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.

Notes From The Field: A Story Of Waste At The Census Bureau

UPDATE: Click on these documents (HERE and HERE) to view examples of just how much waste there is. We are also hoping that Census Bureau employees can send us photos and other documentation of entire warehouses full of materials being destroyed.

The following story was written exclusively for MyTwoCensus.com by an anonymous upper-level local Census Bureau official in California. Maybe Tony Soprano should have won himself a Census Bureau contract, because it seems like waste management is an extremely lucrative business. Enjoy this:

There have been many articles about bad technology and over-hiring of staff at the Census Bureau which has wasted millions of our taxpayer’s dollars. The bright side is that these jobs are providing a stimulus to our economy. However so far no one has spoken about the paper /printing waste at the Census Bureau which is the most visible part especially as a local census office employee.  From my initial estimates this waste could top at least in the millions and maybe a billion dollars.

There are many forms of waste including: single sided printers, employee manuals on high quality paper, thousands of administrative forms and full color recruiting brochures which are printed and never used. Let us also not forget the promotional posters which partnership is scrambling to get rid of because after the questionnaires go out in two weeks they play a little role except encouraging people to mail it back. First, they are the high speed printers which default to print singled sided because we were told they were set that way for map printing. However if we try to default the printers to double sided for our other print jobs we are violating the contractor’s Harris Corporation warranty agreement. Add to that managers and clerks who each feel the need to print their own copy, and make copies of copies (single sided of course) and the occasional office idiot who does not check his printer settings before printing the two thousand page report single sided and we go through entire reams of paper in a day.

Then there are the thousands of manuals and administrative forms on high quality paper we receive in our shipments. It would be a different story if the thousands of manuals were printed on 100% recycled newsprint, like the test prep books in the bookstore but they are not. Maybe I’d feel less guilty if the administrative forms we receive were being used, but they are not used. After each operation our manager receives a headquarters memo (attached) that authorizes them to throw out hundreds of boxes of administrative forms and manuals that were never used. And it doesn’t end there. The national processing center print millions upon millions of forms only to find out there is either an error or an update is needed making the previous editions garbage. We will receive a memo to destroy the old ones. Only to get another pallet of them and sometimes it’s the same version. Add to that the overestimated workloads we still have hundred of boxes of group quarters validation questionnaires and full color recruiting brochures left (and recruiting ends this month)

After address canvassing which was a computer based operation we threw away hundreds of manuals but very little administrative forms. However after group quarters validation, the first paper based operation and the first wave of recruiting ended we threw away hundreds of blank administrative forms and outdated recruiting brochures. Since our local census office was in a building that didn’t recycle we put them in the shredding bin. But the bin filled up very quickly and we were told to just bag them in black garbage bags and dispose of them since they contain no sensitive information. It took us weeks of throwing out manuals, forms everyday before we were able to rid ourselves of it.

One of the supervisors summarized it well when she said: “They treat all the employees like crap…tell everyone they are not willing to pay a cent of overtime and that they have to do their job in under 40 hours otherwise their work will be given to someone else or they will be terminated.” But then they spend your hard earned taxpayer’s dollars to print full color glossy recruiting brochures by the thousands, truck them across the country, have them sit idle in a storeroom only to throw them out a few months later.

My TwoCensus should submit a FOIA request to expose this waste because this is frankly appalling. Among the questions the watchdog group should ask is:

What is the total printing cost and amount of paper for the 2010 census broken down by: administrative forms, partnership posters, employee training manuals, census forms?

How much waste has Shred-It, the national contractor for destroying sensitive information, received from the offices and how much revenue is being generated?

Due to the overestimated workloads and overrecruiting exactly how much extra money went to printing these unused manuals, forms and promotional materials?

How much money is Harris Corporation making by contracting high speed printers and computer equipment which are running up paper, toner and employee costs?

How much money could of been saved if they printed the thousands of manuals on 100% recycled newsprint instead of high quality paper, double-sided all the printers and limited printing jobs to prevent accidental job spooling of thousand page reports?

Next week when we receive our shipment for NRFU (which is like 30 pallettes), they should take back the 10 pallettes of material we still have in our office from last October we are not using to Indiana so they can get a sense of how much waste this is. I want MyTwoCensus.com to try to get Congress and the Inspector General’s office to expose this fruitless waste of money by visiting these offices, conducting an audit or trucking this waste to a centralized location so everyone to see how much waste was produced instead of black bagging it and trying to cover it up. In the age of being green, waste reduction and take back programs not only is the census stuck in primitive paper operation but it is producing administrative forms, manuals, color brochures and posters which are just being thrown away.

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26 Responses to “Notes From The Field: A Story Of Waste At The Census Bureau”

  1. Suitlandman Says:

    Never heard anyone talk about saving paper at Census headquarters.
    They like printing single-sided on a color printer.

  2. MissV Says:

    I just finished my third Census training (after which they told half the people they wouldn’t be using them, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic). I’ve gotten the exact same training manual each time. We can write in them, so I’m sure they are discarded after each use. I was thinking about that in training yesterday, and mutliplying it by thousands of people, not to mention the extras. This confirms that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

    I work as a contractor for another federal agency office and it’s the same thing. SO much paper used, just in my department. Everyone prints every email they get, huge PowerPoint presentations printed one slide per page.

    Thanks for sharing the inside perspective – I totally agree that Congressional intervention is needed on this.

  3. MrT Says:

    I wonder how much is wasted printing the maps for NRFU when 95% of them will not be used since all the enumerators will not need them to find most of the addresses?
    On demand printing is available for those that are needed.

  4. LB Says:

    “The national processing center print millions upon millions of forms only to find out there is either an error or an update is needed making the previous editions garbage. We will receive a memo to destroy the old ones.”

    Interesting, I just finished my third training and instead of corrected booklets, we were given “errata” sheets to update our error riddled booklets. However, in my 1st training, the booklet had all sorts of errors (screen shots didn’t match the handhelds, etc.) and as far as I know…those were destroyed. Some of the forms vary such as the confidentiality forms for each mission (not sure if the words vary or just the small print on the bottom that details which operation it’s referring to). I have held onto my pay roll forms from previous operations so I can use them this time, because my CL told me that if I turn them in, there’s no telling what will be done with them.

  5. TR Says:

    My latest training manual is stuffed with loose inserts correcting pages. Some of the pages don’t seem to be any different, many are minor clarifications, and a few are major corrections.

    I haven’t checked because I don’t have any old ones, but the confidentiality forms have an OMB authorization number that is legally required to be divulged to those interviewed. It may be different for every operation, hence the need for different versions of the form.

  6. Al Forteni Says:

    The Los Angeles Region has mismanaged everything, materials, staffing, communication. It hired managers who had little knowledge of managing people or operations.They overspent during Address Canvassing because they hired and trained too many people, a statement made by the Director. They hire managers based on their age, young, and attractiveness. These managers move up deadlines and put tremendous pressure on the field to meet these deadlines, causing operational and quality problems. They compete against each other in hopes they will get one of the few positions in the Regional Office once the 2010 is over. They fire field staff and managers because they speak out about the abuses and mismanagement. They are tyrants who care only about looking good on daily reports.

  7. Suitlandman Says:

    Al Forteni, You are right about the desired qualifications for Census managers.

  8. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Would love to hear everyone’s story of printing waste…feel free to share them here!

  9. Anonymous CL Says:

    The printing AND distribution of paper materials was/is handled poorly. It seems that some regions are trashing things unnecessarily more than others; in my region the main problem is with getting enough of things rather than getting too many and being told to waste them.

    A significant part of the problem is the more-cost-effectively bulk-printed documents (forms and manuals) often not being distributed to the local offices in a timely manner (1-2+ month typical delay on non-preplanned restock requests, both for paper forms/manuals and for other office supplies!), leaving many local offices no choice but to print the necessary documents themselves in the meantime.

    Almost all of the updates (‘errata’ sheets and sometimes whole replacement versions) are due to errors being noticed that should have been corrected before they were bulk-printed in the first place, but they didn’t bother to employ decent editors/proofreaders to catch such things when they should’ve been caught instead of at past-the-last minute.

    FWIW, only the regional offices have color laser printers. The local offices each have about a half-dozen big high-volume HP black-and-white laser printers, and a small low-volume HP color inkjet printer.

    “I’ve gotten the exact same training manual each time. We can write in them, so I’m sure they are discarded after each use.”

    The only field training books that are the same from one operation to the next (except for updates) is the CL/FOS Self-Study workbook (about general procedures such as how to fill out a reprimand form, IIRC) and the employee handbook:
    D-590: Employee Handbook for Enumerators, Recruiting Assistants & Crew Leader Assistants
    D-591: Employee Handbook for Crew Leaders & Field Operations Supervisors

    The field training handbooks/manuals/workbooks are discarded after each use because of people’s highlighting and writing (often including writing your name on it), but only the employee handbook and FOS/CL Self-Study workbook would be potentially relevant to be used again anyway. ALL other field training manuals ARE specific to each operation.

    “I haven’t checked because I don’t have any old ones, but the confidentiality forms have an OMB authorization number that is legally required to be divulged to those interviewed. It may be different for every operation, hence the need for different versions of the form.”

    Nope. The confidentiality notices are definitely all identical (except for a special one to be used in Puerto Rico, and likely one for CCM operations). They already included both OMB numbers on it, an (all-too-rare) example of actually planning ahead well.

    D-31: Confidentiality Notice (English on one side, Spanish on the other side) (download D-31.pdf)

    “The approval number for the collection of address information in 2009 is OMB 0607-0809.”
    “The approval number for the collection of personal and address information in 2010 is OMB 0607-0919-C.”

    If some stupid managers decided to demand throwing away perfectly-good pads of confidentiality notices, that is completely inexcusable.

    They can change the internal documents whenever they want (such as fixing careless errors in the training manuals), but the documents that go out to the public (such as the D-31 confidentiality notices, and the actual Census forms) are all pre-approved way in advance (before the massive national bulk-printing begins) to be publicly used only in that exact version, so there’s no way they would’ve changed the D-31 now.

  10. Anonymous CL Says:

    The rest of Al Forteni’s post is accurate, except for this sentence:

    “They hire managers based on their age, young, and attractiveness.”

    Not true of most of the local managers and most of the travelling regional people I’ve seen, LOL. Almost all are middle-aged or older, and very few are good-looking. (I wouldn’t normally make a point of it except as a counter-example since it was brought up.)

    Related to appearance, what is odd is how they insist that everybody dress up and never be seen in jeans, or non-collared shirts, or etc etc (most strictly in the local offices, but sometimes enforced on the field workers too). They even ‘discourage’ tennis shoes, but realize that they can’t really prohibit that for people with foot problems.

  11. Al Forteni Says:

    Anonymous CL:

    What I said is specific to the LA Region at the Regional Office level. They did hire two senior Area Managers to begin with, otherwise there would be nobody who knew anything. Now the two are made fun of in the Regional office. There is a great deal of bias in the Regional Office, not just based on age but in general. One Area Manager goes around boasting she has so many EEO complaints against her but, she doesn’t care,she can still sleep at night.

  12. DGN Says:

    Census hiring blitz of 750,000 to cut jobless rate, offer boost to Obama
    By Ian Swanson – The Hill 03/09/10 01:36 PM ET
    The U.S. Census Bureau expects to add up to 750,000 workers to its payroll by May, a hiring binge that could knock the unemployment rate down by as much as a half-point…..Almost all of those hired will be doing “non-response follow-up work” that involves going door to door to collect information from people who did not return their census forms.

    How long employees are on the payroll depends on how long it takes to collect the information, but the bureau expects its payroll to peak in May and to begin winding down in June.

    That means hundreds of thousands of people who find work through the census will need to find new jobs later this summer…..

    Please see the complete article at: http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/85711-census-hiring-blitz-of-750000-to-cut-jobless-rate-boost-obama?page=2#comments

  13. Anonymous CL Says:

    Al: For an operation that tries to standardize the work as much as possible, there does seem to be a surprising amount of variation from one region to another and even from one local office to another. Not the first time I’ve heard such differences exist, but I’m appalled that apparently the differences even extend to how much attention is given to discrimination complaints. My region has threatened people’s jobs over even minor complaints.

  14. I Heart Census Waste Says:

    In my office they have started to throw away boxes and boxes of recruiting brochures and giving away partnership posters.

  15. Al Forteni Says:

    I heard LA is having all the recruitment materials shipped to another region. Are they trying to hide the issue?

  16. Former AMFO Says:

    There might be a possible shortage in another region.

  17. Al Forteni Says:

    There might be a shortage but, recruitment is winding down as hiring for the biggest and last operation has begun. From what I understand, a few boxes of specific recruitment items were sent to specific offices but hundreds of boxes were sent to the regional office. That regional office will wind up disposing of the excess.

  18. Unemployed Census Worker Says:

    I was hired as a census worker from March 2009 until May 2009. I was laid off after only 5 weeks even though we were promised 12 weeks of work. I haven’t been called back even though I am an unemployed veteran with a college background. I called the local offices and they were very patronizing/condescending to me when I asked about getting recalled. To make matters worse, I met a young woman, with no college and not a veteran, who got hired at the local office in a clerical position. Do I have a case? Has anyone else had this problem? Should I pursue this?

  19. Anonymous CL Says:

    Try calling the office again and tell them you want to modify your application, to increase your hours/days of availability (if you didn’t already select everything) and to be in the pool for office work in addition to field work (if you didn’t already select both of those).

    The hiring process can be an inconsistent black-box-y mess, but that might help your chances.

    Unfortunately, they don’t consider education levels at all. It’s recorded in the system, but never used (not even able to be used) as a selection criteria.

  20. Mark Says:

    These “jobs” are not a bright side for the economy – they aren’t stimulating anything. Any money given to these workers are first taken from someone else (thru taxation or inflation (secret taxation)). Stimulating these workers mean suppressing other workers, which is a net zero in the economy.

    It’s not even a net zero, since, as you wrote, the government wastes the money taken from the taxed workers, which, in the end, means this “stimulus” is actually a negative for the economy.

  21. jessica smithe Says:

    I haven’t even read this article yet (which i plan to do so after submitting my comment) except for the very first few lines which mention about taking pictures of all the waste going down at the census. well I can tell you first hand that you will NEVER see any kind of pictures regarding anything that goes on in the three buildings associated with the census tabulation. there are absolutely NO cameras allowed inside these buildings, their VERY strict and VERY secure!! but i can tell you that once the forms have all been checked over numerous times, they are sent to the mulcher which granualizes the paper into sand type of a material, and this material from the mulcher is then disposed of properly. I would have to say that i am very disappointed in the fact that ALL the empty opened envelopes are put into specific trash bags and then disposed of but not recycled. so, i think it’s pretty sad that all this paper has to just go to waste and cannot be recycled instead. i see no harm in that and they could even send the empty opened envelopes to a shredding company just to be sure or use the mulcher machine they use for the questionaires!
    one last thing : i understand somewhat the reason behind sending a letter to inform people their questinaires are being sent out shortly and to send them in (in doing this they have figured that the response amount is increasingly higher) but this is SUCH a waste of time, money, and paper!!!! it’s just sad how much money is put into this entire project!!!!! i could go on and on about what a waste our government is spending on this project when i could see a million ways they could save LOTS of money!!!!!

  22. jessica smithe Says:

    @ Al Forteni’s post sentence:
    “They hire managers based on their age, young, and attractiveness.”

    I HIGHLY disagree here!!! this may just be a minor observation but all in all, i think it is sad that such a thing is even said!! really, if you have nothing to say regarding their lack of abilities, qualifications, etc. then just keep your mouth shut!! they hire based upon everything EXCEPT the age, attractiveness etc. all the team leads and manager’s i’ve seen at the capture center are just normal folks of all ages, race, ugliness, attractivenesses, etc.

  23. Rural Ronnie Says:

    Abhorrent waste is my whole reason for being here. It’s truly horrifying. The materials waste is but one issue, albeit a huge one. Does anyone have a link to the decennial Census budget numbers?

    I’d also like to see MyTwoCensus become a vehicle for advocating a complete overhaul of the US Census. It needs to be destroyed, rebuilt and run like a business. Please, please, can we not advocate for serious, constructive suggestions for change? I understand the want of a place to vent frustrations, but you have a pretty special thing going on here. You have an experienced audience willing to share inside stories, MANY about the needless waste of taxpayer dollars. I know everyone must have ideas for improvement.

    As for the paper waste, here’s MYTwoCensus: How about putting all of the content (manuals, forms, etc) into a secure database and allowing employees to view online, and download pdfs as needed? Everything would be updated in real time. No need for errata (this is not a new idea in the regular world). If necessary, managers could provide paper versions to people without computers or internet access. Someone else suggested Kindles (innumerable issues with that idea, but I’d love to see the comparative numbers for printing vs Kindles). Whatever it is, a solution exists.

    LET’S RUN THE 2020 CENSUS LIKE AN EFFICIENT BUSINESS!

  24. Anonymous CL Says:

    The office staff do download PDFs of many of the manuals/forms from a secure database. That’s how they print more of them in-office when shipments fail to arrive. For the vast majority of the temporary workers to use, it all must be on paper, unless in a future Census they all are issued something like Kindles loaded with the manuals. The current need to have all the manuals and forms on paper is not just an issue of ‘which field workers don’t have computers/internet at home’, it’s an issue of all workers needing to be able to refer to the manuals and fill out the forms at all times while in the field for hours away from their computer, and all workers needing to be able to see everything while being trained with no computers/internet in front of each one of them in the thousands of temporary locations used for field training.

  25. Paul Sun Says:

    Does anybody know where I can get a copy of the US Census Bureau Employee Handbook? Also, is there a Human Resources Department for this group…I’m assuming its OPM, but just need to be sure.

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