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.

BREAKING NEWS FROM THE AP: Audit finds 2010 Census preparations wasted millions

H/t to Hope Yen and the Associated Press for the following piece. Of course we are already trying to obtain this complete document to find out the details of exactly what happened…but at the same time, none of this should come as a shock since we’ve been reporting on many examples of blatant waste at the Census Bureau for the past year…
UPDATE: This report from the Commerce Department Inspector General’s Office is now available to the public HERE.

By HOPE YEN (AP) –

WASHINGTON — The Census Bureau wasted millions of dollars in preparation for its 2010 population count, including thousands of temporary employees who picked up $300 checks without performing work and others who overbilled for travel costs.

Federal investigators caution the excessive charges could multiply once the $15 billion headcount begins in earnest next month unless the agency imposes tighter spending controls, according to excerpts of a forthcoming audit obtained by The Associated Press.

On a positive note, investigators backed the Census Bureau’s decision to spend $133 million on its advertising campaign, saying it was appropriate to boost public awareness. The spending included a $2.5 million Super Bowl spot that some Republicans had criticized as wasteful.

The findings by Todd Zinser, the Commerce Department’s inspector general, highlight the difficult balancing act for the Census Bureau as it takes on the Herculean task of manually counting the nation’s 300 million residents amid a backdrop of record levels of government debt.

Because the population count, done every 10 years, is used to distribute U.S. House seats and billions in federal aid, many states are pushing for all-out government efforts in outreach since there is little margin for error — particularly for Democratic-leaning minorities and the poor, who tend to be undercounted. At the same time, the national headcount will employ 1 million temporary workers and is the most expensive ever, making it a visible sign of rising government spending.

The federal hiring has been widely touted by the government as providing a lift to the nation’s sagging employment rate — but investigators found it also had waste.

The audit, scheduled to be released next week, examined the Census Bureau’s address-canvassing operation last fall, in which 140,000 temporary workers walked block by block to update the government’s mailing lists and maps.

While the project finished ahead of schedule, Census director Robert Groves in October acknowledged the costs had ballooned $88 million higher than the original estimate of $356 million, an overrun of 25 percent. He cited faulty assumptions in the bureau’s cost estimates.

Among the waste found by investigators:

_More than 10,000 census employees were paid over $300 apiece to attend training for the massive address-canvassing effort, but they quit or were otherwise let go before they could perform any work. Cost: $3 million.

_Another 5,000 employees collected $300 for the same training, and then worked a single day or less. Cost $1.5 million.

_Twenty-three temporary census employees were paid for car mileage costs at 55 cents a mile, even though the number of miles they reported driving per hour exceeded the total number of hours they actually worked.

_Another 581 employees who spent the majority of their time driving instead of conducting field work also received full mileage reimbursements, which investigators called questionable.

Census regional offices that had mileage costs exceeding their planned budgets included Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Kansas City and Seattle.

Most of the nation will receive census forms in mid-March, and the Census Bureau is asking residents to return them by April. For those who fail to respond, the government will dispatch some 700,000 temporary workers to visit homes in May.

In response to cost overruns, Groves has said he would work to prevent expenses from ballooning further and reevaluate budget estimates for the entire census operation. He has made clear his goal of returning tens of millions of dollars to government coffers by motivating more U.S. residents to mail in their form, which avoids costly follow-up visits by census takers.

As to the Super Bowl ads, Republicans including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have questioned the $2.5 million purchase, which included two 30-second pregame spots, on-air mentions and a 30-second ad during the third-quarter.

The ads, featuring Ed Begley Jr. humorously extolling a new project called a “Snapshot of America,” was widely panned as weak and ineffective by media critics.

“There is a general move in the United States toward more government involvement in the economy. Seeing the U.S. Census spot gives us little confidence that this is going to solve our issues,” blogged Tim Calkins and Derek Rucker, both marketing professors at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

The inspector general’s report said the census advertising was consistent with the government’s goals of boosting participation in the count. The agency has said that if 1 percent of Super Bowl viewers change their minds and mail in their form, it will save taxpayers $25 million to $30 million in follow-up costs.

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13 Responses to “BREAKING NEWS FROM THE AP: Audit finds 2010 Census preparations wasted millions”

  1. JC Says:

    “The inspector general’s report said the census advertising was consistent with the government’s goals of boosting participation in the count. The agency has said that if 1 percent of Super Bowl viewers change their minds and mail in their form, it will save taxpayers $25 million to $30 million in follow-up costs.”

    McCain – the man who doesn’t know how many houses he has – wants to argue over 1 and 2 million bucks? Drop in the bucket…

  2. Techy Says:

    “Another 581 employees who spent the majority of their time driving instead of conducting field work also received full mileage reimbursements, which investigators called questionable.

    Census regional offices that had mileage costs exceeding their planned budgets included Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Detroit; Kansas City and Seattle.”

    What do you expect? The Address Canvassing people had Hand Held Computers which only transmitted *WHEN IN SPRINT CELL ZONES*. Note, that’s SPRINT, not Sprint and other carriers which allow roaming.
    In our area, for example, I had to check each specific crew zone to see how much coverage was, and worked out the most efficient way for them to get to a cell area to maximize travel efficiency.

    And for those who say the HHCs could be used on landlines? Not really. Most landlinds in our area were so degraded and old that it was impossible for users to do so, sometimes taking more than 3 hours to transmit, if it ever did.

    If the other areas were like ours, then we SAVED a lot of employee costs on mileage due to the shoddy thought process on the HHCs that I, a guy making 30,000 a year, pointed out within 3 minutes of learning the items specs. Next time they should pay me the 100k some of my “superiors” are making so I can save them some cash…

  3. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Techy, please provide us with more details. We would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences, particularly the bad ones! Stephen

  4. Techy Says:

    I believe you have my email. Please send me a message via that and we can discuss it more.

  5. I Heart Census Waste Says:

    The $300 per employee is grossly understated. The address canvassing lister training was 40-45 hours (35 hours plus travel time from home to the training site). If each employee was paid only $300, then that implies the hourly rate was $7.50 an hour.

    This weblink shows all the local census offices and the hourly pay for enumerators/listers.
    http://2010.census.gov/2010censusjobs/how-to-apply/local-census-offices.php

    The lowest paying LCOs are: Dodge City, KS Cape Girardeau, MO Lawton, OK $10.00

    but the highest paying LCOs are: Bridgeport, CT Boston North, MA and Boston South, MA $22.75

    An address canvassing lister that was trained and received little or no work could milk the government up to $910 a week.

  6. charlie Says:

    Stephen,
    Why so obvious with your bias/incompetence by requesting “particularly the bad ones” from techy? Please pretend you’re a real journalist. Also, a short anecdote…

    When i was in college, i went to a day of training as a line cook for a major chain restaurant. After training, I decided I didn’t want to be a line cook. They paid me $75 for my day of training, and I never came back.

    Is this similar to what happened with the supposed $3M in “waste” for trainees that didn’t return after training? Yes. Should the execs at the chain restaurant’s “heads fly” for this cost of doing business? Probably not. Multiply my experience and expense by 1,000,000 potential applicants at Census.

    What would you do to rectify the situation? Have Census not pay people for the training day? Then there would be some “journalist” criticizing the Census for not paying hard-working people for hours worked.

    You and the IG can continue living in the perfect world, meanwhile the people at the census need to count 300 million people.

  7. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Charlie – Watchdog journalism is the most important form of journalism. If we only wrote about happy things and good times, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs correctly. Thus, I will continue to investigate every aspect of the Census Bureau’s spending and operations, as that is the mission of this site. Stephen

  8. Techy Says:

    “Is this similar to what happened with the supposed $3M in “waste” for trainees that didn’t return after training? Yes. Should the execs at the chain restaurant’s “heads fly” for this cost of doing business? Probably not. Multiply my experience and expense by 1,000,000 potential applicants at Census. ”

    While this of course happened, there were (at least for our ELCO) several trainings that were ordered by our Area Manager and Field Operations Assistant Manager to train people we didn’t need in areas that were behind. We ended up shipping people from finished areas as they were more experienced, and we did train people fully who wanted to work or work more than one day who… didn’t.

  9. Anonymous CL Says:

    Regarding training costing more than the $300 average per person who didn’t work – Many of the people who left did so part-way through training (didn’t complete it), which would’ve reduced the average cost of training for the people who didn’t work after training.

    Regarding the HHC transmissions – the HHC land-line option was terribly implemented; it never worked at all in some areas, even on very modern good-quality phone lines, such as the one at my house that my desktop computer’s backup modem can get full 56k on with no problems.

  10. WNYC - The Scrapbook » 10 Questions the Count: Our Census Briefing Notes Says:

    [...] seriously, and you have to admire how open they are about the process. That said, there is already legitimate pushback about perceived waste in the system, something we’ll have to keep an eye on. But it also [...]

  11. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Tell us more about the HHC fiasco. Would love to hear stories from the iield – SRM

  12. Dennis Hardison Says:

    Good morning Steve.

    I am now at WO +3 hrs. At a quarter to 8:00 this morning (MDT) I walked out of the Lakewood (Colorado) LCO telling everyone (except for my AMT, who wasn’t in yet) saying “I’m going for a walk”. As I sat at the concrete picnic table drinking my ever-present cup of coffee, I finalized a decision I had been internalizing over for several weeks — I’m not going back in there. After going to the local Denny’s for breakfast (which I had skipped because I came in to the office at 5:45), I got in the car and drove over to the local park and walked the lake three times waiting for library to open. [See next e-mail for continuation]

  13. Dennis Hardison Says:

    Dennis Hardison continued. Since my wife is at home not expecting me back until 3:00 this afternoon, I am spending time here in the library (but I can only use the computer for 1 hour so may take in a movie at 11:00 — something light and comical to contrast the absolute idocy at the LCO.) Wish I could have been a fly on the wall around 8:30.
    I would love to share with you some of my experiences with the Bureau over the past one and a half years — yes, I used the abysmal HHC’s during AD CAN last March and can speak from an historical/hysterical viewpoint (a Harris bailout before anyone knew how incompetent that Company is). Feel free to contact me at dphardis@msn.com (but please wait until after 3:00 MDT Friday so my wife doesn’t see it first). You are doing the public a tremendous service with your website and I want to support it in any way I can.
    Thank you,
    Dennis