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.

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.

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13 Responses to “Census Bureau Officials: The Questionnaire Assistance Center and “Be Counted” site debacles”

  1. WT Says:

    At my local census office, unapproved overtime (over forty hours per week) is a fireable offense (and overtime is never approved). Work over eight hours a day is not considered overtime. However this may not apply to office staff–I work in field operations as a crew leader.

  2. paco Says:

    Tell the WHOLE truth….you can only work 40 hrs a week. This is true, you can work over eight hours a day, true again. You can work 15 hours a day and then work 1 hour the next day. It doesn’t matter how you work your hours as long as it’s not over 40. That’s the reality of being a crew leader…something that is told to you in training and part of doing the job. Overtime is never authorized unless approved by the area manager in WRITING! Something else that is drilled into you from the begining of training, so it’s not a surprise unless you were sleeping in class!

  3. SAS Says:

    I’m currently training people myself, and here’s how I present the overtime policy:

    For most of the census operations, scheduling is flexible—employees arrange their schedules to do the work that’s assigned to them. For this sort of work, 40 hours/week is the overtime rule. If the employee wants to work 16 hours a day and 1 the next, that’s no problem (so long as they’re able to work productively at those times, of course!). Only if they went over 40/week would they need overtime authorization.

    The exception is when the employee is specifically directed to work a particular schedule, and that schedule takes them over 8 hours in a day. This doesn’t happen too often in field operations, but can happen during training, or if field staff were called in to help out in the office. In these cases, the employee *is* paid overtime after 8 hours.

    In my LCO, we authorize overtime during training for this very reason—that by the time you add a commute to a 7+ hour training day, people are probably over that 8 hour limit. It seems that the NYC area doesn’t do it like this.

  4. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Transcript from Tuesday’s Press conference… Says:

    [...] first page, and further note how they weren’t clearly answered…(My questions discussed allegations made by Census Bureau employees about [...]

  5. kenny masters Says:

    I myself am a QAR and can tell you everything in this article is spot on. The training was one day as stated, filling out paper/finger printing took up much time of the ‘training’. They made sure everyone in the training was paid only 7 hours instead of 8. I was led to believe that I would be working about 25 hours a week, that quickly turned into 9 hours. The hours I received are in the evening around dinner time, so I see little to no traffic when ‘working’. Now if you work anytime between 6pm-6am that is automatically counted as overtime, what’s funny about this in my situation, they neglected to mention any of this information until about 2 weeks (after the start date, 3/19) into the JOB. My superiors gave me excuses that they didn’t find out until the day before, this is past April 1st mind you. My LCO office is totally unorganized, little to no communication with it’s QAC rep’s, I rarely see my supervisor(s) as they are driving like madmen to over 50 (if not more) different QAC sites. This is most certainly a case of quantity over quality, seems to me I was hired just for the sake of making the unemployment rate go down. I Wouldn’t be surprised in the least bit to find the people who submitted this article were in the Westchester region of NY which is where I am a QAC rep. Thanks mytwocensus for getting the truth out. My experience working for the census bureau so far has been frustrating and anything but a pleasant one.

  6. WT Says:

    I was slightly incorrect when I said that field operations staff are never paid overtime for exceeding 8 hours in a day. For field operations staff, time spent training enumerators is considered overtime if you go over 8 hours in a day. However, this rule only applies when training.

  7. HotQACRep Says:

    If you think things are bad in Westchester county why don’t you ask the QAC representatives in the metro New York City area. I heard one of the QAC reps came to work under the influence of alcohol. He was immediately terminated. The next day the rep came back to the QAC and proceeded to take a dump at the site. Can anyone verify this story?

  8. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    HotQACrep – whatttt?

  9. LCO-AM Says:

    Our LCO had poor representation from Partnership. QAC/BC seemed to be a very low priority, heck, anything to do with the LCO was a low priority for partnetship.

    We had one meeting where partnership actually showed up at the LCO (our LCO covered nearly 50 counties)and that was only due to a meeting with the local CCC.

    The daily teleconferences were not conductive to anything positive, the whole experience seems disjointed or one sided.

    Partnership had originally given our LCO a list of nearly 300 sites, we were authorized less than a hundred.

    Of those 300, there was a high percentage of duplications and an enormous amount of bad data – incorrect facility names, wrong addresses – and even worse, many of the contacts listed stated they were never contacted by anyone!

    This bordered on falsification of data, but partnership seemed to be the teflon division – division being the key term. Maybe that is too harsh, they had other priorities, obviously.

    To make matters worse, late in the operation we started getting requests to open new sites above and beyond our approved list. Many of these were a joke, and one even generated – ONE response to date.

    “It’s politcal” was the reasoning we were given.

    Most of our sites went flawlessly – yet, as usual, the problems get all the attention…..

    The training was a rushed (it all is, none was worse than MaRCS though) and that caused problems with proper expense reporting (many people were not aware of how to properly file for their per diem, for example, and now want to be paid).

    Back to the orginal list of potential sites, many of these did sign on and fully expected to be sites, but were never “authorized” and sites were never set up at them.

    My notes will be in detail and included in the debrief.

  10. RS Says:

    Exact same scenario in Georgia. Only interacions between RCC partnership and LCO AMQA were finger-pointing and blame shifting. Too many QACs in stupid places (for example in a one room afterschool daycare center…wtf). Several sites never had one single person visit. Multiple sites within very short walking distance of each other (some even visible from each other) NO ADVERTSING OR PRESS ANNOUNCEMENTS about the QACs in local newspapers, website completely wrong (many sites not listed, some sites listed as QACs where non existed again, AMQA and region partnership specialist blame each other and neither ever resolved problem). Boxes and boxes of giveaways (hats, t-shirts, mugs, pins, notepads, etc) shipped to one single QAC in a small remote town that only had about 10 visitors the entire month, while other sites weren’t sent a single thing. The AMQA would only allow reps to be assigned to a single site, so no one got over 15 hours a week and some sites were only open for 9 hours a week. People were driving an hour to locations in order to work for 3 hours, all without mileage. Sites set up in hispanic locations without bi-lingual support. Why weren’t sites simply set up in every Post Office around the country? That would have saved tons of work in setting up partners… but then of course, the RCC staff wouldn’t have gotten to party and schmooze with “partners.”

  11. JPB Says:

    I WAS EMPLOYED AS AN ENUMERATOR ON MONDAY 4/19/2010 AND TOLD I WOULD BE ATTENDING TRAINING ON 4/26/2010 AND THAT I WOULD RECEIVE A CALL BY 4/23 TO INFORM ME WHERE THE TRAINING SITE IS LOCATED. I HAVE NOT RECEIVED THAT CALL AND IT IS NOW 4/27/2010 AT 8:00 A.M. ON THE MULTIPLE ATTEMPTS TO REACH SOMEONE FOR INFO, I DID REACH 2 WORKERS WHO ACKNOWLEDGED THAT THERE WAS DIFFICULTY IN SETTING UP THE REQUIRED TRAINING SITES OR THERE WAS A CATASTROPHIC COMPUTER FAILURE WHICH PRECLUDED GIVING ME A TRAINING SITE ADDRESS OR REPORTING TIME. I WAS TOLD THAT NOT ONLY WAS I AFFECTED BUT 1200 OTHERS. I DON’T KNOW IF EVER I WILL BE CALLED. CAN ANYONE GIVE ME AN HONEST PROGNOSIS OF WHETHER I WILL BE WORKING OR NOT?

  12. 2010 Employee Says:

    I had approved overtime for this weekend but even though the LCO approved it I’m not gonna be paid time and a half. My cousin had a car wreck Sun. night & we thought he was going to die so I went to the hospital & didn’t get to turn in my time sheet. Now my bosses are telling me they can not pay my overtime & will not approve for it to go on my next check. Is it not a federal law that you have to be paid time & a half for every hour over 40 hours? Does a family emergency when someone might be dying not give you a a chance to get paid like you are supposed to?

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