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 October, 2009

Interview with Robert Goldenkoff of the Government Accountability Office

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

On Friday, October 9, 2009 I interviewed Robert Goldenkoff, who has worked for more than 20 years at the Government Accountability Office and currently serves as the GAO’s Director of Strategic Issues. One of his many areas of focus is the 2010 Census, which the GAO defined as a high risk operation in a March 2008 report. On Thursday October 8, Mr. Goldenkoff faced questions at a Senate hearing investigating the 2010 Census. In the following interview he discusses the recent fingerprinting problems that he shared with Congress and many other long-term issues with the decennial census.

SRM: What led to the discovery that there could have been criminals hired by the Census Bureau?

RG: We’re looking at all aspects of the Census Bureau’s readiness for the 2010 Census. The decennial census is so huge that we’re focusing a lot of our work on areas where the Census Bureau doesn’t have a lot of experience, where they haven’t done that particular operation before. One of those areas is fingerprinting. In the past, at least for the 2000 Census, they relied only on a name background check. That was why we included fingerprinting as part of our review, because it was a new operation. They’ve been doing the census pretty much the same way  – obviously technology changes – but, the fundamental approach to the 2010 Census is very similar to say the 1970 Census. So if there’s going to be an issue, it’s more likely in something that they’ve never done before.

SRM: Why is your office investigating this rather than the Commerce Department Inspector General’s office? Or were you working together on this?

RG: We are two independent agencies, two different reporting authorities. We do work together, collaborate and coordinate our work just so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Sometimes we work in the same areas and other times we work in different areas, depending on facts and circumstances.

SRM: Where did you get the figure that you reported to Congress that 200 criminals could have been hired by the 2010 Census? And can you clarify what “could have been hired” means?

RG: It’s strictly based on the percentages. There were 162,000 people in total hired for address canvassing. 1,800 passed the name background check but their fingerprints revealed that they had criminal records. Of those, 750 were disqualified for census employment, because their criminal records were such that they were ineligible for census employment. All we did was project those same ratios for the 35,700 people who went through the name background check but whose fingerprints could not be read. So it’s strictly a projection. It’s unfortunate that the reporting of this was not always accurate or perhaps sensationalized it. We’re not saying that 200 criminals did work on the census, but we’re saying that based on that projection it’s possible.

SRM: During the summer, I was contacted by a man named David Allburn who runs a company called National Fingerprints, LLC, which can be found at NationalFingerprints.com. His firm placed a bid with the Census Bureau to receive a contract to handle the fingerprinting of employees, because right now prospective employees are fingerprinted by other Census Bureau employees who are not well trained in fingerprinting. David informed me that someone who is an experienced criminal would know that it’s very simple to smudge your fingerprints and make them unreadable by simply pressing your hand too hard on the paper when your fingers are being rolled in the ink. The Census Bureau chose not to use David’s company but rather to conduct the operation on their own without outside help. Of course part of the reason David called me originally because he was upset that his company wasn’t chosen for the contract, but he was also concerned that the 2010 Census operations would be infiltrated by criminals. At first I figured David could be overexaggerating this scenario, but now I know that he was absolutely right. So I’m wondering, do you have any idea why David’s method was rejected?

RG: No idea.

SRM: I’ve also heard from many sources that after people have been hired by the Census Bureau and started to work, their criminal background check reports came in later, and only then, after they already had access to a significant amount of data, were they fired. Why did this happen?

RG: I don’t know. Our point to all of this was not to scare people or anything like that. Our point was to make it clear to the Bureau that they need to have a better policy, or at least have a better policy for those people whose fingerprints can’t be read. With so many people working on the census, even if only a small percentage of fingerprints are flawed, you’re still talking about a substantial number of people.

SRM: Has the Census Bureau done anything to try to fix this flawed system?

RG: It is important to point out though that the Bureau has acknowledged that they have a problem with this and they are taking steps, improving training for example, to improve how the fingerprints are actually captured. Moisture is an issue with the quality of prints. The remaining issue is what to do about people whose fingerprints can’t be read.

SRM: I’m also wondering, can social security numbers be used as an element of background checks? Having sat for the employment exams for the 2010 Census, I know that it is mandatory to provide your social security number at that early stage.

RG: That already might be used, but I’m not sure. But people can change their social security numbers or use fraudulent social security numbers. That’s why it’s not as reliable. As we saw, just  the name background check can’t be the only tool used as criminals can get past that system.

SRM: Who do you hold accountable for these errors?

RG: This is something that the Census Bureau had no experience with. It’s clearly something that the Census Bureau and its parent agency, the Commerce Department, need to deal with. We’re not out to get anyone or point fingers. We want to see a successful census. I think the Census Bureau has acknowledged there’s a problem and they are going to work on it – and we are going to keep tabs on them. There are some smaller field operations coming up, but the big one is non-response follow up in the spring, to follow up with non-respondents. That’s going to be around 600,000 people hired. So we’re going to watch the Bureau’s progress in improving fingerprinting abilities.

SRM: On a related issue, I wrote about how the Census Bureau’s three Data Capture Centers may have similar human resources issues. Because, for example, in Baltimore, the Data Capture Center is run by contractor Lockheed Martin, who subcontracted the hiring efforts to Computer Sciences Corporation, I am wondering if the same rigid hiring standards that Census Bureau employees are subject to apply in these cases? I was told by Stephen Buckner, spokesman for the Census Bureau, that these employees are subject to the same standards, but a couple of loopholes that I noticed are that employees at these centers are not subject to drug tests or that because of time lags, people who undergo background investigations now might not start work for six months, meaning that they could potentially develop criminal records in the interim period. Can you address these issues?

RG: I’m not familiar with the specifics when contractors are involved.

SRM: What are the greatest challenges for the 2010 Census from your perspective?

RG: I’m glad you asked that because what we’ve been reporting on is much bigger than fingerprints. That’s certainly an issue, but the Bureau has other things they need to be concerned about as well. Speaking positively, the GAO has a high risk list, and we put the Census Bureau on this list in March 2008 because of weaknesses in the Census Bureau’s IT management, problems with the handheld computers, the difficulties they were having in coming up with the total cost of the decennial census, the fact that they did not conduct a full dress rehearsal, and on top of all that time was running out. And we put the decennial census on our high risk list because it’s a critical statistical program for the nation. Using March 2008 as an anchor point, we have seen that the Bureau has made a lot of progress in terms of risk mitigation. There is certainly a lot more work to be done but we are also encouraged by a lot of the improvements that we’ve been seeing. Certainly it was important to have a president appointed and senate confirmed Director (Robert M. Groves), so it’s certainly important that the top leadership is now firmly in place. We’re encouraged by some of the advisors that Dr. Groves has brought in who have experience from the 2000 Census. And we’re also encouraged by the fact that the Census Bureau acknowledges that they have a problem. The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one. But some of the areas that still concern us: IT management, requirements and testing plans have not been finalized, it’s difficult to track progress because of vague metrics, and some of the IT systems face tight implementation time-frames. Of all the IT systems, the one that we’re most concerned about is the paper-based operational control system (PBOCS).

SRM: Can you elaborate on that?

RG: That was the program that was put in place when they abandoned the handheld computers for non-response follow-up. So PBOCS basically controls the office workflow. There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of nailing down requirements and testing in the short time remaining. Basically, they have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it before it needs to go live.

SRM: There was a Census employee named Bill Sparkman who was murdered about a month ago. Is your office involved in that investigation?

RG: No, not at all.

SRM: Do you have any comments on the recent decision for the Census Bureau to sever its ties with ACORN?

RG: The Bureau just needs to make sure that it has adequate guidance so that it can make a determination as to who they should partner with and who the shouldn’t.

Philadelphia Lags Behind in 2010 Census Preparation Activities

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Hmmmm…maybe Philly Mayor Michael Nutter was either too busy dealing with Philly’s fiscal crisis or just not as committed to the 2010 Census as he claimed to be at a Senate hearing in April. Thanks to the Pew Charitable Trust for producing such a comprehensive report:

PEW REPORT EXAMINES CENSUS PREPARATIONS IN PHILADELPHIA

AND OTHER MAJOR CITIES

Philadelphia Lagging Behind Others in Preparation Activities

A new study from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative finds that Philadelphia is lagging behind other major cities in mounting the kind of local outreach and awareness campaign for the 2010 Census that many experts consider important for achieving a full count.

The studyPreparing for the 2010 Census: How Philadelphia and Other Cities Are Struggling and Why It Matters, looked at the preparations of Philadelphia and 10 other major cities for the 2010 Census. These include the five cities with larger populations than Philadelphia—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Phoenix—and five chosen for their similarities to Philadelphia and their experience in dealing with the Census—Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit and Pittsburgh.

The report finds that almost all of the cities studied have less money and fewer staffers for this Census than they did in 2000.

“Census preparation really matters,” said Thomas Ginsberg, project manager of Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative. “The outreach efforts are a cross between an election campaign and a municipal self-promotion drive, with very real ramifications that will be felt for the next 10 years.”

Philadelphia officials are planning to announce their local outreach campaign soon. And officials interviewed for the study say they are confident of their ability to catch up and conduct an effective outreach effort. In addition, they have launched the city’s first-ever challenge to the official population estimates the U.S. Census Bureau issues each year. The challenge, if fully accepted by the bureau, would produce a number showing that Philadelphia’s population is now growing after six decades of decline.

Seven of the other 10 cities had appointed or hired Census coordinators by last summer and had launched their citywide coordinating committees by early October. The other three—Boston, Chicago and Detroit—already are lined up to receive considerable financial and organizing support from local and statewide donor networks established specifically for the Census.

Preparing for the 2010 Census lays out what is at stake for cities: Without strong outreach and technical preparation by cities, the Census Bureau may have trouble improving its urban counts over previous Censuses and raising the below-average rate at which residents participate in its official once-a-decade count. That could lead to greater undercounts of certain groups or an entire city, which in turn would affect the population basis on which billions of tax dollars will be distributed over the coming decade and by which legislative seats—federal, state and local—will be allocated in 2011.

The stakes are particularly high in Philadelphia and other big cities that have high concentrations of the hard-to-count groups, including renters, immigrants, African Americans and Hispanics. According to an analysis conducted for the Philadelphia Research Initiative by Temple University statistician Eugene P. Ericksen, the Census Bureau likely undercounted Philadelphia’s population by an estimated 8,326 people a decade ago, or about 0.5 percent. Many of the other cities included in the report had similar or larger estimated undercounts.

About $430 billion in federal funds were distributed to local governments and residents in fiscal 2008, the last year for which such numbers are available, based at least in part on Census data. Analysts at the Brookings Institution say that Philadelphia and its residents received about $2,796 per capita, through Medicaid, housing vouchers, transportation funding and other programs. Due to the ways that the funding formulas work, the amount of money that would be generated by counting additional Philadelphians would be less than $2,796. But how much less is hard to say. It would depend on numerous factors, including the demographic characteristics of the individuals.

Apart from outreach campaigns, the study found that all 11 cities, including Philadelphia, have been participating in the voluntary technical Census Bureau programs that many experts consider more important to achieving a full count. The programs include a massive updating of household addresses, through which the cities submitted more than 1.5 million new or corrected addresses for the bureau to target next spring.

“For Philadelphia, a significant impact of the Census results could be in terms of the city’s psyche and its ability to promote itself. The city would get a lift if the headcount in 2010—or the challenge being launched over the recent population estimates—shows a population gain,” said Ginsberg. The count in 2000 was 1,517,550, and the most recent estimate was 1,447,395. The city’s challenge contends the recent figure should have been 1,536,171, higher than either previous figure. The Census Bureau is expected to rule on the city’s figure by the end of 2009. Pew’s research found that many cities have no plans to appropriate any public funds specifically for Census preparations; this is the case in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Pittsburgh, although all of those cities, including Philadelphia, expect to make use of existing staff and resources with some staff help from the Census Bureau. A decade ago, the city put in $200,000 and received $165,000 in philanthropic donations.

The shortfalls are leading many cities to rely on unpaid volunteers and grassroots organizing even more than in the past. City officials in Philadelphia are still hoping to receive funds from private sources. The William Penn Foundation has committed $12,350 for data analysis; city and Census Bureau officials held an initial briefing with other potential local funders in late September.

About the Report

To prepare this report, Thomas Ginsberg, project manager of Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative, studied numerous reports about the Census and talked to officials at the Census Bureau, independent experts and officials in Philadelphia and the 10 other cities. The report includes independent work done by Eugene P. Ericksen of Temple University, a nationally-recognized expert in assessing the accuracy of the Census, and by the Brookings Institution.

About The Philadelphia Research Initiative

The Philadelphia Research Initiative was created by Pew in fall 2008 to study critical issues facing Philadelphia and provide impartial research and analysis for the benefit of decision makers, the news media and the public. The initiative conducts public opinion polling, produces in-depth reports, and publishes briefs that illuminate front-and-center issues.

About Pew

The Pew Charitable Trusts (www.pewtrusts.org) is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. We partner with a diverse range of donors, public and private organizations and concerned citizens who share our commitment to fact-based solutions and goal-driven investments to improve society.

McHenry: Census Bureau Failures Are Unacceptable

Monday, October 12th, 2009

WASHINGTON – Congressman Patrick McHenry (NC-10), Ranking Member on the Census Oversight Subcommittee, released the following statement in response to the troubling admission by the U.S. Census Bureau that its cost estimation models are a complete failure.  The recently concluded address canvassing operation went over budget by 25%.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) also reports that failures in the fingerprint training process led to the hiring of as many as 200 temporary census workers with criminal backgrounds.

“Republicans and Democrats alike stand ready to provide adequate funding for a successful census.  But it now seems that the Census Bureau is incapable of determining what that cost will be.

“While I appreciate Dr. Groves being forthright and understand that these problems are not of his making, corrective action must take place immediately.  The 2010 Decennial, which is already funded to the tune of $14.7 billion, is just around the corner.  The Census Bureau must fix its costs estimation model quickly and report back to Congress with an accurate figure.

“The Census Bureau will soon begin hiring hundreds of thousands of temporary workers and yet its safeguards against hiring criminals are in jeopardy.  GAO has identified insufficient training in fingerprint-taking as the cause of this failure.

“Bureaucratic incompetence that leads to the hiring of criminals as census takers threatens the integrity of 2010 Decennial.  This problem must be fixed immediately and assurances must be given to Congress and the American people that it will not happen again.”

Update: More Languages In Advance Letters

Friday, October 9th, 2009

If you’re interested in reading more information about the recent policy shift at the Census Bureau to distribute advance letters about the 2010 Census in multiple languages, check out the following documents:

Advance Letter from Robert M. Groves in multiple languages

Letter from Robert M. Groves explaining policy changes to leaders of minority organizations.

Criminals Possibily Hired to Conduct Census

Friday, October 9th, 2009

As I reported two weeks ago when I questioned Dr. Robert Groves at a press conference that he held at the National Press Club, criminals have been hired to work for the 2010 Census:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 8 (UPI) — Errors by U.S. Census Bureau employees could have resulted in 200 people with criminal records being hired for canvassing, a government report said.

The Government Accountability Office said Census Bureau employees improperly fingerprinted thousands of people as part of background checks for workers hired to interact with the public door to door, The Hill reported Thursday.

The GAO report expressed concern that the checks performed on improperly fingerprinted employees were incomplete.

“It is possible that more than 200 people with unclassifiable prints had disqualifying criminal records but still worked and had contact with the public during address canvassing,” the GAO’s Robert Goldenkoff told a Senate subcommittee on Wednesday.

Goldenkoff said the bureau’s training program was a reason for the improper fingerprints, adding that the bureau “will refine instruction manuals and provide remediation training on proper procedures” to prevent a recurrence.

Senate Census panel asks tough questions about 2010 count

Thursday, October 8th, 2009
H/t to Max Cacas of Federal News Radio for the following update on yesterday’s Senate meeting:

The clock continues to tick down to the April 1st start of the 2010 Census, and a Senate oversight subcommittee continues to focus on efforts for an accurate count of the nation’s population next year.

By Max Cacas
Reporter
FederalNewsRadio

With less than 6 months to go before the start of the 2010 decennial census, officials are still coping with uncertainty surrounding the next constitutionally-mandated count of the nation’s population.

On Wednesday, the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, which has oversight over the U.S. Census Bureau, conducted its latest hearing on what will likely be one of the most costly censuses in history.

One of the areas of concern says Robert Goldenkopf, director of Strategic Issues with the Government Accountability Office, is all the uncertainty that underlies the on-again, off again planning for the 2010 census. GAO named the census to its “high risk list” last year because of:

Weakness in its IT management, problems with handheld computers used to collect data, and uncertainty over the final cost of the census.

Doctor Robert Groves, the new census director, says the bureau is generally making good progress toward resolving a long list of problems related to the 2010 census, but says one thing keeping him up late at night is concern about just how many Americans will fill out their forms, and get them back in the mail as soon as possible.

The behavior of the American public in March and April of next year is a big uncertainty in regards to that. Scores of millions of dollars will be spent following up with houses that don’t return the mail questionnaire. Its important to hit that target, that estimate well.

Groves told the panel that the vacancy rate of homes due to the recession, and related home foreclosures, could complicate the effort to have as many people as possible return their census forms in the first round of the count between the first week of April and mid-May.

Director Groves also told the panel that even at this late date, the Census Bureau continues to develop software to handle the paper-based “Non-Response Followup” stage of the census. This was a part of the census that had been slated to be performed using a highly automated system in conjunction with the controversial hand-held computers. Last year, census officials decided not to use the handhelds for this portion of the census count because development of the automation system was lagging far behind other portions of the census.

Lawmakers continued to press for the use of the Internet and web-based tools to speed the count and reduce costs. But Groves told Senator John McCain (R.-Az.) that it is too late in preparations for the count to integrate web-based data gathering in the 2010 census. Groves did say that in August of next year, as the formal census count is being concluded, there is a small-scale test planned to gauge the possibility of one day using the web for the 2020 census.

Under questioning, Groves also revealed that as recently as 5 years ago, there was a proposal that a web-based census follow-up pilot program be conducted in college campus dormitories during the 2010 count to test the viability of using new technologies to improve the count, but said the idea was never formally made a part of next year’s population tally. On Wednesday, several lawmakers, including McCain, expressed support for the possibility of short-term legislation that would provide funding and support for a dorm-based pilot program for the census.

Kudos Dr. Groves and Secretary Locke

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Last week, we wrote about trouble brewing in California over language issues on questionnaires, but fortunately the problem has been resolved due to the swift and effective action of Census Director Dr. Robert M. Groves and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The changes that have been made are detailed in the following letter obtained by MyTwoCensus.com:

October 5, 2009

Dear Secretary Locke and Director Groves:

In my September 28 letter to Secretary Locke, I shared my concern about sending an English-only Advance Letter.  I am pleased that a change has been made in policy to incorporate a prominent postscript on how to get language assistance in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian.  This decision will provide Californians the added opportunity to be counted as residents.

I would like to thank you for the prompt change in policy and I look forward to working with each of you to ensure all Californians are counted.

Respectfully,

Ditas Katague
Director, 2010 Census Statewide Outreach



Press Release from Senator Tom Carper’s office

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

FOR RELEASE: Oct. 6, 2009

CONTACT:  Bette Phelan (202) 224-2441

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

HEARING: “2010 Census – A Status Update of Key Decennial Operations.”

WASHINGTON (Oct. 6, 2009) – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, will hold a hearing Wednesday, October 7 at 3:00 p.m. titled “2010 Census: A Status Update of Key Decennial Operations.”

With less than six months before Census Day 2010, this hearing will provide a status update of key decennial operations, estimated to cost more than $14.7 billion.

Census Director Dr. Robert Groves, in his first appearance before the committee since his confirmation, will provide updates on the Bureau’s recent completion of its address canvassing operation; the progress of the Bureau’s testing of key decennial information technology and operational systems; the use of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act spending to enhance outreach to hard-to-count communities; and the Bureau’s response to program and operational challenges identified by both GAO and the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General.

WHEN:Wednesday, October 7 at 3:00 p.m.

WHERE: 342 Dirksen Senate Office Building

WITNESSES:

The Honorable Robert M. Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce

Todd Zinser, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Commerce

Robert Goldenkoff, Director, Strategic Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Government Will Not End Raids Prior To 2010 Census

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Check out the following little discussed story from the Associated Press that shows the Obama Administration taking an immigrant unfriendly position:

WASHINGTON (AP) — With the 2010 census six months away, the Commerce Department said Thursday it won’t seek a halt to immigrationraids as it did in the previous census in hopes of improving participation in hard-to-count communities.

In a statement, the department said it is committed to an accurate count of U.S. residents, including both legal and illegal immigrants. Spokesman Nick Kimball said officials will not ask the Homeland Security Department to stop large-scale immigration raids during the high stakes count that begins April 1.

That position is a departure from the one taken in the 2000 census, when immigration officials at the request of the Census Bureau informally agreed not to conduct raids. The bureau two years ago asked DHS to hold off again in 2010, but that was rejected by the Bush administration, which said it would continue to enforce federal laws.

On Thursday, the Commerce Department echoed that position and said it would not be revisiting the matter.

”Our job is to count every resident once, and in the right place, and that’s what we do,” Kimball said. ”All the information the Census Bureau collects is protected by law and will not be shared with any other agency. Neither the Commerce Department nor the Census Bureau will ask DHS to refrain from exercising their lawful authority.”

It remained unclear what Commerce’s stance might have on the likelihood of immigration raids next year. In recent months, the government has said it was seeking to shift enforcement efforts more toward criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants as well as cases in which an illegal immigrant may pose a safety threat to the community.

The Commerce statement comes as the Census Bureau enters the final stretch of preparations for the decennial count, which is used to apportion House seats and distribute nearly $450 billion in federal aid. With an effort to overhaul U.S. immigration laws expected to take place sometime next year, Census Director Robert Groves has said he’s particularly worried that tensions over immigration will deter people from participating in the count.

Feature: Real Stories From The Census Bureau

Monday, October 5th, 2009

It’s been a while since we’ve received contributions from real Census Bureau field workers (who obviously need to have their anonymity kept in tact), but as the “Group Quarters Validation” phase of the 2010 Census started last week, our inbox has been overflowing. Those interested in writing for us should not hesitate to send us contributions (details on our contact page). So, here we bring you an account from a Census Bureau employee in New York City:

I worked in the New York City area as a lister during address canvassing and was disappointed with how the operation was conducted. One of my colleagues pointed me to this website some time ago and I felt compelled to share my story. We had alot of the technology glitches in the hand held computers that are widely know by now which included:

* software issues such the program freezes

* transmission problems such as the Sprint cellular network being down and missing assignments and map spots

* hardware issues such as the fingerprint swipe not working

But New York City has its own problems and is a completely different beast in itself. New York City is the most densely populated city in the United States and each neighborhood has its own unique character. The Census Bureau tries to monitor productivity but the very nature of the city makes it very hard to monitor. Since all the units of multi unit apartment buildings are listed separately a lister has to key in every entry. Comparing someone who has an assignment with high rise apartment buildings versus someone who has single family homes is like comparing apples with oranges.

During address canvassing we were instructed to find someone who was knowledgeable about where people live or could live. But locating a knowledgeable respondent was easier said than done. There are small tenement buildings in Chinatown and Harlem brownstones; where there are illegal subdivisions. It is very difficult to gain entry or make contact even if you speak the language. There are also a lot of abandoned construction sites where developers tried to take advantage of the real estate boom after September 11th but found themselves out of money in the current recession.

Luckily for the Census Bureau, the current recession produced a talented pool of very intelligent and highly educated workers. My crew leader was knowledgable and a great leader. From the very beginning he was committed to doing things right. He said that he was continuously told a proper address canvassing operation would be the cornerstone of a successful enumeration. He was thorough and all the work was quality checked by one of the other listers or his assistant. When we couldn’t gain access to a building, he encouraged us to try again and gave us additional work to keep us productive. In the end we had all these partially complete assignments where we had one or buildings we either couldn’t get into or make contact with anyone. However the office was less than empathetic to our thoroughness. Our crew leader told us that Assistant Manager of Field Operations,field operations supervisors (FOS) and crew leaders in other districts would belittle those who were behind. They would constantly say things like ”John’s district is 40% complete why aren’t you 40% complete?” We were told that if we couldn’t gain access to a building after two visits we had to accept what was in the HHC as correct. Many of us were tempted to falsify work and accept what was in the HHC as correct but my crew leader and FOS were adamant about not doing that. One of the other listers found an entire building with over 200 single illegally divided rooms. The HHC had less than 10 units listed in it. If they accepted was in the HHC as true they would of missed over 200 housing units.

At the beginning of the fouth week, my crew leader and several others were written up for being unproductive because they weren’t working fast enough to complete their assignments. They asked the Field Operations Supervisor to approve the writeups. One of the Field Operations Supervisors refused to sign the writeups and they wrote him up also for being insubordinate.

During address canvassing we were to document any additions, or deletes to the address list on an INFO-COMM which is a carbon copy paper. They said that they were hiring clerks to reconcile INFO-COMMs between the production and quality control. The sheer volume of having to go through 2000 pieces of paper is mind boggling. Originally, the plan was to use the INFO-COMMs to help the quality control listers, but they wanted to keep the operation independent so quality control wrote an additional INFO-COMM. All told we wrote out over 2000 INFO-COMMs.

The handheld computer also had glitches. They switched crew leaders in districts that weren’t working fast enough and sometimes just reassigned work. When listers saw their timesheets weren’t approved they submitted additional timesheets electronically. The new crew leader approved it and then they accused these listers of intentionally trying to milk the government clock. They accused half of an entire crew of listers of clocking overtime.

Nonetheless with all the problems most of the listers worked quickly and breezed through their assignments. By the end of the first week we were about 25% done but they decided to train another 100 listers, by the end of the second week we were halfway done and some crews were almost done but they trained another group of listers. Some of these listers were trained and received no field work because there was none. All told we trained over 100 listers who received less days of work than the four and half days worth of training they received.

The thing to realize is that this was a poorly planned operation from the very beginning. The Census Bureau will waste money for government contracts on hand held computers that are shoddy and unreliable and training staff for which there is no work. But they will try to cut corners when it comes to their mission of counting each person accurately. In order to try to save money and finish ahead of other regions they used intimidation and the threatening of employees. I’m glad that Field Operations Supervisor stood up to the higher ups because like my crew leader said to me…they’re just of bullies.

When the address canvassing operation finished up it was alleged that some of the crew leaders and field operations supervisors told their listers since there was no regard to quality that they could skip making contact even going as far as not conducting field work and enter the units at home. There is no way that listers who were reassigned work magically gained access to buildings people couldn’t access for weeks unless they accepted what was in the HHC as true. The crew leaders and field supervisors who finished first were rewarded with additional work. Those who finished last were sometimes “written up” as unproductive and the office terminated their employment.

Luckily this story has a happy ending. My crew leader didn’t fire any of us for clocking overtime. What they found was that the payroll system was mistakenly rewarding people overtime if they worked over eight hours during a work day even though they were below forty hours in a week. Someone was able to view the timesheet submissions in the office and prove all these listers weren’t clocking overtime. It was rumored that someone who discovered this was the same FOS who refused to sign the writeups.

As for thousands of INFO-COMMs they are sitting in the office file cabinets gathering dust maybe someday someone will go through them. I highly doubt it given the sheer magnitude. I think my crew leader was incredible. And from what I heard from some of the listers that met him their Field Operations Supervisor was even better. I never got the chance to see him but I am honored to have worked with someone who is willing to jeopardize his job for what was morally right. I am surprised I received a phone call the other day to work in the next operation Group Quarters Validation. But I’m pretty sure that my crew leader or FOS won’t be returning anytime soon.

Update on 2010 Census Media Campaign: October 15th Deadline

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Check out the following press release/call for media companies to do biz with the Census Bureau:

The 2010 Census will provide a once-in-a-decade snapshot of the nation’s population which is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. The information collected during the census assists government leaders in making historic decisions, such as the apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The data are also used to help distribute more than $400 billion in federal funds back to state and local governments each year. Information from the census is used to determine where to fund infrastructure projects such as roads, hospitals and schools.

The 2010 Census will be “short form-only.” In March, households will receive a form that asks just a few questions, such as number of people in household, race/ethnicity and age.

  • Announcement Letter: March 8th – March 10th
  • Initial mail out of form: March 15th – 17th
  • Replacement Questionnaire mailed: April 1st – April 10th
  • Reminder Postcard mailed: April 22nd – April 24th
  • In-home follow up to non-responders: May 1st – July 10th

In order to inform everyone about the 2010 Census and its importance, the U.S. Census Bureau has developed an integrated communications campaign (ICC) that includes paid media, earned media, a national partnership program and the Census in Schools program. The three goals of the ICC are:

  1. Increasing mail response
  2. Improving accuracy and reducing the differential undercount
  3. Improving cooperation with enumerators

Our prime contractor, DraftFCB and their partner agencies have developed the Paid Media Plan, described in this document, to make the 2010 Census the most pervasive message everywhere, especially during the mail-out/mail-back phase in March and April 2010. The Plan was created with the work of eight partner media agencies, will encompass multiple languages and reach into every market across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

Paid Media Plan Summary

The Paid Media Plan encompasses all media types and is skewed towards those segments of the populations that are considered hard to count (HTC; less likely to respond). The media habits and interests of these population groups drive when and where media will be purchased.

Paid media will be purchased for:

  • Television
  • Radio
  • Interactive
  • Outdoor & transit
  • Print (Newspaper and Magazines)

Paid media materials were developed in multiple languages to ensure that everyone is reached with relevant communications. DraftFCB, in concert with the partner agencies below, developed paid media plans designed to incite mass participation in the 2010 Census.

  • Mass audience, all English – DraftFCB
  • African-American/Black African/Caribbean/Haitian – GlobalHue
  • Hispanic (Spanish Language National) – GlobalHue Latino
  • Hispanic (Spanish Language Local)- d. Exposito & Partners
  • Asian – IW Group
  • American Indian/Alaska Native – G&G Advertising
  • Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islander- G&G Advertising
  • Emerging Audiences (Russian, Polish and Arabic) – Allied Media Group
  • Puerto Rico – DraftFCB Puerto Rico

Local Market Coverage

National efforts will cover all the markets however specific local markets will be identified for incremental support designed to reach the Hard to Count populations as part of the RFP process.

Paid Media Campaign Phases

The paid media campaign will occur in three phases:

  1. January-February 2010 (Awareness/Education)
    Goal: Build immediate awareness and provide educational information
  2. March-April 2010 (Motivation/Participation)
    Goal: Inspire and motivate everyone to complete the census questionnaire
  3. May-June 2010 (Support census workers when they knock on doors of those households who did not return the census questionnaire. Also known as “non-response follow up)
    Goal: encourage participation with the census workers

All target segments require awareness of Census benefits and prompting to participate, but specific communication strategies are needed to ensure highest participation levels.

Paid Media Buying Phases

  • 2010 Census Paid Media negotiations will occur in two phases:
    1. Census Upfront – Appropriate Contractors will negotiate multi-platform deals with large companies such as Time Warner, Disney ABC, etc. to negotiate the best pricing, placements and added value for the Campaign. These negotiations will begin in May because of the longer lead time needed to develop integrated programs and is in line with industry practice for national television negotiations.
    2. All Other Media Buying – Given the number of potential media vendors, Contractors will begin their outreach efforts to solicit information starting in June. Negotiations and commitments for all other media such as “scatter” national TV, local TV and radio, magazines, newspaper, Internet and outdoor will not be finalized until October – November.

All media vendors will have a fair opportunity to submit proposals via a questionnaire (provided below). This questionnaire and other request for proposals will be part of the buying process. If you are interested in participating, please fill out the following questionnaire. The deadline to submit your information is: October 15, 2009.

(Click here for link to questionnaire)

Full disclosure: As the only private web site in the world that focuses its content on the 2010 Census, MyTwoCensus.com just applied to be a media partner with the 2010 Census, as this would satisfy our original stated goal of creating the most accurate 2010 Census possible, particularly because we trust this site as a source of information and ads more than we trust other media companies.

State-by-state breakdown: How was the response rate in your state?

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

The following is a list of the percentages of U.S. households that returned census questionnaires in 2000 by mail or submitted information on another form, over the phone or by Internet (The nation averaged a 67 percent response rate):

- Alabama: 61 percent

- Alaska: 56 percent

- Arizona: 63 percent

- Arkansas: 64 percent

- California: 70 percent

- Colorado: 70 percent

- Connecticut: 70 percent

- Delaware: 63 percent

- District of Columbia: 60 percent

- Florida: 63 percent

- Georgia: 65 percent 

- Hawaii: 60 percent

- Idaho: 67 percent

- Illinois: 69 percent

- Indiana: 69 percent

- Iowa: 76 percent

- Kansas: 71 percent

- Kentucky: 66 percent

- Louisiana: 60 percent

- Maine: 61 percent

- Maryland: 69 percent

- Massachusetts: 69 percent

- Michigan: 71 percent

- Minnesota: 75 percent

- Mississippi: 63 percent

- Missouri: 69 percent

- Montana: 68 percent

- Nebraska: 75 percent

- Nevada: 66 percent

- New Hampshire: 67 percent

- New Jersey: 68 percent

- New Mexico: 62 percent

- New York: 63 percent

- North Carolina: 64 percent

- North Dakota: 72 percent

- Ohio: 72 percent

- Oklahoma: 64 percent

- Oregon: 68 percent

- Pennsylvania: 70 percent

- Rhode Island: 67 percent

- South Carolina: 58 percent

- South Dakota: 74 percent

- Tennessee: 65 percent

- Texas: 64 percent

- Utah: 68 percent

- Vermont 60 percent

- Virginia: 72 percent

- Washington: 66 percent

- West Virginia: 64 percent

- Wisconsin: 75 percent

- Wyoming: 66 percent

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Latest Federal Funds Report Released

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Check out the latest Federal Funds Report that explains how population and income statistics effect the distribution of federal funds (with a heavy focus on Census Bureau data!) This is further proof that participation in the 2010 Census/providing a complete count will lead to tangible re$ult$ from the federal government.

Radio Fans: Listen to 2010 Census Speak on NPR’s Talk of the Nation

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Listen to a full show about the 2010 Census here (in MP3 format): Download

MyTwoCensus Data Capture Center Investigation Part 3: From the Federal Penitientary to the Federal Government

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

We urge you to please read our first post about security concerns at America’s three data capture centers before reading this post.

Situation: You’re an ex-con, fresh out of prison, and you need a job. Who do you turn to? Well, if you live in Baltimore there’s a high likelihood that you would turn to Maryland New Directions, a non-profit organization that assists people finding jobs. This is surely a noble mission, but it may make some Americans queasy if they knew that the people reading, logging, and scanning their 2010 Census data had gone from living at a federal penitentiary to working for the federal government (Of course they are actually employed by subcontractor Computer Sciences Corporation, but you get the picture: These people are bound by the same regulations as all other Census Bureau employees so it’s a fine line they’re walking.).

*Also note that Baltimore public defender Coriolanus A.J. Ferrusi is on the Maryland New Directions board.