dealers, and made several more arrests in subsequent days.

Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, said Clay County is impoverished and has a “pretty wild history of a black market economy, a drug economy.”

Congressional Testimony: The Groves Plan

Friday, September 25th, 2009

In what I can best describe as a State of the Census Address, Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves presented a detailed outline of his future plans before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives on 9/22/09. I have named the speech  “The Groves Plan.” (Click the link for an 11 page transcript of the testimony). The plan is insightful and definitely worth reading.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Keep Up The Good Work Dr. Groves!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

At Dr. Robert M. Groves’ confirmation hearing to become the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, it was reassuring to hear a career statistician and manager discuss his vision for a Bureau that was in great need of reform. However, at that time it was only natural to worry that Groves was simply a man of words who needed to get past what could have been a controversial confirmation process. Four months after making many promises to change the Bureau, Dr. Groves has proven that he follows through with actions.

Despite GOP partisans stalling Dr. Groves’ nomination over concerns that he would bring his political views to the 2010 Census, Dr. Groves’ has proven to a level-headed, fair, honest, transparent, and decisive leader. As he stated yesterday at his first major press conference, he is constantly trying to be persuaded to enter the political fray but fights every day to maintain his independence. Dr. Groves’ rejection of political overtures is what will make his tenure different than those of past Census Bureau leaders.

An excellent Census Bureau director must have superior statistical knowledge, superb management skills, and an ability to answer honestly to both politicians and the public. In his first months in this role, Dr. Groves has succeeded in all of these areas. With his decision to terminate the Census Bureau’s partnership with ACORN, Dr. Groves unequivocally proved himself as a leader who put the Bureau and the people of this nation ahead of the Democrats who supported him from day one and the president who nominated him.

Dr. Groves inherited a Census Bureau that was filled with disorganization, mismanagement, and a lack of foresight. Turning this agency around cannot occur overnight, and MyTwoCensus does not place blame on on Dr. Groves for most failures of the 2010 Census. Though his first 70 days in office have been marked by success and progress, there is still much work to be done with April 1, 2010 only six months away.

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Census Worker Murdered!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Hat tips to the many readers who alerted us to the following story (Please note that we are independently investigating this incident!):

(09-23) 20:45 PDT Manchester, Ky. (AP) –

A U.S. Census worker found hanged from a tree near a Kentucky cemetery had the word “fed” scrawled on his chest, a law enforcement official said Wednesday, and the FBI is investigating whether he was a victim of anti-government sentiment.

Bill Sparkman, a 51-year-old part-time Census field worker and teacher, was found Sept. 12 in a remote patch of the Daniel Boone National Forest in rural southeast Kentucky. The law enforcement official, who was not authorized to discuss the case and requested anonymity, did not say what type of instrument was used to write “fed” on his chest.

The Census Bureau has suspended door-to-door interviews in rural Clay County, where the body was found, pending the outcome of the investigation. An autopsy report is pending.

FBI spokesman David Beyer said the bureau is assisting state police and declined to confirm or discuss any details about the crime scene.

“Our job is to determine if there was foul play involved — and that’s part of the investigation — and if there was foul play involved, whether that is related to his employment as a Census worker,” said Beyer.

Attacking a federal worker during or because of his job is a federal crime.

Sparkman’s mother, Henrie Sparkman of Inverness, Fla., told The Associated Press her son was an Eagle scout who moved to the area to be a local director for the Boy Scouts of America. He later became a substitute teacher in Laurel County and supplemented that income as a Census worker.

She said investigators have given her few details about her son’s death — they told her the body was decomposed — and haven’t yet released his body for burial. “I was told it would be better for him to be cremated,” she said.

Henrie Sparkman said her son’s death is a mystery to her.

“I have my own ideas, but I can’t say them out loud. Not at this point,” she said. “Right now, what I’m doing, I’m just waiting on the FBI to come to some conclusion.”

Gilbert Acciardo, a retired Kentucky state trooper who directs an after-school program at the elementary school where Sparkman was a frequent substitute teacher, said he had warned Sparkman to be careful when he did his Census work.

“I told him on more than one occasion, based on my years in the state police, ‘Mr. Sparkman, when you go into those counties, be careful because people are going to perceive you different than they do elsewhere,’” Acciardo said.

“Even though he was with the Census Bureau, sometimes people can view someone with any government agency as ‘the government.’ I just was afraid that he might meet the wrong character along the way up there,” Acciardo said.

Acciardo said he became suspicious when Sparkman didn’t show up for work at the after-school program for two days and went to police. Authorities immediately initiated an investigation, he said.

“He was such an innocent person,” Acciardo said. “I hate to say that he was naive, but he saw the world as all good, and there’s a lot of bad in the world.”

Lucindia Scurry-Johnson, assistant director of the Census Bureau’s southern office in Charlotte, N.C., said law enforcement officers have told the agency the matter is “an apparent homicide” but nothing else.

Census employees were told Sparkman’s truck was found nearby, and a computer he was using for work was found inside it, she said. He worked part-time for the Census, usually conducting interviews once or twice a month.

Sparkman has worked for the Census since 2003, spanning five counties in the surrounding area. Much of his recent work had been in Clay County, officials said.

Door-to-door operations have been suspended in Clay County pending a resolution of the investigation, Scurry-Johnson said.

Manchester, the main hub of Clay County, is an exit off the highway, with a Walmart, a few hotels, chain restaurants and a couple gas stations. The drive away from town and toward the area Sparkman’s body was found is decidely darker through the forest with no streetlights on windy roads, up and down steep hills.

Kelsee Brown, a waitress at Huddle House, a 24-hour chain restaurant, when asked about the hanging, said she thinks the government sometimes has the wrong priorities.

“Sometimes I think the government should stick their nose out of people’s business and stick their nose in their business at the same time. They care too much about the wrong things,” she said.

The Census Bureau has yet to begin door-to-door canvassing for the 2010 head count, but it has thousands of field workers doing smaller surveys on various demographic topics on behalf of federal agencies. Next year, the Census Bureau will dispatch up to 1.2 million temporary employees to locate hard-to-find residents.

The Census Bureau is overseen by the Commerce Department.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our co-worker,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with William Sparkman’s son, other family and friends.”

Locke called him “a shining example of the hardworking men and women employed by the Census Bureau.”

Appalachia scholar Roy Silver, a New York City native now living in Harlan County, Ky., said he doesn’t sense an outpouring of anti-government sentiment in the region as has been exhibited in town hall meetings in other parts of the country.

“I don’t think distrust of government is any more or less here than anywhere else in the country,” said Silver, a sociology professor at Southeast Community College.

The most deadly attack on federal workers came in 1995 when the federal building in Oklahoma City was devastated by a truck bomb, killing 168 and injuring more than 680. Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the bombing, carried literature by modern, ultra-right-wing anti-government authors.

A private group called PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, tracks violence against employees who enforce environmental regulations, but the group’s executive director, Jeff Ruch, said it’s hard to know about all of the cases because some agencies don’t share data on instances of violence against employees.

From 1996 to 2006, according to the group’s most recent data, violent incidents against federal Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service workers soared from 55 to 290.

Ruch said that after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, “we kept getting reports from employees that attacks and intimidation against federal employees had not diminished, and that’s why we’ve been tracking them.”

“Even as illustrated in town hall meetings today, there is a distinct hostility in a large segment of the population toward people who work for their government,” Ruch said.

___

Barrett reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Roger Alford in Frankfort, Ky., Hope Yen in Washington and Dylan T. Lovan in Louisville contributed to this report.

Live Blogging A Media Update From Census Director Robert M. Groves

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

9:51: I hope to have the full transcript of this press conference available soon.

9:50: I was able to fire off a question about the workers at Census Bureau processing facilities (Baltimore, Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Phoenix) and the type of screenings they undergo…stay tuned for more information on this subject in the near future. (Unfortunately my connection wasn’t so hot and Dr. Groves mentioned that he heard only every third word…)

9:40: OK – finally back on…Groves is discussing rural America and how to deal with the Census. I am in the que for questions – I will ask the following: What is your response to the IG’s report that ripped many parts of Census Bureau operations?

9:34: My line went dead. I’m back on now. Stephen Buckner is clarifying some questions now…come back…stupid conference call people arent listening to me and im stuck on hold. WHAT A SHITTY CONFERENCE CALL SERVICE! on hold for 3+ minutes for the 2nd time…great!

9:26: Some chick from FoxNews who sounds like an idiot is asking a question, “What will you tell the American people about your efforts to remain non-partisan?” – but she asks this in a DUMB DUMB DUMB way.

Groves doesn’t understand the question bc its a DUMB question. He maintains that this is apolitical. Groves notes that if he violates confidentiality he can go to prison for 5 years and pay 250k in a fine…i bet FoxNews runs away with that line.

9:23: Groves takes questions now. – Call cut out when question was asked… Running Census out of Washington DC alone doesn’t work. ACORN is just one of these groups. One of what will be 100,000. When one of our partners creates problems, we need to rethink this relationship. ACORN as a partner is impeding getting other partner agreements.

9:21: 4 changes for 2020 Census. 1. Use a master file 2. Internet reinterview study to test web vs. paper. 3. Match census records to administrative data bases acquired with other agencies. 4. large sample survey to measure quality of the census, he wants to improve this design to evaluate the process.

9:20: Groves wants to remain non-partisan. He wants to remain apolitical despite a ton of battles he must fight daily from people who want to get him involved in politics. There will be NOTHING on th einternet…if there is, its a scam.

9:15: A new team at the Bureau…Ken Prewitt and others brought in as consultants…key retirements could be problematic…for every 1% more people who return their Census form, you can save the federal government a ton of money.

9:09: Dr. Groves completed his personal transparency evaluation and he had a hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill to address this. He is happy with the 2010 Census design over the 2000 Census. He likes the short 10 question form. We learned in prior decades that long forms=bad as people are too busy. Sending bilingual questionnaires to targeted people…we will send replacement questionnaires when needed…improve massive address file…$1 billion in stimulus money given to the 2010 Census…this $$ used to improve access to small communities…

9:05: Dr. Groves is on the microphone…we are 6 months out, April 1, 2010 is looming ahead of us. He explains address canvassing process…Opening 500 local census offices throughout the country…last stages of our work are supervised, trained…everything is on schedule…we are printing questionnaires…printing 183,000,000 questionaires plus 15,000,000 bilingual questionnaires….using much of printing capacity of the usa, three large processing centers open: jeffersonville indiana, baltimore, and phoenix for scanning and scanning electronic data. this is going pretty well….we are in the middle of opening up call centers for assistance when people need it…first stages in the communications campaign…things are looking good…

9:04: Stephen Buckner, communications/PR  spokesman, is on the line…He announces that this is the first of many press conferences.

9:00:  Still waiting to get this show on a road…I’m sitting at a cafe in Copenhagen right now so it could be worse. However, I do wish I was at the National Press Club.

8:57:  I have been logged into the conference call and I am listening to classical music waiting for Dr. Groves to begin his briefing.

THE EVENT:

What:    U.S. Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert M. Groves will brief the media on the status of 2010 Census operations. Since taking the
helm of the Census Bureau in July, Groves has studied and
evaluated the key components of the national once-a-decade count.
He will provide an assessment of the internal and external
challenges facing the 2010 Census and the Census Bureau’s
readiness to meet them. He will take questions from media in
attendance.

When:    Wednesday, Sept. 23, 9 – 10 a.m. (EDT)

Who:     Dr. Robert M. Groves, director, U.S. Census Bureau

Where:   National Press Club, 13th floor
Fourth Estate Restaurant
529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20045

Census Bureau Director to Provide Briefing on Status of 2010 Census Operations

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

** CENSUS BUREAU MEDIA ADVISORY **

Census Bureau Director to Provide Briefing on
Status of 2010 Census Operations

What:    U.S. Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert M. Groves will brief the
media on the status of 2010 Census operations. Since taking the
helm of the Census Bureau in July, Groves has studied and
evaluated the key components of the national once-a-decade count.
He will provide an assessment of the internal and external
challenges facing the 2010 Census and the Census Bureau’s
readiness to meet them. He will take questions from media in
attendance.

When:    Wednesday, Sept. 23, 9 – 10 a.m. (EDT)

Who:     Dr. Robert M. Groves, director, U.S. Census Bureau

Where:   National Press Club, 13th floor
Fourth Estate Restaurant
529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20045

Media may also participate via an audio listen line and contact
the Public Information Office (301-763-3691) after the event with
questions or interview requests.

Dial-in number: 800-619-4415
Passcode: 2010 Census

Please RSVP by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22 to the Public
Information Office.

Telemundo to Include 2010 Census Storyline in Telenovela

Monday, September 21st, 2009

** CENSUS BUREAU MEDIA ADVISORY **

Telemundo to Include 2010 Census Storyline in Telenovela

What:         As part of Telemundo’s partnership with the 2010 Census, the Hispanic television network has written a census storyline into their popular telenovela “Más Sabe El Diablo.” Media are invited to attend a question-and-answer session about the census storyline and the 2010 Censuspartnership.

When: Tuesday, Sept. 22, 9 – 10 a.m. (EDT)

Who: Dr. Robert M. Groves, director, U.S. Census Bureau
Don Browne, president, Telemundo
Michelle Vargas, Telemundo actress portraying “Perla Beltrán”

Census Bureau Press Release: Independent Panel Commends the 2010 Census Paid Media Plan

Monday, September 21st, 2009

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Census Bureau today announced that an independent
panel of five distinguished marketing and communications scholars
unanimously agreed that both industry and academic best practices were used
to develop the paid media portion of the 2010 Census Integrated
Communications Campaign.

“My overall assessment is that the processes to develop the 2010 Census
Integrated Communications Campaign are fundamentally sound,” said Academic
Assessment Panel Chair Dr. Jerome D. Williams, the F.J. Heyne Centennial
Professor in Communication at the University of Texas at Austin. “I feel
the Census Bureau and the DraftFCB team have done an exceptional job and
are to be applauded for what has been developed so far under very
challenging conditions.”

The Census Bureau formed the Academic Assessment Panel in April 2009 to
evaluate the methods used to define and develop the communications
campaign.

This was the first time the Census Bureau has commissioned an objective
panel to review the communications campaign’s work prior to the conclusion
of the decennial census. It is yet one more additional element in a very
extensive external review process by the Bureau, which includes the
Congress, formal advisory committees, stakeholder groups, representatives
of the Census Regional offices, and the Department of Commerce. Obtaining
recommendations from a panel of academic experts at this early juncture
allowed the Census Bureau sufficient time to employ their recommendations
before the media implementation plans were finalized.

“The Academic Assessment Panel’s recommendations have enhanced the 2010
Census Communications Campaign,” said Raul E. Cisneros, the Census Bureau’s
2010 Census Publicity Office Chief. “Their completely independent and
objective review allowed us to look at the work done to date on the
campaign with fresh eyes and make improvements and refinements where
needed,” Cisneros said.

“The Census Bureau must count everyone in this country once, only once,
and in the right place, and a robust and effective communications campaign
is vital to help us reach that goal. We are grateful for the very serious
and intensive work the panel undertook in a short time frame,” added
Cisneros.

The 2010 Census Integrated Communications Campaign is comprised of paid
advertising, public relations, partnerships, online interaction and a
Census in Schools program that have been designed and guided at every step
of the process by detailed research. Each of these components will be
crucial to increasing the public’s awareness of the 2010 Census and
motivating participation in the decennial enumeration.

How ACORN Got Dumped by the Census

Friday, September 18th, 2009

By Congressman Patrick McHenry (NC-10)

When ACORN was announced as a national partner with the Census Bureau, I had grave concerns that the accuracy and integrity of the 2010 census would be jeopardized.

One of ACORN’s responsibilities would have been to recruit census workers.  Given ACORN’s propensity for falsifying government documents, it seemed illogical that their employees would now be handling census forms.  The Census Bureau was, in effect, inviting fraud in the 2010 census.

As the Ranking Republican on the Census Oversight Subcommittee, I privately encouraged the Bureau to reconsider.  Subsequently, the Bureau and I engaged in a confrontational public dispute over their relationship with ACORN.

The Bureau would eventually listen to reason and agreed that ACORN could not be trusted to recruit census workers, but they continued to defend their partnership with this criminal enterprise.  When the despicable conduct of ACORN was caught on tape and broadcast on BigGoverment.com, the Bureau officially got out of the business of apologizing for ACORN.

New Census Bureau Director Robert Groves deserves our respect for doing the right thing.  Immediately following his confirmation, Director Groves pledged to me that he would seriously review ACORN’s partnership status.  It is clear to me that Director Groves had ACORN on a short leash.

Director Groves’ decision is particularly remarkable considering that he was appointed by a Democratic President with close ties to the group.  ACORN has essentially become the political field staff of the Democratic Party.  Without question, there are many people in the Obama Administration who are unhappy with Groves’ decision.

Being dropped by the Census Bureau is proving to be a tipping point for ACORN, which has received at least $53 million in taxpayer funding.  In March, Senator David Vitter offered an amendment that would have prevented ACORN from receiving additional federal funding.  That amendment failed 53-43.  On Monday, a similar amendment passed 83-7.

The floodgates have opened.  Today, the Los Angeles Times offered harsh words for ACORN in a scathing editorial and Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is questioning ACORN’s federal funding.

Now, every federal agency and every elected official must seriously reconsider their relationship with ACORN.

White House: ACORN Behavior Is Unacceptable

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Thanks to Jake Tapper of ABC News:

At today’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, asked by ABC News about recent government actions taken against ACORN, had a forceful response.

“Obviously the conduct you see on those tapes is completely unacceptable,” Gibbs said, raising the issue of videotapes posted online by BigGovernment.com and aired frequently by Fox News Channel that seem to show ACORN employees advising a faux prostitute and faux pimp on how to skirt housing and tax laws. “The administration takes accountability extremely seriously.”

Gibbs said the Census Bureau decided that ACORN could not assist the group in meeting “the bureau’s goal of achieving a fair and accurate count in 2010″ and that some other agencies are evaluating their relationship with the group. “We constantly evaluate to ensure that any grantee is living up to what has to happen in order to fulfill that grant application.”

ACORN Loses Funding…A Probe Underway?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Just days after MyTwoCensus worried about potential trouble from ACORN as the 2010 Census gets underway, Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves severed ties with the organization in its role as a community partner. The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor (83-7) of withholding millions of federal dollars from ACORN. Here’s the report with some important updated from the Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–Congressional Republicans stepped up calls to end federal funding of Acorn and begin an immediate investigation of possible criminal violations by the community organizational group whose activities have long been criticized by conservatives.

House Republicans wrote President Barack Obama on Tuesday asking him to end federal support for the Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn. The White House had no immediate comment.

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., are cosponsoring legislation to bar federal funds for Acorn pending an investigation by Congress, the Justice Department or the Internal Revenue Service.

Acorn spokesman Brian Kettenring said the group’s members are focused on “solving the health-care and foreclosure crises that Rep. Boehner is ignoring. We encourage him to write letters all he likes, but we would also advise him to focus on the real needs of his constituents and the American people.”

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, also urged a close look before Acorn receives another penny of taxpayer money, including any funding through a $787 billion economic stimulus package.

The Senate voted 83-7 on Monday to prevent Acorn from receiving federal housing funds in fiscal 2010, which starts Oct. 1. The move comes after Acorn employees in several cities were videotaped offering tax tips and mortgage-application help to individuals posing as pimps and prostitutes; the applicants actually were conservatives who secretly taped the discussions.

Separately, prosecutors in Florida last week issued warrants for several Acorn employees who allegedly falsified voter-registration records in Florida during the 2008 election.

Acorn has received more than $53 million of direct federal funding since 1994 and likely received more indirectly through federal block grants to states and local governments, House Republicans said. But recent allegations are taking a toll: Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau severed plans to work with Acorn on the 2010 census.

Shelby’s concerns were outlined in letters Tuesday to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and to the inspector general of the Housing and Urban Development Department. Besides the videotapes, Shelby cited reports of Acorn employees’ involvement in voter-registration fraud outside Florida, embezzlement by a relative of Acorn’s founder, and the loss of federal grants after Acorn was found to have improperly used funds for lobbying.

Acorn’s spokesman responded by calling for an investigation into Shelby’s support for financial deregulation, which he said hurt U.S. consumers and contributed to “the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

Shelby was one of eight U.S. senators to vote against a 1999 law that loosened Depression-era restrictions on U.S. commercial banks.

A spokesman for the Alabama Republican pointed to Shelby’s efforts to strengthen bank capital standards and overhaul federal mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), and his receipt of a 2005 public-service award from the Consumer Federation of America.

“Senator Shelby’s record on these matters is clear,” his spokesman said in a statement.

Will Iowa Be The Best In The Nation In 2010?

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

A quick piece of info from Radio Iowa:

Last year’s floods could impact 2010 Census in Iowa

by Dar Danielson on September 14, 2009

Beth Henning of the State Data Center is the Iowa liaison for the U.S. Census Bureau says Iowans’ civic-mindedness played a role in the good return rate, along with a high rate of home ownership. But she says this time it’s going to be hard to count everyone who lost their homes in the floods.

Iowa had the best rate in the country for returning census forms in the 2000 Census, but last year’s floods and other factors may make it hard to repeat that good performance in the upcoming 2010 count. Seventy-six-percent of Iowans returned their forms last time, compared with 67% nationwide.

Census Director Robert M. Groves’ Letter To Sever Ties With ACORN

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Find the letter below:

September 11, 2009

Ms. Maude Hurd

President

ACORN

739 8th St SE

Washington, DC 20003

Dear Ms. Hurd:

The goal of the U.S. Census Bureau’s partnership program is to combine the strengths of state, local, and tribal governments, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, schools, media, businesses and others to ensure an accurate 2010 Census. While not (sic) Census bureau employees, partners are advocates for census cooperation and participation. They serve a trusted voices within their communities and are critical to our strategy to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.

The Census Bureau has established criteria for partnerships, which are listed on our Web site at <www.census.gov >, and reserves the right to decline partnership or to terminate an existing partnership agreement with any group that 1) may create a negative connotation for the Census Bureau; 2) could distract from the Census Bureau’s mission; or, 3) may make people fearful of participating in the census.

To that end, and in keeping with the standards we shared with your organization and others who volunteered to partner with the Census Bureau to help promote the 2010 Census, we are today terminating our Partnership Agreement with ACORN.

Over the last several months, through ongoing communication with our regional offices, it is clear that ACORN’s affiliation with the 2010 Census promotion has caused sufficient concern in the general public, has indeed become a distraction from our mission, and may even become a discouragement to public cooperation, negatively impacting 2010 Census efforts.

While not decisive factors in this decision, recent events concerning several local offices of ACORN have added to the worsening negative perceptions of ACORN and its affiliation with our partnership efforts.

We do not come to this decision lightly. It was our original assessment that your organization could be helpful in encouraging cooperation with the 2010 Census among individuals who are historically hard to count, including renters, low-income residents, the linguistically isolated, and others. As of today, we have close to 80,000 partnership agreements with national and local groups – many of whom are trusted voices and serve these same populations – and we will be relying upon those groups to continue our outreach in the communities you serve. The full participation of those populations remains of utmost importance to us.

Unfortunately, we no longer have confidence that our national partnership agreement is being effectively managed through your many local offices. For the reasons stated, we therefore have decided to terminate the partnership.

Respectfully,

Robert M. Groves

Director