Census Bureau Officials: The Questionnaire Assistance Center and “Be Counted” site debacles
Update from the authors in response to comments: The QAC Representative’s duty station is the QAC site so they are not paid for mileage to and from the QAC site. For field staff their duty station is their home so they are paid milage to and from training (enumerators, crew leaders and field operations supervisors, partnership assistants and recruiting assistants) If they exceed eight hours a day in training the rest of the hours go into overtime. However if they are under 40 hours a week whether they receive overtime rate pay is not known.
A group of Census Bureau officials who have requested anonymity (but have had their identities verified by MyTwoCensus.com) shared the following report with us about Questionnaire Assistance Centers and Be Counted sites:
We are a team of recruiting assistants partnership assistants, clerks and questionnaire assistance center representatives who worked with the Questionnaire Assistance Centers and pooled together our resources to write you this article. We hope this article will answer many of the questions communities have about the Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC) and Be Counted (BC) sites.
As you know Questionnaire Assistance Centers or QACs are places staffed by Census Bureau employees where people with a question about filling out their census form, need language assistance or believe they were not counted on their own household form can pick up a form. The only difference between QACs and BCs is that BC sites are not staffed. The intention is good but a series of poor management mistakes, lack of communication and prioritizing quantity over quality undermined the operation and will ultimately lead to an under count in the New York region.
In other regions partnership works with the local census offices but in our region they work out of the regional census center and independent of the local offices. The search for QAC and BC sites was a partnership task, however the management and staffing of these sites is done at the local census office by the Assistant Manager for Quality Assurance (AMQA). For months though, the local census office never interacted with partnership. Sometime early this year the local census offices discovered that there would not be enough QAC and BC sites and so the recruiting assistants were told to go out and in addition to recruiting applicants find potential QAC and BC sites.
At the local census office level all anyone was worried about was getting the “magic number of QAC sites” and in a mad scramble there was no regard to quality. There was little guidance given as to what would be a good QAC. Of course most community based organizations loved the idea of being a QAC because it was beneficial to the community they served. But most of these QACs were during weekday hours and some were little known organizations with no foot traffic. The big corporate giants such as chain banks who were census partners were the worst. They are featured on the 2010 Census website as being census partners but when it came time to ask them to be a QAC they flat out refused.
In the third week of February all the local offices were told they needed to get all partners who agreed to be a QAC site confirmed by signing a conditions for donation of services and space agreement. When local census office employees went out to visit these places who had originally agreed to be a QAC some refused to sign the contract. Those who refused to sign the agreement did so because of a clause that basically says the Census Bureau retains their right to sue the partner if they do anything to screw Uncle Sam. Other partners denied knowing they agreed to be a Questionnaire Assistance Center. Many of the partners listed in the Integrated Partnership Contact Database (IPCD) which partnership used to keep track of their partners were either phantom or ones where partnership merely went to a networking event and took business cards. When crunch time came the new directive was we could accept verbal agreements and forget about the contract. Of course that lowered our legitimacy considering we had ID badges with no pictures.
The training was even worse. The QACs are staffed by census bureau employees who are trained for one day (see attached training schedule). But considering that there is two hours of administrative paperwork and an hour of fingerprinting the actual training is a half day. Many of the trainers rushed the training because they didn’t want to go into overtime. The employees are paid the overtime rate if training goes over eight hours in a single day even if you are under forty hours for the entire week.
The 2010 Census website www.2010.census.gov pulls the QAC sites’ location and hours from the Integrated Partnership Contact Database (IPCD) which is an off the shelf piece of sales management software from salesforce.com. On March 19th, the first day the QAC and BC sites were scheduled to open, the 2010 Census Website didn’t even feature all the sites, the wrong sites or the wrong hours. The following Monday headquarters pulled the website offline.
The QACs are open on average about 15 hours a week but a lot of us wanted more hours because we were paid at the clerk rate, the lowest level of LCO pay. For some of us during the first week we were sitting at places where there was either no foot traffic or the line was out the door and around the block.
In summary, the QAC/BC operation is another example of Census Bureau dumb decision number 7485840, 7485841 and so forth. 7485840: prioritizing quantity over quality of QAC sites
7485841: training QAC representatives for less than a day
7485842: using an off the shelf piece of sales management software which was overly complicated
7485843: having partnership working independently of the local census office
7485844: an agreement that tells your partner you will not waive your right to sue them
They could of done this with fewer sites and better hours. It is extremely hard to manage almost a hundred QAC sites. Some of our QACs were understaffed, some have no traffic, others are not staffed when they should be. As for partnership, they are held to no performance standards. The regional director and top managers in our region accepts what headquarters tells them to do, puppets of a huge bureaucracy and does little to advocate the special needs of the region.
When the 2010 Census ends and the Census Bureau advertises the thousands of nationwide partners that helped them by donating space and services it should be taken with a grain of salt. Most of the partners in the Integrated Partnership Contact Database aren’t really partners and even if they are they now want to back out knowing that Uncle Sam will not hold them harmless and sue them if they screw them.