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.

The Census Bureau’s Unintentional Jobs-For-Felons Program

The following piece was written by David Allburn, who owns National Fingerprints, LLC and does not represent the views of Stephen Robert Morse or  It should be noted that the Census Bureau rejected David’s unsolicited proposal to integrate his company’s services into 2010 Census security procedures.

To assure integrity and to comfort the public, Congress insisted on a fingerprint background check of canvassers for the 2000 census. The Bureau begged-off that time on grounds of insufficient time and funds, but promised they would do both a name-check and a fingerprint check for the 2010 census.

Next March the Bureau will mass-hire more than 500,000 canvassers to visit homes that did not fill out the form. Evident to the canvassers will be: Which homes have burglar alarms, disabled children present, an overworked single mom, expensive décor and vehicles, etc. Such “data” is not sought by the 2010 census. And it probably IS unthinkable that a census canvasser would assault or steal from homeowners during their census visit. But if a census worker was previously arrested for such crimes there is increased risk they might seek to list such unofficial “data” for use in criminal activity later. That is probably what Congress was concerned about when they insisted that former felons not be hired as canvassers.

It might have been tolerable in the 2000 census that only a couple of assaults were committed by canvassers, but the 2010 census will be different. Not just because there are a lot more felons on the street, and a lot fewer recession-jobs for them, but because the Census Bureau screening method for canvasser candidates will attract them.

Felons will automatically resort to half-century-old methods for evading the criminal history name check and fingerprint check. These obvious methods will work this time because the Bureau has chosen fingerprint procedures and policies which are a full century-old. The situation was fully described to the Census Bureau in a classified section of our August 2008 proposal. The first part, about felons getting hired, was publicized in the recent GAO report and the Senate hearing. The second part, about attracting felons to apply in the first place, was not. We begged Census program office officials to consider the impact of this on public confidence and the Bureau’s PR expenditures should it leak out. Sadly, it doesn’t have to leak. It’s evident to felons already, and will probably be left to YouTube and Jay Leno to “further advise” America about it. I hate to think of Jay Leno “interviewing” (comedians) Gilbert Gottfried as the print-taker engaged in fingerprinting applicant Fred Willard.

Knowing that bad prints generate a “you’re hired” outcome, felons will do what they already do to get a job: Use the internet to obtain fake names and buy convincing credentials that pass the name check. Now trainees, they will exploit the 100-year-old “grapple method” of fingerprint capture selected by the Bureau. In this method the Bureau’s “print-takers” grasp each of the trainee’s inked fingers one at a time and roll it onto a card like it was a rubber stamp. If several prints are blurry the print-taker has to start over. But time is limited, and the process depends on GOOD COOPERATION BY THE TRAINEE.

There is cooperation all right, but it not good. While the print-taker grasps each of the fingers, the applicant feigns helplessness, and causes the finger to squirm, tremble, or press down too hard on the card. Since there is limited time for re-takes the trainee just runs-out-the-clock. This forces the unreadable prints to be routinely shipped to the central card-scan facility where they are scanned into, and rejected by, the FBI. Since re-takes are logistically impossible, the felon gets hired as if he passed anyway, by reverting to reliance on the (fake) name check.

Our proposal warned strenuously about this vulnerability, not only for the predictable 20% rejection rate, but also for the liability: If poor print quality were to cost honest trainees their jobs, it could create a cause-of-action because the blurry prints were arguably the fault of the print-taker, not the applicant. (It appears that consideration of this risk may have caused the absurd “you’re hired” policy when prints are unreadable.) We considered this information so sensitive at the time that we packaged it into a classified section of our proposal. It showed exactly how to plug this gaping security weakness with two simple steps:

(1) The Bureau should announce that trainees are responsible for the “readability” of their own fingerprints, and that fingerprint “failure” due to un-readability (or to discovery of disqualifying criminal history), terminates the canvasser’s employment. This stops attracting ex-felons who would intentionally blur their prints, but it is manifestly unfair to honest workers whose fingerprints are blurred by the inexperienced print-takers. This is fixed by step two.

(2) The Bureau should augment its fingerprint capture by adopting part of our patented “self-capture” technique. Invented by a war veteran, the method has applicants use an extra minute or two to make their own set of “backup prints”, observed and authenticated by the print-taker. Barcoded and enclosed with the cards forwarded to the scanning center, those self-captured prints are readily available for fixing any individual print impressions found “bad.” Well tested, this gets the cards through the FBI with the same dependability as live-scanning offers, typically twenty times better than the old rubber-stamp method now in use.

For the few cases where prints are still unreadable the fault lies clearly with the applicant and not the Census Bureau’s print-taker. This forestalls thoughts of lawsuits and class actions. The method fits easily into the current logistics, gets everyone’s prints promptly evaluated by the FBI as intended, doesn’t require logistically impossible re-takes, and discourages ex-felons from trying to exploit the process.

All that’s needed is for the Bureau to invite an amendment to the proposal. A better/faster/cheaper method, simpler than the full-blown method originally proposed, is described in the patent and is readily available and easily deployed to fit the existing logistics. Fortunately it’s neither too late nor too expensive to fix the problem.

One last thing: The Census Bureau is getting a bad rap on print-taker training. They must have trained them well, and the print-takers must be good at it, because those folks are apparently achieving the same 20% FBI reject-ratio that experienced law enforcement officers get, those few who still use that old manual card-rolling method.

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20 Responses to “The Census Bureau’s Unintentional Jobs-For-Felons Program”

  1. Derick Moore Says:

    From U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office:

    In 2006 the Census Bureau tested contracting out to a vendor all fingerprinting services and found that outsourcing resulted in a higher rate of unclassifiable prints, longer processing times, and higher costs than the in-house system we have deployed.

    National Fingerprint, LLC submitted an unsolicited proposal that the Census Bureau reviewed last year after fingerprinting was already occurring in the field for the Address Canvassing operations. National Fingerprint did not offer to handle finger print processing, but instead proposed to provide training for Census staff. Moreover, the process they proposed was not markedly different from the process that we already had in place. Implementing any new solution this late in the process was not feasible because the operation was already underway.

    At the U.S. Census Bureau, the safety of both our workforce and respondents is our top priority. That’s why the bureau has gone beyond what’s required this year and taken unprecedented steps to ensure that the 2010 Census is the safest decennial census ever. For the 2010 Census, every temporary staff member must submit to a background check by providing two sets of fingerprints ― a significant security improvement from the 2000 Census, which, like every other previous decennial census, required only name background checks.

    In the end, only workers who have passed an FBI name check work on the census. The vast majority of our workforce has passed both the name check and a full fingerprint check.

  2. ANON Says:

    I have a question from many concerned americans within my network:

    When people are hired as canvassers at one of the Census Bureau sites, do they start immediately? It is my understanding that new hires start “canvassing” before the background checks even come back. So are these employment offers contingent upon the background checks coming back successful? You would actually allow someone to start knocking on doors prior to the backgrounds coming back???? What a risk!

  3. Ex-IT Says:

    Good grief, your really running with this weak story. The FBI itself probably has more criminals (not to mention some rather notorious spies).

    This mostly comes off as sour grapes whining from a company that didn’t get a juicy government contract. Outside of National Fingerprint’s own claims is there any evidence to support how many fewer bad prints their training would provide?

    There is no real evidence that the Census has hired any criminals, only a statistical possibility that out of the massive number hired, a small percentage of them had fingerprints that were not distinct enough for the background check and then taking a mis-applied tiny percentage chance that there are criminals in that group. Never mind that this group is mostly elderly workers that have a much lower probability of being dangerous. Forget that there are other background checks and don’t even consider that fact that when an LCO sends fingerprints to the FBI and they reject them as insufficient, the employee is re-fingerprinted. Nope, fear is a better draw and will help boost the anti-Census paranoia that our field people have to deal with. I’m sure Rep. Bachmann will pick it up and run too.

    PS for ANON: From what I have observed from Address Canvassing and GQV, by the time listers complete training the background checks come back.

  4. TR Says:

    The name check is completed before an applicant is eligible to be hired. The fingerprint check is done on the first day of training, and usually comes back before listers hit the field alone. (The first time listers go out, it’s in a group for training. The second time, they are being observed by their crew leader. It’s usually at least a week from the point of being fingerprinted that listers are out in the field alone.)

  5. FactChecker Says:

    Definitely sounds like the whining of somebody who didn’t get a contract. What’s the accuracy that he claims he could achieve fingerprinting as many people as the Census does in as many different locations simultaneously?

    Note to the general public: There is one option that will ensure a census employee doesn’t come knocking at your door; take a few minutes to complete the form and return it on time!

  6. MD Fingerprint, LLP Says:

    First I would like uplift the Census for even doing fingerprint checks. If not required, then for having it done. If I am not mistaken it was required for 2000 Census but the Census got a pass from Congress on doing it. Why are we waiting until 2009 to fingerprint if required by Congress ten years ago? It just makes sense to fingerprint. In fact, in some States it’s the law. Most companies who hire persons in some States are required by State law to do it. The reason that some criminals would slip by is that the Census appears to be conducting their own INK fingerprinting. Ink has a 30% error ratio against live scan. I do not know why they do not contract a company like ours to conduct the fingerprinting. We are experts in rolling prints and using live scan technology to do it. If they are serious about catching those who slip by then why waist time on old ink prints. You can not teach old dog new tricks I guess. As a police officer or trained professional do they know how to detect tricks made on the prints? Can and does the printer observe the work of the print to avoid rejections. If you hire the person and ink prints get rejected two times or three times then several weeks (6-8) have gone by trying to get results. Do you hire the person and train them giving them access to information and then say “oh sorry prints came back have to let you go”? Does this not open yourself up for a lawsuit? With live scan, prints are back in two days before you even hire them. You tell me what makes sense, old ink prints by untrained cheap labor or quality time efficient technology? Why not have all those temping agencies which give the Census temporary workers get it done for them? I would have all contractor temp companies get it done on behalf of working for the Census. I hope the Census will be ready for 2020 or maybe we can ask Congress for another pass on all those fingerprints. I am just glad they are doing it but don’t be fooled I believe it is required but the illusion is we (Census) are going beyond just a name check but look at us (Census) we added fingerprinting because we want to be thorough. I could be wrong I am just glad they are doing it. I expect it if someone is coming into my home.

  7. TR Says:

    Here’s the problem… For Address Canvassing, my ELCO had 64 Crew Leader Districts. That means there were 64 training sites… 64 locations where people were being fingerprinted. And the fingerprinting all happened at the same time on the same day (first day of training). So, would it be logistically and/or financially possible to use LiveScan technology in this situation?

  8. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Letter To The Editor: Fingerprinting Issues Need To Be Addressed Says:

    [...] of Zerco Systems International Inc. and is in response to pieces that we have recently posted about fingerprinting and security issues that were brought to light before Congress by the Government Accountability [...]

  9. David Allburn Says:

    The PIO officer’s reply is both sincere and accurate. But it not complete. It notably fails to address the key issue, which is not why an old proposal wasn’t accepted, but that a vulnerability it identified still exists, still persists, and will inevitably attract felons if not corrected. The “vast majority” which the officer states “will have passed both the name check and a full fingerprint check” will be “vaster” than he thinks, because it will include a component of felons who “passed” the fingerprint check by default…prints too blurred to check at all. That’s the problem. In the more than 15 months that have elapsed, the patented means to correct this weakness has been further developed and now is an order-of-magnitude cheaper, faster, and simpler than was contained in that old proposal. For example there now is no “print processing” to be handled by anyone who is not doing it already. It is easy for an unsolicited proposal to be amended to please a program office if that office has enthusiasm and resources for even part of it. Likewise it’s equally easy to disqualify one for failing to guess a preference exactly right. My belief is that the proposal was directed to the wrong program office. For economic justification it should have gone to Advertising, where it protects the huge expenditures for public confidence. For implementation it should have gone to Security, where the necessary resources and “enthusiasm” are available to share where needed. Those offices are the real stakeholders in the matter. Since the proprietary information for the solution was carefully marked and fully disclosed, it would be distressing if the Bureau contracted with another to infringe.

  10. MediaTrainer00 Says:

    Ho hum!At least your headline attracted my interest and the 9 responses seemed to have been thought-out. Typical trash from a sensationalized blog, and Twitter posts.

  11. TTHelp Says:

    Read the news, we should be more worried about the dedicated Census workers who have literally risked life and limb over the decades to complete the Census. Everything from dog and snake bites (one worker almost lost a leg this year), to treacherous terrain, to threats (some at gun point), to assault, and possibly even murder. There are so many unsafe areas in the country, the Census Bureau actually has to have a separate “Dangerous Address” database to help ensure workers do not return to addresses where an aggressive/violent incident has occurred. These potentially “Felon” Census workers are your neighbors, friends and family. These workers may be out of work, or looking to supplement their income. They are dedicated, hard working and good citizens- so why is a private company trying to paint all Census workers as potential “Felons”? Money? I guess the private sector has not sunk low enough in the last few years.

  12. Jobs for Felons Says:

    Life is challenging for people in this demographic and now they can’t even help with census details without being isolated? I think it is quite sad that many people in this country serve their time but pay the ultimate “price” the rest of their lives by these types of regulations.

  13. Anonymous CL Says:

    Ex-convicts definitely need to have jobs available to them so they don’t get stuck with no choice but to continue a life of crime; reform needs to be a possibility. But it is understandable that the public would be extra-sensitive about keeping ex-cons out of Census jobs, since some people are already paranoid about the Census, and there’d be concerns about criminals trying to abuse a Census job to get opportunities for burglaries or identity thefts. Perhaps not much more risk of that than in some other types of jobs, but like I said, the public (and thus the management and politicians) are extra-sensitive about the Census.

  14. Those without Sin Throw the First Stone Says:

    I always say…If every sin you ever committed flashed on your FOREHEAD like, cheating on your taxes, when a sales person accidentally gives you too much change back, do you return it? lust after another person, lying, backbiting, gossip, masturbation, sex before marriage, using people, cheating, eating too much, drinking too much, smoking and abusing the temple of God your body. Nasty thoughts of someone, pride, ego, resentment, anger, hate, disgusted with others, judgmental, me, me, me, concept, etc. If you have fallen short of any of these items, or did under handed things to get a position, or get someone fired, or go over them to make others dislike them, any of these items fit you, guess what……reality is, you are no different than that felon. You just never got caught. Once someone has done their time for their crime and they really want to begin life again and provide for their family and go on and let the past be the past. Who holds you in such high judgment to determine who eats and pays their bills. There are so many individuals in the Bible who did crimes and God used them to deliver his message. Thank God, or Paul and Moses would not of lead us……..what gives you the right? You are those same people that stood by and watched our Lord get crucified. Let me stop, before I start judging as you are, because then I am not any different than you. God forgive me for my thoughts against the following and I pray for their eyes to be open and their hearts to become unhardened for their judgment is keeping people from being delivered for what they have paid for with their youth and life, and bonding their abilities to feed their children and love ones. Father for this, my pray goes out to all of them, who can not see or hear their judgment. Amen………..

  15. Preddy Says:

    This country is paying a heavy price for not allowing felons to re-enter into society. People make mistakes and should be allowed a second chance to rebuild their lives. We we eliminate job opportunities, relegate people to dead end jobs, brand them for life, we are setting them up for failure and the consequences will be devastating. The Clemmons guy who just killed the police officers in Seattle is an example. He was relesed but never “re-entered society. He was lety out on his own, probably treated as we treat all felons, went crazy and then balistic. In the words of George Bush, American is a Nation of Second Chances. We should act like it..

  16. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Letter To The Editor: Census Bureau Ignores Fingerprinting Problems And Focuses on Name Checks Says:

    [...] following letter, from David Allburn of National Fingerprinting, comes in response to our recent post that features questions about why felon/presumed murderer [...]

  17. Darn Cat Says:

    in response to the query of Anon:
    I have a question from many concerned americans within my network:

    When people are hired as canvassers at one of the Census Bureau sites, do they start immediately? It is my understanding that new hires start “canvassing” before the background checks even come back. So are these employment offers contingent upon the background checks coming back successful? You would actually allow someone to start knocking on doors prior to the backgrounds coming back???? What a risk!

    Response by DC:
    As an employee of the 2000 Census,
    Let me assure you this is NOT the case. This is not even remotely close to any fact even loosely based on reality!

    Canvassers are absolutely NOT allowed to begin work before their background checks have been completed. Canvassers are NOT allowed to begin work AT ALL until they have been subjected to a lengthy orientation process that includes an oath of loyalty to the United States government. This orientation process itself will NEVER begin until an applicant has passed the required background checks! So, you see that what you are suggestion is PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE.

    Yet another case of rampant runaway anti-government hysteria. I find it absolutely hilarious, yet absurd and downright disturbing, to read reports of the blatant mistrust of our elected representational government, which at least in theory is acting in the National Interest along with the interests of everyday citizens- compared to giant mega-corporations that have no legal, lawful, or ethical responsibility to our Nation or it’s Peoples. You would feel safer with a for profit, bottom line driven company safeguarding you instead of our great country which has protected us for the ENTIRE HISTORY OF OUR NATION”S EXISTENCE?!?

    It seems some people are listening to Rush and FOX NEWS again.
    Big big error in judgment…

  18. Jennifer Says:

    It amazing even after one has served their time, they are punished!! I understand that there are some people that should not be around others, however since so many things are felonys now and more people are convicted every day, one has to wonder will we run out of people to hire?

  19. Teri Says:

    I was a Census worker as of 4P today , when my fingerprints came back. I was rejected by the FBI.

    I have never been arrested, I have no felonies, no criminal anything – and I have lost a job that I truly need and really enjoy.

    My Crew Leader met up with me and stripped me of all of my Census materials. I felt so humiliated and depressed. I need this job, I love this job and I enjoy the crew leader and team that I work with.

    When taking my fingerprints the person said, the pad seems to be slipping and making your fingerprints slip. This meant nothing to me at the time…and a second card was done…I don’t recall any slipping…but I can say I was hurt, humiliated and now I am furious.

    I arranged my life around this training week. I now have no job, no income. Called the home office in Atlanta, they say to wait for a letter, do what the letter says and then I could be reinstated.

    Does anyone know what this means? Thank you in advance for your insight.

  20. James C Williams Says:

    I also really needed this job, but the difference is I got the job! My situation is that IT (the job) cost me more money than what I made. I lost my 1994 Toyota camry in a large mud hole, (I was known “whatever it takes to get the job done”), doing the best job job that I could.
    So anyhow, I lost my car due to water intake into the engine, so in a few days I bought a 1999 Chevy tracker 4×4,( alot of surgar-sand roads in Fl.) inorder to finish my census job, It also ended short of predictions. Long story short, Census Bureau replied, NO COMPENSATION due to employee negligence. I had liability only insurance because of age of car. Mabe best that you didn’t get the job. I’m very bitter but don’t know how to handle it. I’m NOW paying for two used cars and trying to support a handicapped daughter and her two kids on Social security.
    It’s as if there’s no other waste going on. Thanks for listening!