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.

A letter to Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves from an employee in Florida

The following opinions are those of a Census Bureau employee, not MyTwoCensus.com, and concern the letter below from Robert M. Groves::

Dear Robert Groves:

I am writing this editorial in response to a letter you wrote to all your local census office staff thanking them for their hard work and late hours dedicated to the census. I know that you will read this personally or someone on your staff will bring this to your attention. In your letter you assure us that you and Census Bureau employees at the highest level are focused on improving the Paper Based Operations Control System (PBOCS) and its performance. As this website has pointed out, PBOCS still has outages and bugs in the system are not fixed.

In the past few weeks we have seen a huge backlog in processing questionnaires. When headquarters and RCC set strict production standards and goals without flexibility and evaluate offices strictly based on that what you will find is managers react and make wasteful decisions. The Census needs to stop a common practice of  “throwing” bodies and resources at the problem in offices across the country. The staffing levels in some offices are now triple what the staffing authorizations originally allotted. Some offices are running three shifts 24 hours a day and those who are working 6pm to 6am are getting night differential pay. The number of staff in these offices has become simply impossible to manage effectively. The bureau may want to hire more staff in lieu of paying overtime. However keep in mind that there is a learning curve. Managers and supervisors can’t give new staff the same organized verbatim training. In some offices the NRFU operation is ahead of schedule, yet enumerators are still being trained as replacements when it is clear there is going to be no work. The most effective management decision is to find a balance using a marginal cost/benefit analysis: hire just enough additional staff to complete the task in a reasonable time, reward controlled overtime to your quality employees and spread out the staff. For example on Saturday May 15th our LCO was required to bring in ten staff for PBOCS over the weekend, even though most of the staff were not trained and the system couldn’t handle the users. So most of these employees sat around unproductively.

Also when production goals are set with no flexibility there is corner cutting and low quality work. When PBOCS doesn’t work and questionnaires need to be shipped we’ll just throw them in the box. When enumerators are held to strict production standards in hard to count areas we’ll simply resort to non-knowledgeable proxies or marking them as vacant or uninhabitable. (and remember vacant and uninhabitable units are difficult to be re interviewed in the quality control process) The Census Bureau’s quality assurance checks try to find low quality or falsified data however there are flaws. We won’t add housing units as we are supposed to and no quality assurance check that the bureau has can pick that up.

The solution is work smarter and more efficiently. If the Census fails to do this they will go over budget and run out of money. Most people will agree the crux of your staff are the enumerators and the clerks in the office who process questionnaires and payroll. We are the ones who are being paid the least amount of money and suffer the most from intimidation, constant demands of unattainable production goals and threats of being fired. Some of these forms of intimidation come from constant reminders that overtime is strictly forbidden. However if we don’t work fast enough headquarters and RCC staff will bring people in to take the food out of our mouths and pay the overtime to other employees either from other offices or even other regions. How demoralizing it must be to bring in people from other local census offices or even flying people across the country and putting them up in hotel rooms to help local census offices.

In these tough economic times, local census office employees like us may swallow their pride and work beyond their hours without claiming them simply because we want to be viewed as productive employees and keep our jobs. However when the Census ends the bureau is setting itself for another lawsuit from disgruntled employees. Your headquarters and regional census office staff must be more constructive in its criticism and not just threaten. The fact is your career census employees had ten years to get this right and didn’t. Now to blame local census offices for not processing work fast enough or to be inflexible in its deadlines is unacceptable.

I am proud to be part of this great endeavor, working for the 23rd census of population and have forged the greatest of friendship and camaraderie part of it as a result of the recession which has attracted a talented employee pool. Nevertheless I am disappointed in how we are treated by the regional census center and headquarters employees. I am simply asking that your career census employees treat the temporary employees with the respect and support we deserve and need in this tough time.

Sincerely,

A Concerned Census Office Employee

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