Tales From The Field: Group Quarters Validation Enables Costs To Soar
During the week when we were preparing questionnaires and field staff were being trained it was becoming clearer that there were only about 1,500 unique OLQs. With over two hundred field employees if each lister conducted a couple of ten minute interviews they would be completed in a matter of days. By the time the office knew what hit them the field operation winded down. It was only the first week.
But for those in the office the nightmare was just beginning. In the first few days the twelve office clerks were so inundated with checking in work from the field that we could not keep up and were backlogged for days. Census headquarters overestimated the productivity of quality control clerks who had no field training and had to review every questionnaire using a four page checklist and write every corresponding non-survivor 14 digit bar code manually on a sheet of paper. The initial office review of each questionnaire, manual transcribing of non-survivor labels and final office review of the work was so slow that none of the work could be shipped to the National Processing Center (NPC) in Jeffersonville, Indiana fast enough.
When the field work dwindled we did bring in a few listers who were familar with the procedures and they simplified everything for us. But the office managers (LCOM, AMQA, AMFO and some guy with a German accent) who knew nothing about procedures, sat around, twiddled their thumbs, raised their voices and continuously talked down to us for not processing work fast enough. At first we began processing non survivor labels by placing them on a single non-survivor label page. However since headquarters overestimated the number of OLQs they produced too many 44 page questionnaires and not enough non-survivor label pages. Since each questionnaire and non survivor label page had a unique bar code used for scanning at the NPC we could not photocopy these pages. So when we ran out of single label pages to put labels on, the new nationwide procedure was to slap these labels on the full 44 page questionnaires. So we started mailing full 44 page questionnaires with only two pages filled out back to NPC.
The Census Bureau managers seem to rely on panicking to make brash decisions that will skyrocket their costs. We are told that we are not to work overtime without supervisor approval but they’ll then offer everyone overtime, pay for New Jersey people to commute half a day and fly people from across the country to help us finish the operation. I’m disappointed that no one at the local office, regional or even at headquarters caught this error that could of possibly saved us thousands of dollars. We could of simply hired just fifty listers to work the full four weeks and saved at least $100,000. Instead we trained 228 listers for a week to work just a week.
Today was the first day of the fourth week of the operation and we finished the operation last night after two weeks of twelve hour days. While I’m glad to have gotten overtime pay I am a little saddened we are four days ahead of schedule and will all be let go for lack of work. I can’t imagine what the dent in the wallet of the federal government must of been not only in our office but across the country to print all those questionnaires and then have to ship them to NPC with only two pages filled out, not to mention the overtime.
During the operation, hearing listers speak about problems in the field were the best stories to pass the time doing repetitive work. We were getting hammered by mistakes made during address canvassing, including the entire high rise apartment building classified as OLQ and missed buildings in areas where they told listers to work quicker during address canvassing or risk losing their jobs. These missing buildings could only be missed if the lister didn’t go out into the field. Listers may have a problem with the outhouse or storage shed listed as an OLQ. But how do you deal with the high rise apartment building where the lister marked every unit an OLQ? Then how do you slap thousands of labels on 44 page questionnaires, fill out the first and last page only and box them to ship to NPC?
At the very least Census didn’t train extra people during the operation and now they actually have a quality control system to prevent field employees from falsifying information. I suppose things are going better at this point but I am not even going to voice my concern to them because it will fall upon death ears. They are going to wipe their hands clean and say that we were told it would be about five weeks and we could be released earlier. Certainly the listers in the field didn’t expect to only be working just a few days in the worst recession since the Great Depression.