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.

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Have the Census Bureau’s language translation services been shoddy?

After receiving some credible tips from readers, on Sunday, February 14, 2010, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information about language translation services and the 2010 Census. We’ve heard too many rumors that some of the language translations have been completely sub-par. Was this yet another incident of a contractor screwing up a census contract or was this run of the mill taxpayer theft?

Here’s a copy of our request:

Dear Ms. Potter and Staff:

Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. ยง 552, I am requesting a copy of the contract paid by the U.S. Census Bureau to Diplomatic Language Services in regard to the 2010 Census. If there are other documents that are-related to the termination of this contract or any controversies surrounding this contract, I would like to receive those documents as well. I am also requesting any memos from staff members of the Census Bureau regarding this contract and/or the quality of services rendered by Diplomatic Language Services in regards to translation activities.

As you probably already know, I run, the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 Census. My work has also appeared on,, and other publications.  Since this is a non-commercial request and the release of these documents will serve the public interest (because analyzing these documents is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government), I am requesting that all fees be waived.

I am also requesting expedited processing of these documents under the clause on your web page that states I can do so if this information is “urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity.” With the 2010 Census just around the corner, and recent reports by the Associated Press and other organizations that language translations have been inadequate and sub-par, this request deserves your prompt attention.

If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your withholding of information. Notify me of appeal procedures available under the law. If you have any questions about handling this request, you may telephone me at any time.


Stephen Robert Morse

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4 Responses to “MyTwoCensus Investigation: Have the Census Bureau’s language translation services been shoddy?”

  1. ColeslawPatriot Says:

    Well done.

  2. Phillip Says:

    I have been hired for the Census Project as a Russian speaking agent. I am not a native speaker but I work with several native speakers. We have just finished training.

    I can tell you that according to all of the native Russian speakers, the translations for Russian are very poor. The Russian text (most of which must be read verbatim) is extremely wordy and clumsy, and filled with type Os and linguistic errors.)

    The Chinese translation, according to all native Chinese speaking agents at my location is rude clumsy, inaccurate, and in the less appropriate dialect.

    Similar story for the Korean, and Vietnamese texts.

    Because of this, and the verbatim policy, I would say AT LEAST 10 percent have quit before the first actual work day. The stress and potential for embarrassment and more stress has been too much for them.

  3. Phillip Says:

    I have to add to my above post that I am delighted and grateful to have this job. I can also appreciate that a great effort was probably put into the translations by individuals. Also, my training was outstanding.

    But those scripts for the agents, oh how they need to be revised! (The Russian script could be cut to half size at least) How expensive could revisions be in light of the huge wastes- especially when compared to what they will cost the census effort? Think of all the agents who will quit and need to be replaced. Think of the responders will be put off and not respond.

    All it would take is for a few native speakers to sit down with the script texts for a few days to correct, revise and winnow them down to a polite, accurate and efficient use of the language.

    It blows my mind!

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