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.

Anonymous Census Bureau Official: Major Nation-wide IT FAILURE at the Census Bueau

The following piece comes to us from a Census Bureau official from the Mid-West region who has requested anonymity but has had her identity verified by Her discussion of a major week-long IT systems failure has effected every Census Bureau office across the country and demonstrates how disgraceful operations are being handled (and subsequently covered up, as MyTwoCensus has requested information about this failure numerous times yet has not received any responses from the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office):

I have a problem in my local census office. The problem is 493 of those offices across the nation are having the same exact problem. You see, in November and December 2009 when I first started at the Census Bureau, one of my first assignments was assisting in a system load test known as the Decennial Application Load Test (or DALT for short). DALT simulated the conditions of every census office employee logging on at the same time across the nation and what would happen. This was my first taste of our federal tax dollars hard at work. As is typical of any large scale government program the whole system went kaput; users couldn’t log-on and applications crashed.

The Bureau’s contingency plan was to limit users and ask offices to spread out their staffing. We started to run an evening shift which meant paying night differential (an additional 10% pay) to our night employees.  One application of concern was PBOCS the Paper Based Operational Control System that was unveiled in January 2010 to complete the rest of their field operations. The system was developed after the Census decided to nix the Harris Corporation as their contractor. The PBOCS system was used to check out assignments into the field, make assignments to enumerators, check work into the office after completion and check out for shipping. In February 2009 after the two big snowstorms that hit Washington DC the same thing happened. The Bureau’s contingency plan for PBOCS was to limit users to four per local census office and remove functionality they didn’t deem was mandatory.

In the last few weeks we are experiencing many more problems as we near non-response followup the most massive operation of the decennial census. Some of PBOCS problems include but are not limited to:
* individual census reports (ICRS) from group quarters enumeration that PBOCS claims are missing for shipment.
* daily progress reports that are outdated or showing the wrong numbers
* numerous system crashes where work is lost or has to be rescanned
* wrong or missing work being selected for reinterview

At the beginning when these problems started, the RCC pointed fingers at the local census offices accusing them of not using the system or processing the work properly. However when several offices reported the same issues the blame then shifted to the software.

To further complicate things is the divide that also occurs between the local census office employees and the the regional census center and headquarters staff. The headquarters and regional census center staff are mostly career employees. The local census office employees are temporary Schedule A hourly employees. Although both are referencing the same procedures in the same manuals the local census office employees are the ones who are doing the grunt work (the enlisted men per say). The RCC and headquarters staff (the commissioned officers) manage and oversee but do not realize the difficulties and nuances because they are not out there getting their hands dirty.

The LCO employees are finding that the PBOCS system actually will not update the report numbers or sometimes show the wrong numbers. The RCC and headquarters are lead to believe if the work doesn’t show in the system as completed then it is not completed. However when the reports don’t show the quotas are being met the career census employees usually get on the phone to threaten the temporary employees and even sometimes terminating their employment.

This weekend is the third weekend PBOCS has gone offline. On Wednesday April 14 it was announced PBOCS was to go down at 8pm (actually went down about 5pm) and will not be back up until Monday morning April 19th. We are somewhat relieved to hear through the grapevine that the RCC and headquarters will be more lenient and readjust their production goals for the entire nation. However I think that much of the intimidation and harassment will occur again so that the career census employees can cover their asses and recover any of the money they were probably paying in overtime for programmers to fix this crap piece of software. This is all the while they tell the temporary employees at the LCO that overtime will be strictly prohibited.

The career employees at RCC and headquarters hold the temporary LCO employees accountable for mistakes they [RCC and headquarters] made in the ten years they had to prepare since the last decennial. But who is held accountable at the highest levels when a multi-billion dollar piece of software doesn’t work and they constantly have to fix it? I hope the Inspector General and my congressmen are reading this because PBOCS is government waste at its finest. How ironic it is happening in the nearing days of the largest operation of the decennial census.

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14 Responses to “Anonymous Census Bureau Official: Major Nation-wide IT FAILURE at the Census Bueau”

  1. HermHollerith Says:

    Here is another divide or two for you.

    Hundreds of computer idiots are on the payroll at Census Bureau headquarters, including many, many in management. For years, computer idiots have been favored for promotion at Census. Also employed at Census headquarters are hundreds of foreign-born IT contractors. In the elevator, they have been heard to speak contemptuously of their managers’ inability to understand computer systems.

  2. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Herm – Maybe you can name some names on here? Thanks! SRM

  3. LCO-AM Says:

    I can also confirm this to be all true, totally, it is a bad, bad deal.

    Very, very bad – the Chamber of Commerce should be more than ashamed.

    And the fingers do get pointed to the LCO’s – honesty is not something the RCC managers and above know anything about.

    A shame, a real shame…..

  4. LCO-AM Says:

    FYI, the “intimidation and harassment” started almost immediately the morning of 04/19 at our LCO.

    Seems to be SOP for census management at the RCC level and above.

  5. LCO-AM Says:

    On second thought, it might not really be “intimidation and harassment”, it could just be a lack of management skills.

    Motivational can be positive, at least that is what I remember from my years in the private sector.

  6. Techy Says:

    I’ve been hinting at this occurring for a little while now. The PBOCS issue is what’s going to happen when you try and kludge a program together in less than a year designed to process millions, if not billions of forms.
    At this point all that can be done is work through the critical processes, since more men won’t help.

  7. HermHollerith Says:

    While not responsible for PBOCS, Jim Treat, Marjorie Martinez and Loretta Williams have been particularly ineffective in their use of available computer resources.

  8. Senseless Says:

    I was working in an LCO for the DALT tests. I remember coming in at 6:30 AM to use the computers before we had to shut down computers and phones. It started at 1:30 PM and it crashed by 1:32 PM. They scheduled another test and I foolishly believed that they would have corrected the problems. They didn’t and it again crashed within minutes. They thought about doing a third test but finally gave up. PBOCS is a disaster! The RCC is always pointing fingers at the LCO. The DAPPS system for payroll & personnel is even worse. All people hired to work on NRFU have to be entered into DAPPS within 24 hours. With thousands being hired at each office and everyone nationwide starting the same day, the system can’t handle it.

    Intimidation,harassment,and a lack of honesty seems to be the Census way of management. Management like this would never make it in the private sector.

  9. TR Says:

    HAHA. This just sounds so familiar. At least they did a load test this time. I remember the first day of production for Address Canvassing when the network went down and no one could transmit with their HHCs. Then everybody who tried to transmit while it was down had to get an SD Card reset. That was a fun day for the help desk. Working in the office was one of the worst times of my life. I’m glad that I’ve gotten field work since. The pay is much better, and I don’t have to be around morons most of the time.

  10. Michael Fermanich(parakeet) Says:

    Just like last year pushing and forcing people to get done fast via AA’s on little computers who could not produce a pile of dung. The Crew Leaders had problems sending assignments out because of back load of work done and needing more work and processing other duties via those stupid little computers. So what else is new. Like I said Homeland Security should investigate Chamber of Commerce and Commerce Department for economic threats to United States economy but that would be to easy to pass blame right Professional Managmenet puppets of Bush Administration.

  11. BillyBob Says:

    Don’t blame Census this is a G W Bush consequence of ‘reducing the size of government’ which really means taking things the government does reasonable well and giving it to private business. Harris Corp should be jailed for pure fraud and even so got all the money and more in their contract because the chicken sh$$$t project managers would call them out and fire them To the contrary they got their full award bonus for doing NOTHING on a what turned out to be ONE BILLION DOLLAR contract. There are as many contractors at Census as there are government employees.

  12. RS Says:

    The Assistant Manager for Quality Assurance in my LCO didn’t know how to detach and save an attachment from an e-mail. AND, doesn’t even know how to add lines into an Excel spreadsheet. Yet, she was the only one in QA with her own computer on her desk. She screwed up so many spreadsheets, there was nothing even remotely resembling quality information coming out of QA. And the idiots at RCC had tried to use spreadsheets to serve as databases.

  13. HermHollerith Says:

    Right on, RS.
    The idiots at Census Headquarters have wastefully been trying to use spreadsheets as databases for years.

  14. Enumeratorcla Says:

    In addition to the not so perfect system is the choice of Crew leaders. individuals are given the title “Crew Leader” with authority over new hires yet they have no life experience in teaching or education in managment and yet they train these new employees to become enumerators. Finally making matters worse ,the crew leaders misuse and abuse the temporary appointment. One example is , a crew leader is speaking , never giving the other party opportunity to speak. An attempt is made to communicate a concern and the “Crew Leader” states ” I am not going to listen to what you have to say , I am your supervisor ,you are insubordinate , you have to listen to me. ” How can some one so ignorant be held to such a high standard? Some things will never be understood…