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.

Social networking is bad! (says the Census Bureau)

An anonymous Census employee sent SRM a tip about a few flyers the Bureau sent along with their paychecks (finally). One flyer covered driving safety (and please, everyone, do take care while driving). The other covered the ethics of social networking, and unfortunately it came to the conclusion that it’s bad. Sorry Morse, time to close up shop! (Note: That was a joke.)
Email excerpt:
It’s funny how it is implied that criticizing and talking to outsiders about the incompetence of the census machinery and brass is punishable with jail and fines, when in reality, it only applies to title 13 of USC in regard to respondent information and personally identifiable information.  The census own manuals have a section devoted to the rights and protections afforded to whistleblowers.  They also imply that because we are paid government employees, that it is unethical for us to publicly humiliate and or expose the ineptness of our employers.  Nice try.  There is no law preventing anyone from writing in their personal capacity, but it is implied that it is wrong, unethical, and just not cool.
And from the reminder itself (no emphasis added):
CONFIDENTIALITY AND ETHICS REMINDER
Social Networking and Census Employment
As personal blogging, tweeting, social networking sites have become more common and popular, it
is not unusual for Federal employees to have an opportunity to write about their work and their
employer in a public forum.  Please be aware you cannot disclose any nonpublic information that
is protected by statute.  You also cannot receive payments for writing about Census programs or
operations or about assignments you have been given as a Census employee.  In addition, you
must be careful to ensure that there is no appearance created that you are writing on behalf of the
Bureau of the Census, the Department of Commerce, or the United States Government when you
are writing in your personal capacity.
[...]
These restrictions on writing and publications are in addition to the life-time oath you took to
uphold the confidentiality of census information.  Any wrongful disclosure of confidential census
information subjects you to a fine up to $250,000, imprisonment up to five years, or both.

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22 Responses to “Social networking is bad! (says the Census Bureau)”

  1. BB Says:

    “You also cannot receive payments for writing about Census programs or
    operations or about assignments you have been given as a Census employee.”

    that is for while you are an employee, as far as I can tell there is nothing prohibiting you from writing and getting paid for any non title13/PII afterwords.

    It is is pretty short window of time for temps.

  2. Teetering on Thin Ice Says:

    Careful careful there; Whistleblower protection is nothing to play with. If that excerpt is an accurate portrayal of the statement (which I hope it is not) that was mailed out to employees, then I hope a definition of “nonpublic information” accompanied it. A federal agency certainly would not want to disseminate a message (i.e. an employment policy) that might have a chilling affect on the disclosure of wrongdoing.

  3. NYWest Chaos Says:

    that must be why the “Come To Your Census” blogger closed up shop. her blog based on her experience as a crew leader in the chicago area were great. i went to the site today and the entire blog was gone stating that she had quit her census job and her blog would be deleted….no archives…no nothing.

    tsk. tsk. i guess the first amendment doesn’t apply to workers of the US Census. this is WRONG on so many levels!

  4. NYWest Chaos Says:

    Another thing….I just don’t understand how the US Census can justify its use of Facebook to distribute the most ridiculous “meet your census taker” videos AND operation status updates. Basically, they are saying only use social media if it is in our benefit.

  5. Maiasaura Says:

    Golly! Miss”Come To Your Census” has “gone offline” http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/come-to-your-census/

    Was she coerced? I hope not.

  6. time Says:

    I was at “Come to Your Census” blog just yesterday. I think I must have read majority of her posts up till the last page. Last I heard, they are tightening up the NRFU operation (slimming down the # of field workers).

  7. ET Says:

    Victor, please post the flyer and the oath people took when they joined up.

  8. PM Says:

    I’d suggest a look over the D-187 and D-472 ethics regs. forms, both avail at your LCO, to be sure of the government’s ground on this. Generally, those mentioning T13 here are right- the oath is against disclosure of confidential Census info; further there is a bar against representing others against the government, using your position for conflicting/personal advancement, using confidential census info for the new toilet paper company you’re starting, in its advertising research… etc., all over varying periods of time. Employees are SUPPOSED to have the no FEAR (Notification and Fed Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation) Act (as seen in your manuals- if you got them)- for whistleblowing to appropriate agencies, though the case of the manager in Grand Junction CO, as well as others I’ve heard of, highlights the need for prudence in your own exposure/relating of Bureau matters (in the Hugenberg case, he was presumably canned for having complained about problems in the office, though the official call was conflict of interest with the municipal group government he was in with, after three months, apparently).

    Personally, I’m happy to see mytwocensus: there’s a LOT that can use improvement here, and giving the insiders a means to express their thoughts on one highly visible platform is invaluable to even Commerce- this forum saves some trouble to TheSec and the OIG for a start. Instead of having to be censored from the BOC blog, the Gov’t and public can derive a broader view via such a site.

    Now I need to get back to running in these comfortable shoes worn per the manual- there’s a car with an “Official Business” sign coming up quick….

  9. LCO-AM Says:

    Fear?

    What I fear is when I am told that if I am fired, I’ll never be able to work for another government agency again.

    People at the LCO level are disposable and treated like ignorant people – “You all do not see the big picture like we do, just do as you are told” is something heard more than once.

    And “they” are aware of turnover, and they expect it, and they do not care.

    I had expectations of going to work for MY government, guess what, from what I have seen, well, I had no idea it was as truly bad as it is.

    Beyond comprehension.

    I’m glad this blog is here, and the majority of what is being posted is absolutely true.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Oh, please!!! Thank you for sites like My Two Census — many of us would lose our minds if we couldn’t share and learn information.

  11. PM Says:

    I’m with LCO-AM: yes, the fear is getting the boot (GTB, as our chart says…hahaha). As I wrote, the employee is SUPPOSED to have…

    We have the friendly-fire thing- the D-283 termination form allows you to RESIGN instead of getting fired, once they’ve told you you’re fired. So thoughtful!

    “Comrade Ed Numerator, known for his candor about operations at Census, resigned while on NRFU, and has not been heard of since…”

    Fits right in, doesn’t it?

    As some have said, it’s a thrown-together abortion of people who are more worried about CYA than doing a good job, at least at the mid management level. I heard of a jerk at an RCC who’ll stab you in the back simply for being forthright. He’s just out of school, and really needs to show how big he is, or something. I got a call from another office asking if we had more firing forms to give them. What? Hire a thousand then fire half your crew in 2 weeks? Are these people anywhere near normal?

    Social networking should be done- it’s not on the BC-61 not to, and you’re not representing anyone against the government; you’re being a patriot trying to make this place better.

    Start with a list of people you don’t need in any sort of authority, and clean this mess up. Specific instances are welcome; I’ve found several.

  12. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    Since someone asked, here’s the notice everyone’s getting:

    ================================================================
    CONFIDENTIALITY AND ETHICS REMINDER

    Social Networking and Census Employment

    As personal blogging, tweeting, social network sites have become more common and popular, it is not unusual for Federal employees to have an opportunity to write about their work and their employer in a public forum. Please be aware that you cannot disclose any nonpublic information that is protected by statute. You also cannot receive payments for writing about Census programs or operations or about assignments you have been given as a Census employee. In addition, you must be careful to ensure that there is no appearance created that you are writing on behalf of the Bureau of the Census, the Department of Commerce, or the United States Government, when you are writing in your personal capacity.

    These rules apply to all employees, as well as those who are professional writers and reporters, so please keep these considerations in mind before writing and publishing or posting an article or other writing about the census or your work as a Census Bureau employee.

    As a Federal employee and a hard-working member of the Census Bureau, you have important responsibilities and obligations to the public which impose some limits on you that do not apply to persons in the private sector. Please be mindful of these responsibilities, even when engaging in personal activities such as blogging and posting on web sites.

    These restrictions on writings and publications are in addition to the life-time oath you took to uphold the confidentiality of census information. Any wrongful disclosure of confidential census information subjects you to a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment up to 5 years, or both.

    [The last paragraph is underlined in the letter]

  13. Nowheresville NY Says:

    That is the notice above, but they’re not technicality saying social networking is bad. Can’t speak for any LCO workers but this is how it reads to me:

    - Don’t break your confidentiality oath. (That covers mostly PII/Title 13.)
    - Make it clear you don’t officially represent the government when you’re writing your opinions (which implies that you can still write about them).
    - Don’t claim reading or posting to blogs/Twitter as billable time on your payroll.

    Seems sound to me.

    (*opinions above do not officialy represent the government or the Census Bureau* ;)

  14. NYWest Chaos Says:

    This has been bothering me for a few days now….and after receiving the “reminder” yesterday, I am incensed! I have been reading social networking law blogs all afternoon (on my own time…as I have only been assigned 3 hours this week!) and TRULY feel that the Census has crossed the line with this one.

    The main issue that I have with the statement is that they try to imply “nonpublic information that is protected by statute” is not solely PII/Title 13 info, but also includes information about Census operations and assignments. Worse yet, they also try to imply that disclosure of operations/assignments is “confidential census information” and is punishable by law and fines. Disclosure of PII is punishable by law and fines; Blogging about the ineptitude of the management is NOT.

    On Robert Graves’ blog, he discusses operations and assignments….why has he not been fined or imprisoned?

    Their intent was to scare employees…and it worked. I’ve noticed all 3 of the first hand account bogs by enumerators/crew leaders that I’ve read have closed up shop in the last few days…and each has removed all content from the web.

    NO FEAR AT ITS FINEST……

  15. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @Nowheresville NY: Watch out, there are folks here who will accuse you of being a lackey or “shill” for the Census Bureau if you express any opinions agreeing with any of their policies! (I know, it happened to me.)

    I agree with you. To NYWest Chaos above, who is upset with this notice, I think you’re misreading it and confusing things. The CB is *not* implying that “nonpublic information that is protected by statute” includes information about Census operations and assignments.

    Read the notice again; what they’re saying is just that you can’t accept PAYMENT for writing about such things (“Census programs or operations or about assignments …”). You can write about them otherwise.

    To recap, they’re forbidding 3 things:

    o Disclosing “nonpublic information that is protected by statute” (the Title XIII and PII stuff that was drilled into us during training)

    o Receiving payment for writing about Census programs, assignments, etc.

    o Creating the appearance that you are writing on behalf of the Census Bureau, the Dept. of Commerce or the U.S. Gov’t.

    None of these seem excessively prohibitive to me. In fact, they make sense. What problems do other folks have with these?

  16. NYWest Chaos Says:

    @ Yet Another ENumerator: while I admire your effort in trying to look at the bright side of this letter, you are incorrect. please read it again. you are correct that the 3 things that YOU LISTED that they are forbidding are not excessively prohibitive, however these 3 things are not the only things being said in the statement. i have shown it to 3 attorneys who all have agreed that the wording is threatening and misleading. BTW, if I am misreading it and confusing things, then many others have too…and it achieved the goal of the Census…to imply that operations/assignments are protected by title 13.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Just received the social networking flyers in the mail a few minutes ago. So glad I read about the flyers here on My Two Census.

    As LCO-AM stated: “I’m glad this blog is here and most of what is being reported is true”. 99.9% True.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Correction: Not 99.9% True; 90% True. Some individuals are LYING for their own personal gain.

  19. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @NYWest Chaos: I still think that “reminder” only prohibits those three things I listed.

    I certainly agree that it’s poorly written, so I’ll go along with how you described it as “misleading”, but not “threatening”. F’rinstance, I don’t think any of the people who are participating in discussions here who are CB employees have anything to worry about.

    And hey, I just noticed that there’s no document (“D-xxx”) number on this notice, like there is on the accompanying “DRIVE SAFE – BE SAFE” flyer (D-1272.1); maybe that means we can just ignore it? [insert smiley face here]

  20. end the census Says:

    We’ve been verbally warned REPEATEDLY AND FREQUENTLY by census managers, supervisors and leaders — let me repeat that — verbally warned repeatedly and frequently — that we can’t talk to anybody about anything that has anything to do with the census bureau or anything we’ve experienced as census workers, anything we’ve been told, anything we’ve seen, whether it’s at the LCO or meetings or any of the paperwork, the memos, the emails, the “updates”. They keep stressing that we “took an oath” and we “could be fined a quarter of a million dollars and go to prison” if we tell anybody anything about what’s really going on. Thankfully somebody here at MyTwo Census reminded me that’s not true, the oath we took was about safeguarding the public’s information, “PII”. And that we’re protected by the whistleblower laws. WHY are they trying so hard to shut us up? Why are they trying to scare us into not telling the truth about what a bungled crapfest the whole thing is.

  21. My Two Census » Blog Archive » MyTwoCensus Editorial: Clarify Social Networking And Blogging Regulations Says:

    [...] a memo sent last week to all of its employees, the Census Bureau took a huge swipe at the first amendment of the US [...]

  22. 'nuff already Says:

    End of the census…

    Can you say “election year?” Could be one reason they are trying so hard to muzzle us. I once read about an Irish guy who did not drink until they announced prohibition, wherein he purportedly said, “What do you mean I can’t drink. I can damn well drink if I want to!”

    My CL reminded me about the oath we took and I reminded him that last time I checked free speech was still part of the constitution. Besides I’m not divulging any PPI, I’m just bitchin’ about the incompetent fools running the show, the lying and deceit and gross waste of taxpayer dollars…

    I’m just being transparent!