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.

Feud over counting homeless escalates: Census employee fired after taking worries to Rep. Doggett

The following comes from

By Andrea Ball and Suzannah Gonzales


U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett has stepped into a dispute between Travis County officials and U.S. census leaders over how the area’s homeless population will be counted for the 2010 census.

For weeks, the groups have been sparring over the times, methods and manpower needed to tally the area’s estimated 4,000 people living in shelters, camps, cars and hotels. But that conflict escalated this week when a census employee called Doggett to say she had been fired for raising concerns about the safety and accuracy of the count.

On Friday, Doggett called U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves in Washington.

“Director Groves promised me he would investigate both the employee’s firing and review the best practices to accurately count the homeless,” Doggett said in a statement Friday.

Census officials across the country plan to count the homeless on three days: On Monday, workers will tally people in shelters. On Tuesday, they’ll count people at mobile food kitchens. And early Wednesday, they’ll head outside to camps and public places such as bridges and sidewalks.

It’s the Wednesday effort that has caused the most friction locally.

That count is planned for midnight to 7 a.m., a time local homeless advocates deem unsafe for census employees. Critics also say the census is not providing enough people or allowing enough time to ensure an accurate count.

“To count thousands of people over seven hours is unrealistic,” said Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant, a member of the Austin-Travis County Complete Count Committee. “This isn’t like going door to door.”

A faulty count would mean losing out on millions of dollars in federal money.

On Friday, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell sent a letter to a regional census official detailing their concerns about counting the homeless.

“Your own Census staffers estimate that the homeless population could be undercounted by as much as 40%,” the letter states. “This would mean 1,000 or more homeless residents would not be counted in Travis County, resulting in the loss of more than $15,000,000 to our community.”

Jeff Behler, deputy regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, said the late-night hours were determined “because, in the research that was done by our staff, it was determined that would be the best time in which that population would be the least transient.”

Local leaders proposed holding an additional daytime event Thursday at the Palmer Events Center with food, music and giveaways for those who came to fill out the census forms. Census leaders said no, Elfant said.

“There appears to be very little wiggle room for communities that want to try innovative things,” Elfant said. “It’s been frustrating.”

Homeless advocates also worry that census takers could get hurt wandering into the greenbelts and wooded areas that late at night. David Gomez, who works with the homeless for Austin Travis County Integral Care, said homeless people could be sleeping, drunk, high on drugs or otherwise impaired.

In a memo obtained by the American-Statesman, U.S. Census Bureau employee Lisa Bayliff agreed.

“There are camps that have barbed wire stretched about 3-4 inches from the ground to trip intruders from easy access,” she wrote. “There are camps that are known meth labs; they have signs posted around the perimeter to warn people to go away … The timing of the operation is flawed and is willingly placing all Census employees at peril.”

Census takers, who will be wearing reflective vests and carrying flashlights, have been told not to wake up sleeping people, Behler said. They will travel in groups, try not to startle people and clearly communicate their intent, Behler said.

Earlier this month, Bayliff took her concerns to the Austin congressman, Doggett spokeswoman Sarah Dohl said.

But this week, Bayliff contacted the office to say she had been fired for speaking to Doggett, Dohl said. That prompted Doggett to call Grove.

Bayliff declined to comment. Jenna Steormann Arnold, spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau in Central Texas, said she could not talk about specifics of the case.

“Yes, she no longer works for the Census Bureau, but since it is a personnel issue that deals with confidential information, we cannot discuss it,” she said.

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2 Responses to “Feud over counting homeless escalates: Census employee fired after taking worries to Rep. Doggett”

  1. Richard Grimes Says:

    Re: Census employee fired-

    There is a spirit within this organization of overwhelming pettiness, backstabbing and politics. Is it all those CEOs who are out of work and landed at the BOC? I doubt it…

    I’ve heard accounts of people being corrected even for writing explanations (even commendation of other employees) of situations to otherwise ignorant ‘leaders’ who then turn, themselves, to other leaders who complain to more immediate managers of the employee (one story was just that, of an employee who sent an explanation, greeting and encouragement to a higher-office flunktionary who in turn sent it to the person being praised, an even higher management individual, who in turn criticized the initial correspondent to the immediate manager for using personal email to write, when that higher manager him/herself wrote to the same personal account multiple times).

    Half of those in the stew become some sort of power mogul, lording over whomever else they can on the flowcharts (which are many); the other half are truly admirable team players who make this station a pleasure to occupy. Forget suggesting anything to the higher ups. They can’t hear it; at least they never respond, even in matters of safety. Some can’t even address an email to the direct recipient; they’ll send it “To:” anyone else who might like to know in passing (“See Mommy- I do good!”), and toss the intended target in among the cc’s. It is an organ cancerous with way too many wannabe chiefs pushing around a few dedicated workers who haven’t the time for bureaucratic power games-

    It appears that, instead of the disciplined democratic application of logic and reasonableness, wherein the valid idea is addressed simply for what it portends to be (such as the employee in question in the article posed) many who don that little badge with the flag become zealots not of sensible rule but of the apparatchik mindset gone amok, taking their charge way too far in thinking they’ve got some power to uphold or defend. An instance was revealed of one census field type walking through an about-to-happen police raid, saying “We’re the government; we have a right to go there!”


    Hardly. A few truly accomplished at the very top maybe, some from backgrounds of immediate manaegement who can understand what dealing professionally with people is about, but this job is filled by soccer moms fried on years of temp office work, veterans (nothing against vets in general, but some among them who otherwise can’t cut it) taking the 10 point preference on test scores, people who can’t hold some other job anyway…

    And we ask and opine as to why someone like a career FBI SA would go wrong and sell us out to the enemy? While we’ve spent thousands of hours on this concept, with hundreds of minds focused on the potential explanation, the best reason I can see is in one such defector’s (Robert Hansen) view that his coworkers were idiots. They probably were. Who previously rewarded his own initiative in helping the cause of the United States with their own petty control game and set him spinning off his original trajectory? All the while, as in the case of the employee in the article, the would-be Lords of the Flies are clambering over whomever they can to get ahead, and completely missing the point, which is that of “Working together toward goals”, as one manual states on the cover.

    I’ve seen several employees say “Now that I’ve got people under me”. Just what we need: someone who can’t suddenly in a position of pushing around those some of whom can better. If 90-day wonders merit disdain among seasoned, dedicated troops in the military, imagine some of these sub-leaders with their 4-days of paid training.

    There’s a concept in big institutions of pulling others down to aggrandize one’s own mean state; never was it more true than at the Census, where 600,000 occasional workers come together to try to make something go- and make a claim for one of the permanent spots themselves- while walking on whomever else they can. I’ve never known such infighting in any other job, and I’m thoroughly sick of this activity, as are several coworkers I know. Let those losers go back to their finance-office-schlep careers, block parties and soaps, and leave this aspect of governance of our nation to the few I’ve met who really can lead.

  2. paco Says:

    Totally true….the worst time and money wasters are called Partnership Specialist. They are the ACORN of the Census, they stay below the radar, claim vast overtime, and do nothing despite always being “to busy” to do the work they are supposed to do.