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 November, 2009

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Why was a convicted felon employed in a Census Bureau managerial position?

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

If Thom Gruenig (who was just killed by Alaska police after apparently killing his own mother) was a convicted felon, why was he working as a Field  Supervisor for the Census Bureau? Is this yet another failure in the Census Bureau’s background check system?

Here’s his online resume (Click anywhere on it for a more legible version):

GruenigOnlineResume

From the Anchorage Daily News:

Court records indicate Thom Gruenig was charged in Fairbanks in 1995 with burglary and second-degree theft. He was convicted on the felony theft charge and has not been charged in a criminal case since. Kathryn Gruenig appeared to have no criminal history.

From the Fairbanks Daily News:

He was born Earryn Depace Wylie, but had his name legally changed to Thom DePace Wylie Gruenig in 1997. Gruenig had been going by that name for about 12 years, but was ordered by a judge to put all his legal documents under one name in 1996 following a conviction for felony theft for burglary.

Gruenig pleaded no contest to stealing $30,000 worth of computer equipment from a UAF building with two other men in 1992. He was sentenced to 18 months probation, which he completed successfully, according to court records. He had no other criminal record.

MyTwoCensus will soon get to the bottom of this…

The Naked And The Dead: Another Census Employee Tragedy

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

Trooper kills armed Fairbanks man; mother found dead

911 CALL: Officers believe woman tried to get help before dying.

By JAMES HALPIN
jhalpin@adn.com

Published: November 24th, 2009 10:06 PM
Last Modified: November 25th, 2009 01:51 PM

An Alaska State Trooper shot and killed a naked, knife-wielding man at a Fairbanks home Tuesday morning after he confronted officers and refused to put down the weapon, according to troopers. Investigators later found the body of his mother inside the home lying next to a phone.

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Kathryn Gruenig

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Thom Gruenig

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Troopers say the man, Thom Depace Wylie Gruenig, 38, was declared dead at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital shortly after the shooting. Found in the home was his mother, Kathryn L. Gruenig, 66, whose death was being investigated as a homicide, troopers said.

Troopers were summoned to the home off University Avenue and College Road about 7:40 a.m. after getting a 911 call during which dispatchers heard labored breathing but got no answer, according to troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters. A lone trooper, who was not immediately named, knocked on the door with medics standing by.

“The guy comes to the door, confronts the trooper and, you know, he’s naked and got a knife in his hand and the trooper backs away and tries to get him to drop the weapon,” said Col. Audie Holloway, head of the troopers. “He doesn’t. He continues to advance on the trooper and the medics, which are right there close to where the trooper’s at, and so the trooper’s forced to shoot him.”

Christine Lundberg, 58, lives across the street from the home on Hess Avenue. She said she had just taken her granddaughter to school and returned home when she saw a police car.

“Next thing we know, there’s a whole bunch of cop cars outside and then there was like a popping noise: Pop, pop, twice,” she said. “We stayed inside because there was cop cars everywhere. They had assault rifles and just running around. It was crazy.”

Lundberg said the woman and her son live in the brown home but that she didn’t know them well. Sometimes she would say hi when she saw Thom walking to the University of Alaska Fairbanks or his mother going to her car, she said.

Neighbor Dover Williams, 59, said the home has always been quiet, and the people living there kept to themselves.

“They have real tall fences around their lot and they’ve got a lot of the Siberian pea that’s grown quite tall, so you never really saw them that much at all,” Williams said.

City property records indicate the home belongs to Kathryn Gruenig, assistant to the director at UAF’s Institute of Northern Engineering. Thom Gruenig was currently working as a field operations supervisor for the 2010 Census, according to a resume posted on his personal Web site. He has previously worked for the University of Alaska, his resume says.

As medics began trying to save Thom Gruenig, the trooper went inside to find out why 911 was called and found his mother, Holloway said.

Troopers’ “working theory” is that she called 911 as she was dying, he said., though he wouldn’t say how the woman died. Asked if she was stabbed to death, he said, “Not exactly.” Also unclear was why Thom was naked.

“We have no idea,” Holloway said. “We don’t know if he just happened to be that way or if he was on drugs or crazy, you know, we don’t have any clue at this point.”

Investigators found a marijuana growing operation in the lower level of the home involving about 30-40 plants. Holloway said investigators didn’t yet know if the drugs played a role in the situation.

Interview With Robert M. Groves: Census Director focuses on putting IT to the test before the big count

Friday, November 27th, 2009

H/t to Gautham Nagesh of NextGov for the following interview with Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves:

Since his confirmation in July, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves has found himself in charge of the costliest and most controversial census to date.

Well-publicized technology issues and budget overruns have hampered the bureau’s preparations for the 2010 count. Last month, Groves told lawmakers that the budget overruns leading to the decennial count’s $15 billion price tag were “intolerable.”

But he told Nextgov on Monday that the bureau plans to push the limits of new technology in tests scheduled for after the Thanksgiving break in hope of making sure the census goes as hitch-free as possible in April 2010.

Groves was the director of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and served as associate director of the 1990 census in 1990. Nextgov reporter Gautham Nagesh spoke with him on Monday about the preparations for the 2010 census and the bureau’s progress on solving some of the technology problems that the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general found.

Nextgov: What is the status of the bureau’s preparations for the 2010 decennial census, especially concerning the information technology systems needed to support it?

Groves: I came in July and had not been there since 1990. There are a couple things to note on the IT side: First, I’ve been focused clearly on decennial IT issues, not on looking backwards. We have a new chief information officer, Brian McGrath, who came in weeks before me, and he was engaged in sort of the same thing I’m doing — checking the nature of the infrastructure for the decennial.

We had on our table GAO and IG reports concerning the lack of testing in an integrated way of the various subsystems used for the decennial census. We had some outside folks take a look at whether core subsystems were being tested in an integrated way.

We also have a new set of software we’re building as a result of the abandonment of the handhelds that will support paper-based nonresponse follow-up. That is the critical task on the software side I spend the most time on. After Thanksgiving we will perform a load test on systems that will be in action during nonresponse follow-up. We’re going to make sure we break the system to measure the capacity.

The other thing that’s notable from your readers’ perspective: We’re 80 percent through opening 500 different local Census offices, each of which has its own computer network issues. That was done through Harris Corp., part of the Field Data Collection Automation contract. We’ve got 400 local offices up and running, each site is its own little story. After some initial bumps that seems to be going well.

Nextgov: What was the situation like when you arrived regarding IT systems development? What in your view caused or contributed to the IT challenges at the Census Bureau?

Groves: I haven’t spent much time going back and diagnosing those problems. I have to focus on the future.

But I am a believer in certain philosophies when you develop software and hardware products for large, diverse sets of users, including that a user has to be at the table from Day One. The user has to be part of the inspection process for all the intermediate products as they are developed. The notion of writing down all the specs for complex systems and getting them right the first time, having programmers go away for a while and code those specs, that’s an approach that brings with it big risks.

In my past life in software development I have learned from a management perspective that you’ve got to get the user there all the time. They have to be part of the development. Humans can’t anticipate all the features of a software system before they see the first version of it.

But I need to emphasize that my job hasn’t been postmortem on handhelds, I have just not done that.

Nextgov: There were reports that the handhelds had some problems during address canvassing, particularly regarding their mapping function. How are you dealing with those?

Groves: There are two parts of the master address file: the geographical information that provides boundaries for aerial units and the address records. The big good news is that after this gigantic address canvassing operation, the number of records we have is very close to independent estimates of what it should be: 134 million households. That’s a good thing, based on the independent benchmark we get from sample surveys.

Now we’re going out and checking for clusters of records deleted [during address canvassing]. If you were listed in address canvassing and you noted that an address was improperly placed in a block, your job [as a canvasser] was to delete that one address and add it in the correct place [using the handheld]. We’re scrutinizing any clusters of deletes. In some regions we’ve reinspected areas that look suspicious.

Nextgov: What do they find upon reinspection?

Groves: We’re getting spotty results. It’s not a slam-dunk one way or the other. When we go out and have a whole group of addresses deleted, sometimes everything looks fine, sometimes the ones that were deleted were duplicates, and sometimes they were deleted in error. There’s no typical result.

Nextgov: The idea of using the Internet to collect responses was proposed and rejected last year, despite conducting a pilot in 2000. What’s your opinion on allowing responses online? Is that something you think should be explored for 2020?

Groves: My son filled out a questionnaire for the 2000 census on the Internet. The decision to eliminate the Internet option for 2010 was made before I got here. I haven’t diagnosed that decision. I know the most commonly cited reason is concerns about security, which are indeed real and completely legitimate.

Looking forward, I can say I can’t imagine a 2020 census without some Internet use. At the same time, in the same breath we have to know that neither you nor I have any idea what the 2020 Internet is actually going to be capable of. When I say we must have an Internet option, I must admit I’m not quite sure myself. We have to take advantage of the technology; other countries already are. In 2006, 18 percent of Canadian households responded to their census on the Internet.

Nextgov: Do you plan to serve beyond next year? Would you like to be involved in the planning for the 2020 count?

Groves: I serve at the pleasure of the president and will serve as long as he is pleased with my service. I’m terribly interested in 2020 and also interested in innovation in all of the other surveys the Census Bureau does, thousands depending on how you count. The challenge of doing economic and social measurement in this country is never-ending. The rate of innovation lets us use technology in new and important ways; it can change the way we measure the country. That pace has to pick up in any organization like the Census Bureau. I’m terribly interested in being part of that.

MyTwoCensus Investigation and Editorial: Skeptical Over Sparkman Outcome Until More Details Are Provided

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Since yesterday’s revelation by the Kentucky State Police, FBI, U.S. Forest Service,State Medical Examiner’s Office and the Clay County Coroner’s Office, that the death of  Census Bureau employee William E. Sparkman, Jr., “based upon evidence and witness testimony” was “an intentional, self-inflicted act that was staged to appear as a homicide,” many eyebrows have been raised.

Now, insurance fraud is definitely a common occurrence, but to take one’s own life for a small payout is extreme, and cursory searches on Google reveal that this case provides many of the top hits when searching for a suicide that was staged to look like a murder. Thus, this is a very rare occurrance, so these conclusions should be further examined before the door on this case is shut forever.

According to the Associated Press, “Sparkman ‘told a credible witness that he planned to commit suicide and provided details on how and when.’

Authorities wouldn’t say who Sparkman told of his plan, but said Sparkman talked about it a week before his suicide and the person did not take him seriously. He told the person he believed his lymphoma, which he had previously been treated for, had recurred, police said.

Sparkman also had recently taken out two accidental life insurance policies totaling $600,000 that would not pay out for suicide, authorities said. One policy was taken out in late 2008; the other in May.

On November 12, The Huffington Post reported the following:

“If it’s deemed suicide, there’s no point in even looking at insurance,” Josh Sparkman said. “There’s no such thing as suicide insurance. The money is not the concern. I just want to know what happened to my dad.”

Sparkman’s naked body was found Sept. 12 near a family cemetery in a heavily wooded area of southeastern Kentucky. One of the witnesses who found the body said the 51-year-old was bound with duct tape, gagged and had an identification badge taped to his neck. Authorities have confirmed “Fed” was written on his chest likely in pen.

Josh Sparkman, 20, who is unemployed, said he’s convinced his father could not have committed suicide, even though law enforcement officials previously told the AP on condition of anonymity that they are looking closely at that possibility and increasingly doubt he was killed because of his government job.

Yet after yesterday’s announcement, Sparkman’s own mother wrote to the Associated Press, referring to the swift conclusion of the case, “I disagree!”

With so many people worried about a lack of participation in the 2010 Census, federal and state agencies had every reason to end this case quickly and quietly. Until the hard evidence about how Sparkman masterminded his own death is provided, this conclusion should be taken as theory, not a fact. While it is interesting to hear basic details in the AP report (“On Tuesday, authorities for the first time released key details such as Sparkman’s wrists being bound so loosely that he could have done the taping himself. Kentucky State Police Capt. Lisa Rudzinski said an analysis found that the “fed” on his chest was written “from the bottom up.” He was touching the ground almost to his knees, and to survive “all Mr. Sparkman had to do at any time was stand up,” she said.), more evidence that goes beyond circumstantial evidence must be provided to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that no other parties were involved in this heinous act.

An autopsy report on Sparkman’s body is still pending, so we await the result of that investigation, as well as a more comprehensive report from the federal and state agencies responsible for overseeing this case.

Kentucky State Police Report on Bill Sparkman’s Death

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

The following is the Kentucky State Police Report on Census Bureau employee Bill Sparkman’s death:

The Kentucky State Police Post 11 in London, with the assistance of the FBI, the U.S. Forest Service, the State Medical Examiner’s Office and the Clay County Coroner’s Office, has concluded the investigation into the death of William E. Sparkman, Jr. The investigation, based upon evidence and witness testimony, has concluded that Mr. Sparkman died during an intentional, self-inflicted act that was staged to appear as a homicide.

While all the details of the investigation will not be released at this time, the unusual level of attention and speculation attributed to Mr. Sparkman’s death necessitates this release of information. The investigation indicates that Mr. Sparkman died of asphyxiation/strangulation at the same location where he was discovered in Clay County, Ky. Despite the fact that Mr. Sparkman was found hands, feet and mouth bound with duct tape, rope around his neck and the word “FED” written on his chest, analysis of the evidence determined Mr. Sparkman’s death was self-inflicted.

A thorough examination of evidence from the scene, to include DNA testing, as well as examination of his vehicle and his residence resulted in the determination that Mr. Sparkman, alone, handled the key pieces of evidence with no indications of any other persons involved. Witness statements, which are deemed credible, indicate Mr. Sparkman discussed ending his own life and these discussions matched details discovered during the course of the investigation.

It was learned that Mr. Sparkman had discussed recent federal investigations and the perceived negative attitudes toward federal entities by some residents of Clay County. It was also discovered during the investigation that Mr. Sparkman had recently secured two life insurance policies for which payment for suicide was precluded.

All tips and leads, including those from the public, were thoroughly investigated but were found to be inconsistent with any known facts or evidence. It is the conclusion of the Kentucky State Police, the FBI, the U.S. Forest Service, the State Medical Examiner’s Office, and the Clay County Coroner’s Office that Mr. Sparkman died in an intentional, self-inflicted act that was staged to appear as a homicide.

Breaking News: Police: Kentucky census worker committed suicide, staged scene

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

This just in from CNN…(MyTwoCensus.com will publish an editorial about this finding tomorrow morning):

(CNN) — A Kentucky census worker who was found dead in September committed suicide and staged the scene to look like a homicide, authorities said Tuesday.

The body of William E. Sparkman Jr., 51, was found September 12 near a cemetery in southeastern Kentucky’s Clay County.

He had a rope around his neck that was tied to a tree, but his body was touching the ground, authorities said. He had “Fed” written on his chest in black ink, Kentucky State Police said Tuesday, but forensic analysis showed he wrote it himself with a felt pen.

“Analysis of the evidence determined Mr. Sparkman’s death was self-inflicted,” police said in a statement.

“A thorough examination of evidence from the scene, to include DNA testing, as well as examination of his vehicle and his residence resulted in the determination that Mr. Sparkman, alone, handled the key pieces of evidence with no indications of any other persons involved.”

OhMyGov: Census website aims to reach every American, stumbles badly

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Check out OhMyGov! for more insightful critiques of the government:

Decent idea, poor design

By Alex Pinto
Nov 23 2009, 10:59 AM

If the financial crisis, health care squabbles, and general celebrity deaths of the of the past  few months have caused you to forget, next year is a census year. And a newly launched website, 2010census.gov, has been developed to make sure Americans are ready, and to conveniently address their questions, concerns, and paranoiac fears about being counted.

The site is part of the Census Bureau’s campaign to “reach every resident in America” and plays up the Census as a way for everyone to participate in democracy.

To accomplish that mission the site boats some big features. A huge Flash marquee takes over most of the front page—a landscape picture from the point of view of Lincoln surveying the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument.

“The heart of the new website is the animated marquee that represents a cross-section of America,” proclaims Dr. Robert M. Groves, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, in a video on the site.

Mousing over the different people pops up frequently asked questions (text and audio) which are answered by a very calming man. But only if you keep your mouse perfectly still. Hover over the dot incorrectly and you’ll be thrust into a different question, which creates a jarring effect that’s somewhere between amusing and annoying. In either case, the message is lost, and users are left hoping for a simple FAQ list.

Then there’s the problem of loading the entire animated marquee for the soundbites to work, and it takes an unusually long time even by the standards of other Flash-heavy sites. If you don’t have broadband, you’ll be waiting a very long time indeed.

Memo to Census: if you want to reach every resident in America, don’t use Flash.

Event tonight in Los Angeles…

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Here’s the LINK to the event…

Is the Census Controversial?

Moderated by Steve Padilla, Assistant National Editor, Los Angeles Times

The California Endowment
1000 N. Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA

The Census Bureau is fundamental to American democracy — its ten-year counts determine representation in Congress and in the Electoral College, and influence federal and state funding for health, education, transportation, and more. Businesses rely on the Census to predict demand and choose locations; governments use it to make housing decisions, study communities, map roadways, create police and fire precincts, and plan local elections. But because of this vast impact, the Census also confronts controversy each time it sets out to count. Americans of all political leanings have strong preferences for whom and what they want counted, and obstacles often prevent the Census from making full counts, particularly of minority groups. Some, recalling the Census’ history of providing information on various groups for national security reasons, regard the count with skepticism and mistrust. With the 2010 Census looming, Zócalo invites a panel of experts — including UCI’s Jennifer Lee, UCLA’s Paul Ong, Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles and Arturo Vargas of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials — to consider how the Census works, how it might improve, and why it is relentlessly controversial.

Census 2010: Counting Soldiers

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

From BryantCountyNews.net (of Georgia):

Denise Etheridge
Posted: Nov. 17, 2009  4:04 p.m.
Updated: Nov. 18, 2009 1 a.m.

Local officials hope to change the way the national government will count deployed soldiers in the upcoming 2010 Census.

Soldiers are counted as residents of their “state of record” rather than counted as residents of the local area in which they are living at the time they deploy, confirmed Lauren Lewis, Partnership Specialist. Therefore, an estimated 14,000 soldiers assigned to Fort Stewart and who live in Hinesville and surrounding communities will not now be counted as part of the local population when they deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is how it is done nationwide,” Lewis explained. She said military personnel who will be serving overseas when the Census is taken will be added to their home states’ population figures.

Lewis oversees a 10-county area that includes Bryan, Liberty, Effingham, Tattnall, Glynn, Evans, Chatham, Long, McIntosh and Toombs counties.

Officials from Liberty County, Hinesville and other local cities have signed and sent a letter to U.S. Rep.

Jack Kingston and U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson requesting their support in changing the way the Census currently counts active duty service members. Community leaders continue to stress the impact population has in determining the amount of money the federal government distributes to states, and states, in turn, apportions to counties and cities.

Jeff Ricketson, director of the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership, said a dialogue began last week at a partnership meeting about the Census and how deployed military members are counted. Ricketson said local leaders are concerned their cities and counties – particularly Hinesville and Liberty County – will be financially penalized over a 10-year period based on the Census count.

The letter, he said, was sent to Georgia’s Congressional Delegation. The partnership includes the counties of Liberty, Bryan, Long and Tattnall, and the cities located in these counties.

U.S. Census Bureau and Lockheed Martin Open 2010 Census Data Processing and Call Center Facilities in Phoenix

Friday, November 20th, 2009

As MyTwoCensus has reported on numerous occasions (such as here, here, here, and here), we are extremely suspect of the lax standards for employment at the Census Bureau’s three data capture facilities, such as lack of drug testing and the use of subcontractor after subcontractor being hired to perform tasks that they may not be qualified to perform. These factors are recipes for sensitive-information related disasters:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WEDNESDAY, NOV. 18, 2009

Jack Martin
CB09-CN.34
Public Information Office
301-763-5937
e-mail: <jack.m.martin@census.gov>

U.S. Census Bureau and Lockheed Martin Open 2010 Census Data Processing and
Call Center Facilities in Phoenix

The U.S. Census Bureau today opened its last of three data capture
centers that will process 2010 Census questionnaires as they are mailed
back by households across the nation next spring. The 212,000 square-foot
facility in Phoenix will bring more than 2,800 jobs to the area.

“Processing the 2010 Census questionnaires accurately and safely at the
data capture centers is a crucial step to a successful census,” said Census
Bureau Associate Director for Decennial Programs Arnold Jackson. “The
responses from each form processed at the facility will help provide a
complete count of the nation’s population and a new portrait of America.”

The Phoenix Data Capture Center is expected to process about 30 percent
of the census forms mailed back by respondents. The remaining forms will be
sent to the Census Bureau’s National Processing Center in Jeffersonville,
Ind., and the data capture center in Baltimore. The 2010 Census forms will
be mailed in March, and the majority of the data processing will occur
between March and July.

The call center is one of only 11 facilities to serve as an information
resource/hotline for questions people may have when completing their forms.
The Phoenix professionals will answer questions about the process and
completing the questionnaire, and will follow-up with respondents if their
returned forms are not complete or potentially inaccurate.

Both facilities will be managed by Lockheed Martin. Its subcontractor
partner, Vangent, will manage the hiring efforts for the 2,830 new
employees, most of whom will be hired starting in January 2010. Each worker
will take an oath for life to keep census information confidential. By law,
the Census Bureau cannot share respondents’ answers with any other
government or law enforcement agency. Any violation of that oath is
punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison.

Cash Cuts May Cost California Billions

Friday, November 20th, 2009

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

By Marissa Lagos

(11-16) 04:00 PST Sacramento

California has slashed the amount of money it will spend on the 2010 census, a move that experts warn could lead to a flawed count and cost the state billions in federal aid over the next decade.

Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau – which recognized early that states wouldn’t have as much cash on hand – is redoubling its efforts. For example, in 2000, 18 census outreach workers were dedicated to the Bay Area; this year, the bureau assigned 160.

The U.S. government hands out about $400 billion to states and local jurisdictions every year based on population counts made during the nation’s decennial census. The money pays for local hospitals, schools, public housing, highways and unemployment insurance.

While the federal government pays census workers to take counts, states and local governments spend money on census outreach efforts to stress to residents – particularly those who may be wary – the importance of the census.

But because of deep budget cuts in the 2009-10 California spending plan, the state has earmarked less than $2 million for 2010 census outreach, down from nearly $25 million a decade ago. The cut in state census outreach funds is a problem that federal officials said is playing out across the country.

In California, the cut means many counties, which 10 years ago received grants from the state for outreach in addition to using their own money, will get little or no state funding for 2010 census outreach. Some counties struggling with their own fiscal problems also have cut local funding for census outreach.

Undercounts costly

Sonny Le, a spokesman for the U.S. Census Bureau, said outreach is critical to ensure residents fill out the census forms that will be delivered to every home in the United States in March. Many people don’t understand the reason for filling out the form, while others are reticent to share information with the federal government.

Each uncounted resident could result in the loss of $1,000 a year in federal funding for a state, according to the nonprofit Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees.

Ted Wang, a census consultant working for the group, said state and local outreach efforts play a critical role in communicating with populations that historically have been difficult to count.

An undercount also could cost California a congressional seat for the first time in its 150-year history, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said.

In 2000, 70 percent of the U.S. census forms that were sent out in California were returned – though only 58 percent were expected, said Eric Alborg, a spokesman for the California Complete Count Committee, a group formed by the governor in June to oversee the state’s census outreach.

Even with a higher-than-anticipated rate of response, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar (Los Angeles County), estimated that California lost $2 billion to $3 billion in federal funding over the past decade because some people were not counted.

“If this year is a bad count, how many more billions could we lose?” Fuentes said.

The governor’s office defended the cuts as necessary and pointed out that in 2000 – at the height of the dot-com boom – the state was flush with cash.

‘Hard to count’ groups

“Given the breadth of the recession and the toll on state revenues, we had to make cutbacks in virtually every area,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance, who added that state officials recognize the importance of the count. “We’re pleased we are able to commit resources for outreach efforts to reach individuals that are hard to count.”

California is home to 10 of the nation’s 50 counties with the largest “hard to count” populations, which include people of color, young adults, immigrants and low-income residents. Alameda and San Francisco counties are among the 10 counties, topped by Los Angeles County.

People harder to find

Further compounding the challenge is the economic and political climate, experts said. The financial crisis, including the waves of foreclosures, has forced people into homelessness or nontraditional housing, making them hard to find.

Officials said some immigrant populations are expected to be even more wary of the count than usual because of an uptick in immigration raids and anti-immigrant rhetoric in recent years – including an attempt by several Republican U.S. senators to exclude undocumented residents from the count and require respondents to disclose their immigration status. The amendment was defeated, but sponsor David Vitter, R-La., has vowed to raise the issue again.

To make up for the cut in state census funds, the state is working closely with elected, religious, nonprofit, community and educational leaders to develop plans to reach out to residents and get accurate counts via the California Complete Count Committee.

The state is also developing a Web site that will offer tool kits in census outreach to community partners.

Meanwhile, some local jurisdictions are trying to bridge the gap left by state cuts. San Francisco and Santa Clara counties ponied up money in their budgets to fund local efforts. For the first time, San Francisco created a “complete count committee,” which includes community, business, labor and nonprofit leaders to help with outreach.

Still, serious challenges lie ahead, says Adrienne Pon, who is leading San Francisco’s efforts.

“There are no (state) funds this time around, and populations are more dispersed and diverse … (so) we’re trying to be more street smart and direct outreach mobilization efforts,” she said. The largely African American Bayview-Hunters Point “had the lowest rate of return in 2000. We know of eight neighborhoods like that one which we are targeting.”

From Our Inbox: A New 2010 Census iPhone App

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

From Zubin Wadia of CiviGuard:

MyTwoCensus Team,

I figured you as someone who might be interested in publishing our Census taking app for the iPhone…

http://www.icensus2010.com

The Census Bureau will not allow people to respond to surveys online… I assume this is because it is very difficult to ensure no duplicity or contamination of results (from hackers etc.).

The http://2010.census.gov site debuted about 2.5 weeks ago… and it had the 2010 form available in English and Spanish for anyone to review. A few days earlier at the Government Technology Conference I had the privilege to hear Vivek Kundra speak to us.

One thing that resonated deeply with me was his vision for a world where agencies share their data and vendors organically come up with solutions. The Census Bureau did just that. They put the form online. They made their travails public. I thought it was a travesty that the USA, in 2010, cannot allow people to do electronic censuses.

So I created an iPhone app with my team for it. It can easily be ported to the Android platform in 2 weeks. And even if the public may not be able to use it – the Census Bureau perhaps can. We are still 100+ days away from Census day 2010… which leaves plenty of time to perform any back-end integration with their address database.

The paper version of the form can be downloaded in PDF here:

http://2010.census.gov/2010census/pdf/2010_Questionnaire_Info.pdf

About the App:

- Checkboxes are hard to do on the iPhone (not a supported component out of the box) – but it works great for this use-case and we made it happen.

- Once a survey is done (takes 2 mins for normal cases), a JSON message is created, it is encrypted, compressed and sent to a REST-style web service on Google’s App Engine.

- The system uses GeoTagging to add a layer of validation. You must be within US territories. You must be within 1 mile of your home billing address related to your cell number. Then you can do a census. One census per household.

- Integration with Telecom databases and the Census Address DB is of course pending. Our expectation is that the application will have enough buzz to yield next steps with the Census Bureau.

About CiviGuard:

http://www.civiguard.com

We focus on Public Service 2.0 solutions for the US Government. Our core focus is emergency management – our CiviCast platform is the first solution in the world to offer guided evacuation or isolation guidance to civilians during a crisis. This is far more capable and detailed vs. the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) specification currently being pursued by the Fed.

WSJ: Census Turns To Kids For Help

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Click HERE for full article from the Wall Street Journal

By Miriam Jordan:

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Census Bureau is recruiting a new set of volunteers: kids.

Seeking to ensure strong participation in the decennial population count, especially in so-called hard-to-count neighborhoods, the bureau has decided children are key.

That has led it to settings like Arlene Paynes’s first-grade class at Union Avenue Elementary School in this immigrant enclave on the edge of downtown. Last Thursday, the class gathered to read aloud a story titled “Who Counts?”

They learned about a boy named Joey who helps his grandmother, an Italian immigrant, fill out the Census form that arrives in the mail. The grandmother and grandchild decide that those who “count” in their household are Grandma, Mom, Dad, Joey, little sister Mary — and even Mr. Macintosh, who occupies a spare room “until he finds a job.” The only one who doesn’t count: their cat Clover.

It is always a struggle to get everyone to participate, but the 2010 count is expected to present new challenges. The gloomy economy has forced many people to move or seek temporary residence with friends or family, making them harder to reach. And the U.S. is still absorbing the largest wave of immigrants since the beginning of the 20th century. Many aren’t native English speakers; more than 10 million are here illegally.

The bureau is rolling out initiatives here and in other hard-to-reach tracts. It is running an information campaign in Spanish-language media, sending representatives to operate booths at street fairs and distributing forms in more languages than ever.

Early next year, households nationwide will begin receiving a form with 10 questions. It’s shorter than in the past, according to Census officials, and should take only 10 minutes to complete.

“Making children part of the national conversation,” said Renee Jefferson-Copland, chief of the school program at the Census Bureau, might be one of the most effective tools for reaching many adults.

The Suitland Files: Inside The Census Bureau (Part 2)

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I apologize for taking so long to post the second half of the series that I started nearly two weeks ago, but I’ve been traveling extensively and things were getting quite hectic. Without further ado, I present to you an inside look into my meeting with top communications/public relations/press officials at the Census Bureau’s HQ in Washington, DC:

After making idle chit-chat about Europe, climate change, and Dr. Groves’ travel habits (like any good reporter, I try to extract information wherever possible) for more than half an hour with two private security guards inside their security booth on the perimeter of the Census Bureau’s fenced off headquarters (they refused to let me sit on a bench outside even though it was a warm day…), I was greeted by Derick Moore (who Steve Jost authorizes to make the official Census Bureau comments on MyTwoCensus posts) and Eun Kim, a new Census Bureau PR official who until very recently was a DC reporter for Gannett (hmmm…I wonder why she jumped over to the dark side…).

After clearing a round of metal detectors, I made my way up the elevator with my two aforementioned handlers. I was led to a waiting room where I made some chit chat with Derick and Eun who each told me about their careers in private sector media. (I pray every day that the allure of a solid government salary with good benefits doesn’t one day catch up with me too…) Steve Jost, chowing down on a sandwich and french fries, returned and had us follow him into his office. We all sat down, with me at the head of the table. With white hair and a bit of scruff on his face, Jost wasn’t the devilish and egotistical Nazi I expected he might be, but rather a jovial guy who immediately poked fun at my comments about him on this site. I replied that I made those comments when I was thousands of miles away in the safety of my own home, and I had never expected to be sitting down with him in person. But I had no regrets. My job is to be a watchdog, and a vigilant watchdog I will be.

Last to arrive at our meeting was Stephen Buckner, the mouthpiece of the 2010 Census (spokesman) who had the boyish charm of a high school quarterback. I’m sure that fifteen years ago he easily cruised his way to a victory during elections for homecoming king.

Jost was the leader of this round-table, so between french fries he started firing off all of the positive accomplishments that he and his team have made, while clearly avoiding any of the shortcomings. Here’s a rundown of the most interesting things that he said:

1. High unemployment rates and homeowners losing their homes to foreclosure will cause problems with the 2010 Census.

2. The hardest group to count is “young, unattached people” who move frequently, only have cell phones, are between jobs or studies, etc. — NOT immigrants or minorities, as one might expect from all of the Census Bureau’s hard-to-count group advertising…(MyTwoCensus will investigate this further in the near future!)

3. The Census Bureau has created a series of ads using pop music…get ready to find these on your TV screens starting in early January.

4. The participation rate in the Census increased for the first time since 1970 in 2000, despite general trends that fewer and fewer people are involved in civic activities like voting, performing jury duty, etc. Hopefully they can once again reverse this trend in 2010.

5. 95% of media consumers will be reached multiple times by 2010 Census advertising campaigns.

6. 53% of 2010 Census advertising is local. 47% is national. (Note: MyTwoCensus has not heard back yet as to whether our proposal to let the Census Bureau advertise for the 2010 Census on this site was accepted…)

7. Spoiler Alert: Sesame Street will be featuring a 2010 Census storyline via The Count and Rosita characters.

8. 2010.Census.gov was redesigned.

9. Though 173 forms of social media have been integrated with Census Bureau awareness efforts, no I-Phone Application has been created for the 2010 Census.

10. The 2010 Census forms will be mailed to all households in America (hopefully) on March 17, 2010. (Let’s hope drunken St. Patty’s day revelers don’t interfere with the efforts of the U.S. Postal Service…)

11. When selecting advertisements for the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau asks the creative directors of 12 different advertising firms to submit proposals via a “creative rumble.”

12. Hopefully there won’t be a repeat of the 2000 Advance Letter Debacle in 2010…

13. There will be extra Census Bureau staff in New Orleans to personally hand deliver 2010 Census questionnaires to every household.

14. The address canvassing portion of the 2010 Census provided data that there are approximately 134 million individual housing units in the US, down from original estimates of 140 million.

15. Many addresses in places like Las Vegas where construction on homes was started but never finished have been deleted from the 2010 Census rolls.

16. Very, very, very few people hired to work for the Census Bureau as temporary workers have quit during the 2009-2010 cycle, as other jobs are extremely scarce.

17. On November 17 at 9:30am, Dr. Robert M. Groves will be holding his next monthly “State of the 2010 Census” address…

I was given some handouts (drawings of a 2010 Census logo on a NASCAR racecar that will be unveiled soon), portions of powerpoints (that showed me data about levels of Census participation), and had the opportunity to see one of the hip-hop music based commercials that was recently shot in LA and will soon be airing nationwide. It was a smooth operation, and my questions were answered well. Were the answers necessarily honest? No. But did the PR team effectively do their jobs to give give off the image of squeaky clean 2010 Census communications operations? Absolutely.

Consuls from Latin America will help with the 2010 Census

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

From the LA Times:

In an effort to allay any fears between the immigrant community and federal authorities, officials with the 2010 Census met with consuls of several Latin American countries to ask for support in their communities to spread the word about the importance of being counted.

“It is vital that every person living in the United States takes part to assure accurate representation and funding for vital services”, said Marycarmen Moran, promoter of the 2010 Census, adding that the consuls agreed to do all they can to make the census a success.

This cooperation is needed because Latino immigrants, mainly undocumented, have expressed concern regarding the confidentiality of the information obtained during the process, according to consulate officials.

“The immigration status of the individual is an issue that has generated some fear among immigrants”, said Eddie Bedon, Ecuador’s Consul General. “The Office of the Census has assured us that the confidentiality of the information will be safeguarded, and the census is being conducted irrespective of immigration status”.

“For Ecuador,” Bedón continued, “the information gleaned from the census will be very important. The statistics regarding the number of Ecuadoreans who live and work here will help us meet their needs, and defend their rights and interests”.

William Jarquin, Consul of El Salvador, also affirmed that his government is committed to working with the census. “For Salvadorans it is extremely important because we need to know just how many of us are out there”.

Pablo César Garcia, Consul General of Guatemala, said: “Immigrants need to understand that when they cooperate with the Census, they are helping to create statistics that will then be used to obtain more community investment because, based on these statistics, the city of Los Angeles will receive more [federal] funds for education and health”.

In addition to the consuls from Guatemala, El Salvador and Ecuador, at the meeting with Census officials were also present consuls from Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, Bolivia, México and the Dominican Repúblic, among others.

–Paula Diaz/HOY

Prison Spotlight: The Diversity Myth

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Here’s an interesting angle about the 2010 Census from a Kansas City Star opinion piece:

How Places With Prisons Falsely Boost “Diversity”

By Marie Sanchez

The 2010 U.S. census will soon be upon us, and by now you may have heard one of the patriotic pitches to comply.

Every breathing soul must be tallied during the massive federal endeavor, the national headcount taken every decade. The census is central to the functioning of our democracy, we’re told.

The data are used to distribute $400 billion in government spending, to compile countless reports on educational needs, to plan for economic development and formulate public policy.

More important, census data have a direct bearing on congressional districts and the Electoral College. The information is crucial to help us uphold the constitutional principle of one person, one vote.

So why, then, is the federal government gearing up to distort this vital set of data by how it accounts for the nation’s booming prison population? Prisoners are counted, not according to their home address but where they are incarcerated.

At a glance, this might not seem like a big deal — until the details of our nation’s 2 million inmates are broken down. Rural communities with large prison populations suddenly appear to be bastions of diversity, while those without prisons continue to see their population numbers slide.

On average, inmates serve for 34 months before returning to their original communities. They never shop, dine, attend school or otherwise become members of the towns and cities where they are warehoused while paying their debt to society.

One distortion this way of counting population causes is what some activists call “prison-based gerrymandering.” Because population figures are used to determine legislative districts, voting power is diluted in some areas and falsely ramped up in others.

The NAACP, no doubt recalling how black people were once considered three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation, was among the first organizations to call for reform. Because 12 percent of black men in their 20s and 30s are in prison at any one time, urban areas lose out on the strength of those uncounted inmates.

But it’s actually rural communities, where prisons are often built, that suffer the most from the distortions. Peter Wagner, a Massachusetts-based advocate for the Prison Policy Initiative, has found 173 counties where more than half of the black population is made up of inmates. Seven state senate districts in New York alone, he argues, would need to be redrawn if inmates were omitted from population figures for the areas where they are doing time.

Local officials in some parts of the country have responsibly attempted to eliminate the distortions. Bravo. The town of Anamosa, Iowa, changed the way it elects city council members after discovering that the population of a state penitentiary created a ward where a candidate got elected on the strength of two write-in votes. His inmate constituency of about 1,300 prisoners was roughly as populous as the town’s other wards.

With census-takers already completing the process of verifying addresses for the spring headcount, it’s too late for the government to change how it plans to conduct the 2010 census. Recording the true home address of inmates would be costly (an estimated $250 million), and many prisons don’t have the information readily available.

What the government can do to help rectify the situation is release the prison data earlier than planned, in time for states to take the information and delete those numbers for redistricting purposes.

Criminals forfeit a lot when they get locked up. They lose the right to vote, in all but two states.

They lose daily interaction with loved ones and the chance to engage in meaningful work. What they shouldn’t lose is the sense that their presence counts.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send e-mail to msanchez@kcstar.com.

Bernie Miller Chosen To Third Term In Census Post

Monday, November 9th, 2009

From Chattanoogan.com:

Dr. Bernie Miller, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship Church, was unanimously nominated to his third term as chairman of the Census Bureau’s African American REAC (Race, and Ethnic, Advisory Committee). The action was taken at the Census Bureau’s fall meeting in Washington, D.C.

In addition, his fellow REAC chairs unanimously selected him to be their representative on the influential Census’ 2010 Decennial Advisory Committee. Dr. Miller replaced Asian chair, Dr. K.V. Rao, who had held the position for the last six years.

Dr. Miller said, “To have the confidence of the Asian, Indian, Hispanic and Alaskan Native chairs is quite an honor. We all work very well together solving issues that relate to reaching the hardest to count. I’m always looking for common ground that will unite us as one voice, because a unified collective voice gets things done quickly.”
Three weeks ago, Dr. Miller wrote a letter on behalf of the five REAC chairs to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chairwoman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee responsible for the Commerce Department, opposing the now-defeated Vitter-Bennett Senate amendment that sought to add a question to the census form asking respondents to report if they are citizens and legal residents.

He said, “Changing the content of the questionnaire at this late date would have likely delayed implementation and completion of the 2010 census.”

We Li, co-chair of the Asian advisory committee, said, “Bernie’s statements were well articulated. I thank him for his superb leadership. It was his taking the high road at one of our meetings that set the tone for a win-win situation. He has demonstrated great proven leadership and I am truly grateful for it and looking forward to working with him more.”

No citizenship question on Census form

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

The 2010 Census will count all people living in the United States, including immigrants who are not citizens.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) proposed an amendement last month that would have required the Census Bureau to ask whether people were in the country illegally, and would have excluded illegal immigrants from the population counts.

Senate Democrats blocked the proposal this afternoon in a 60-39 vote. More from the AP:

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats Thursday blocked a GOP attempt to require next year’s census forms to ask people whether they are U.S. citizens.

The proposal by Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter was aimed at excluding immigrants from the population totals that are used to figure the number of congressional representatives for each state. Critics said Vitter’s plan would discourage immigrants from responding to the census and would be hugely expensive. They also said that it’s long been settled law that the apportionment of congressional seats is determined by the number of people living in each state, regardless of whether they are citizens. A separate survey already collects the data.

Census data is also used to distribute billions of dollars in federal aid.

“The current plan is to reapportion House seats using that overall number, citizens and noncitizens,” Vitter said. “I think that’s wrong. I think that’s contrary to the whole intent of the Constitution and the establishment of Congress as a democratic institution to represent citizens.”

If Vitter were successful — and if noncitizens were excluded from the census count for congressional apportionment — states with fewer immigrants would fare significantly better in the upcoming allocation of House seats.

State such as California and Texas would fare worse than they would under the current way of allocating seats, which under the Constitution is based on the “whole number of persons” residing in a state.

Announcing a new member of the MyTwoCensus team…

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

We have a great new guest editor on board, so stay tuned for her posts:

Emily Babay is a senior and history major at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the online editor of the Daily Pennsylvanian where she coordinated tons of political coverage for the 2008 elections. She also works at Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and drinks excessive amounts of coffee. She can be reached at babay@mytwocensus.com and you can find her on Twitter at twitter.com/emilybabay.

Cities starting Census outreach efforts

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

As we told you last month, the Pew Charitable Trust found that major cities are behind in their outreach and awareness preparations for the 2010 Census.

That’s changing now.

Philadelphia, which was at the center of the Pew study, took a step toward those outreach efforts earlier today, when Mayor Michael Nutter announced an executive director for Philly Counts, the city’s Census-awareness campaign. Patricia Enright, a current Nutter aide, will assume that position.

That appointment came just days after Detroit officials announced plans to use volunteers and community organizers to help with outreach and making sure all citizens are counted.

Making sure all citizens are counted is a top priority in cities like Philly and Detroit, which have seen significant population loss in recent years. From 2000 to 2008, both cities ranked in the top five for the greatest decrease in the number of residents.

As the 2010 Census will determine federal and state funding based on a city’s population, there’s a lot of incentive for cities — especially those with declining populations — to put forth great effort in making sure all of their residents get counted.

Readers, what’s going on in your city? Are Census-awareness efforts already under way? How effective do you think they will be?