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.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Clarify Social Networking And Blogging Regulations

In a memo sent last week to all of its employees, the Census Bureau took a huge swipe at the first amendment of the US Constitution, the right to freedom of speech. The contents of the letter were as follows:

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 part of the letter was underlined, not put in bold, but I put it in bold to illustrate a point.

Just like other government officials and people who work in the private sector, Census Bureau employees are subject to confidentiality laws. However, this does not mean that the government has the right to threaten employees, particularly whistleblowers, as they have in this situation.  The Census Bureau must make clear what workers’ legal obligations are and what are simply the goals of the Census Bureau’s management and public relations team who benefit greatly from problems being kept quiet and unreported.

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25 Responses to “MyTwoCensus Editorial: Clarify Social Networking And Blogging Regulations”

  1. 'nuff already Says:

    Wow! I was enraged when I saw this in my statement this week (again received a statement but no funds deposited)! We did indeed sign some sheet to uphold the constitution and the last time I checked free speech was still protected under the constitution. And, I don’t really see anyone talking about the people they are calling on (that is the part protected under Section 13)…all of the stuff I see on the Census is about the incompetent government fools running it! Since taxpayers are footing the bill, I think the taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. And it ain’t wisely!

    I hope that little thinly veiled threat of a letter does not stop Enumerators and others from within the census ranks from talking and squawking as there is still much that needs to be said.

    Personally, I think we should all petition our local pols, senators in particular, to conduct a full-blown investigation into deliberately misleading census practices. The tacit promise of 8-weeks of employment for enumerators was clearly bogus. I can tell from our CL who seems not at all surprised or upset that we finished within two weeks as proof that we were duped.

    As a result of that friendly little reminder I am planning to sit down and write to all the radio hosts I can think of. Oh yea, the one with the audience in the millions is the first one I’ll contact!

  2. TexasCLA Says:

    I read through this a couple of times, and I don’t see it as being QUITE as dictatorial as it first appears. The main things they’re concerned about are 1) Protecting Title 13 PII and 2) People speaking on behalf of the Census Bureau.

    The part targeting professional journalists is disturbing, and very likely unConstitutional. I’ve read articles written by people who worked as Polling Place officials, and that’s at least as sensitive a job as the Census (maybe moreso, since we don’t have SSNs). This does seem like a gag order preventing anyone from ever writing a book or magazine article from talking about their experiences.

    Nobody wants to pay for my opinions, and I’ll tell you right now that they’re all my own thoughts, and no opinion of my employer, the Department of Commerce. It’ll be interesting to see if they enforce this rule as vigorously as they enforce the laws requiring responding to the Census.

  3. outta my census Says:

    Maybe a good time to bring up my confusion about the “Post Employment Restrictions Under 18 U.S.C. 207″ for the 2010 Census that we agreed to when being sworn in? The text is as follows:

    “The law (18 U.S.C. 207) places certain restrictions on the post employment activities of former federal employees. The penalties for violating the provisions of the law are criminal in nature.
    The post employment restrictions are basically as follows:

    1. A lifetime bar from representing any other person before the United States in any particular matter involving specific parties in which you participated personally and substantially as an official

    2.A two year bar from representing any other person before the United States in any particular matter involving specific parties that was pending under your official responsibility within one year of leaving office.

    3. A one year bar on using nonpublic information regarding an ongoing trade or treaty negotiation.”

    OK. #3 I can work with . Bears some semblance to English. But the first two? What is it that we have agreed to not do (under threat of criminal penalty) when we took this job? (My CL said she’d “get back to me” when I asked in class, but, not surprisingly, never did.)

    Translation anyone?

  4. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @outta my census: Confused? Ask a lawyer. I’m not sure exactly what this all means, either, though it’s obvious it has to do with conflicts of interest.

    Regarding this posting in general: Just how does one make out this reminder to be “threatening” on the part of the government? As I read it, and as I’ve commented elsewhere on this site, these restrictions seem entirely appropriate and reasonable to me. What specific problems do people have with these restrictions? They certainly do not restrict any of us from posting here, assuming we’re not being paid to do so. Sheesh!

    I think this is yet more tempest-in-a-teapot amateurish “journalism” on the part of the creator of this web site. A pity, since he does have a lot of material here that is important. Penny-ante stuff like this, though, just makes him seem like a flake.

  5. Paulie Says:

    @Yet Another Enumerator

    I don’t think you are an enumerator at all. I think it’s you that is the fake.

    It is quite obvious that the purpose of the letter was to scare people away from exposing the mind-boggling incompetence and waste that characterize the census operation.

    What vested interest do you have in keeping it all hidden from public oversight?

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Tomorrow (Wednesday, May 26) is payday by direct deposit. Let’s see …..

  7. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @Paulie: With all due respect, what the fuck are you talking about?

    I’m sick and tired of being called a “plant” and a “shill” and lots of other things simply because I’m pointing out that this reminder notice is basically reasonable. Look, if you don’t think so, go back and re-read it. Carefully this time, with your brain switched on.

    It prohibits exactly 3 things:
    1. Disclosing “any nonpublic information that is protected by statute”. As we know (and yes, I am an enumerator, despite what you might think), this has all been drilled into our little heads during training–PII, Title 13, etc., etc. Nothing surprising here.

    2. Receiving payment for writing about “Census programs or operations …”, etc., etc. IT DOES NOT PROHIBIT WRITING ABOUT THESE THINGS. It only prohibits GETTING PAID to write about them. Got that?

    3. Representing oneself as the voice of the Census Bureau, Dep’t. of Commerce, etc.

    What problem do you have with any of these things?

    As any jackass can see, this notice does not seem to have prevented a lot of people who work for the census from posting here about their experiences with the CB.

    I’m not making excuses for the Census Bureau, which richly deserves a lot of the criticism it has gotten here (though not all of it). I’m simply trying to dispel some of the disinformation and bullshit that’s flying around here.

    If you’re interested, we can have a civil discourse about this, if you can stick to the facts (as you seen them) without resorting to name-calling.

    Believe me, I could only hope that I would be getting paid for writing here on behalf of the CB (for the money, that is). As it is, I’m just a peon who turned in their last binder last week just like most of the rest of us here.

  8. CLA Dave Says:

    I got the letter and have no problem with its message. The meat of it says I can’t:
    disclose any PII, get paid for posting census stuff, or pretend to be writing on behalf of the gov’t. The rest is bureaucratic blather.

    Nowhere does it say I can’t complain about the idiot whose decision it was to waste a stack of paper as high as a 20 story building and who knows how many pounds of toner and hours of printer time, when it could have been passed down verbally.

  9. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @CLA Dave: I’d reserve that charge (wasting paper & printing costs) for the other thing we got in our pay statements, that stupid “DRIVE SAVE–BE SAFE” flyer.* The confidentiality reminder probably bears repeating for some folks.

    * Watch out for that moose!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    I wonder …. how much it cost to print one flyer with color ink?

  11. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    Not very much. No, they’re not run off on a copier; they’re offset printed, probably 8, 16 or 32 “up” (that many printed on one press sheet, then cut). Final cost is probably less than an eighth of a cent per sheet. (I used to be a printer.)

  12. Nowheresville NY Says:

    8 pages to a cent multiplied by (conservitively) a couple hundred thousand employees though is probably still a few thousand dollars though. I know, drop in the pond compared to the budget, but still.

  13. NYWest Chaos Says:

    I think I am seriously giving up on this forum. I can’t take the MORONS who actually believe that this letter was not a violation of the constitution. WAKE UP! (Plus, Yet Another Enumerator – watch your mouth! you ruined a potentially good argument by inserting foul language)

    On another note: four color printing is expensive no matter how many are printed. knowing how the census loves to over print and then trash unused items, it is safe to assume that that “inexpensive” drive safely flyer was overproduced and a complete waste of money!

  14. AxionJackson Says:

    Morse, you should be ashamed of yourself. “Journalism ethics” has no meaning to you.

    The Census has legal obligations to protect people’s personal info. Confidentiality statements like the above or the LEAST anyone should be required to do to meet those standards.

    EVERY SINGLE reputable polling agency has the same kind of confidentiality requirements.

    Anyone who refuses to take those obligations should NEVER work for the Census.

    For you to try to instigate some kind of rebellion against the reasonable Census obligations of confidentiality, and place people in legal jeopardy, is beyond belief.

  15. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @NYWest Chaos: How is this confidentiality reminder a “violation of the constitution”? Be specific. Show your work. Make your case.

  16. PM Says:

    Now this is dynamic! It is good to see people so enthusiastic about such a simple, short-term job. Seriously: as much trouble as it seems, this shows that YOU ALL CARE about making Census a better thing. I cared tons at the start, and was beaten down not by people like you who actually care about the job, but those mealy-mouthed nobody mid-managers who could do nothing better than chop on others, shifty, backstabbing RT and AM, low-life FOSes who can barely write legibly as they can their crews- I wouldn’t take their egos seriously enough, having met them, to let them determine anything for me- photos of piles of rubbish that was once brand new documentation, over-ordered kits just torn up because AMFO was too HUA to competently execute the job under stress, and instead has the staff ready to file EEO and D-244s for being a general passive-aggressive prick…

    You all pretty well rock, especially in contrast.

    Now if we can use our energies together, we can be the force that makes Census what we all care about.

    Tell Big Bob:

    We don’t hate you, probably. You were appointed this gig and grabbed it, and have been taken by all these ‘experts’ as to what to do. I see the ads still- “census jobs in your area- $15-98/hour”.

    Wow- give ME the $15/hour people, who daily complain (and people from real professions, too) about being treated like dirt, and having to clean up after those 98s and still get dumped on. Census was sold all these clever ideas. The HHC… oh, wait- it can only do so many entries. I know- let’s scrap the WHOLE thing and BUY A COMPLETELY NEW ONE!

    Then we’ll upgrade that AFTER contract, so it’s way MORE LOOT!

    Not TheSec’s, Bob’s or our idea, I’ll bet.

    But if Mr. Locke and Dr. Robert had listened to all of you- they’d have the word from the real world. I see tons of over-ordered stuff just trashed. By whom? People who don’t care as you do. Your office, RC and field “teammates” who can’t care about this enough to get half as worked up as you do; IT abortions by people who were handed a spec by people who didn’t know what they were having to do with it-

    and back-ordered rolls of tape- count 1- sent FedEx, because that’s the gov’t contractor. Brilliant idea!

    To unify all of us- I’ll bet a signed blank 308 that NOBODY on here would have thought that one up, would you?

    Of course not.

    Now this “don’t talk” thing is clear. Census is in trouble. Dr. G will be sent to Siberia for being the high spot on the horizon. My2C is opening a channel like those little tubes they stick into wounds to drain the gunk out. I heard of people aiming at enumerators with anything they have, and now enumerators have to carry monsters around to defend. All this energy has to come out somehow, and this forum is prime for dissipating all that pent-up angst. Work together, please, and give the idiocy around us the boot.

    Census has a little black eye; the roundup of Japanese-Americans with the Second War Powers thing. It wasn’t Census who did it, as I have read. It was the government arm-wrestling and winning. Census doesn’t carry guns, those guys do. Census wanted assurance that the data wouldn’t be used as it was, and was run over.

    Now Census has to count people who’ll get T1 money at the expense of the ones who paid honestly into that 400 zillion, and that’s another bump to the face. Face it, people tke advantage of us where they can’t the IRS and gang. Try writing ‘vulcan’ on your 1040, and see where it gets you.

    Now this talk thing- everyone has to bear it. Maybe some will come rendition you for it; we only want to enumerate you. The IRS takes your house; we just count it.

    There’s no reason to be divided and beat here. We’re some of the nicest people anyone could hope to meet in gov’t. We get assaulted for it. I heard we can’t even carry mace, when the USPS gets that doggy-off stuff- we get to wear running shoes. The odds are against us, and Dr. G and TheSec will be the first to benefit from all our talk.

    Plese don’t beat on each other.

    If you worry about the talk thing, show them the BC-61 you agreed to for your job (Appointment Affidavits):

    A- I will support the Constitution of the US against everyone and the horse they rode in on…

    B- I won’t punch Uncle Sam; he’s an old guy… with a big stick

    C- I didn’t buy this job (like who would?) I won’t sell it (who’d buy it besides you?)

    D- the good one here-

    “I will not disclose any information contained in the schedules, lists, or statements obtained for or prepared by the Bureau of the Census, to any person or persons either during or after employment. (Under title 13, U.S.C. section 214, the penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine not more than $250,000 or imprisonment for not more than 5 years, or both.)

    Nothing against blogging in it- just don’t rat out your data, that’s all.

    Census is trying to appease everyone to get them to pretty plese send in the answers. Coloring books, Mexican comics (like the one about how to cross the border and “don’t bash your wife or the cops’ll find you”…)- parties for the whole neighnorhood of vulcans-

    and all of it ideas by people just outta touch. Some think tank(s) had to put it together, and we all suffer for it.

    Can we focus on improvement, now that we’ve exposed the stupidity, before we all need pitbulls?

    It’s really quite easy for anyone on here- we all care more than the ‘experts’ do.

    It’s in our hands.

  17. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    Not a bad post, if a bit rambling; not bad at all.

    I’m glad you mentioned one thing which I haven’t seen brought up here yet, which is the Census Bureau complicity in rounding up the Japanese for “internment” in WWII.

    This is not conspiracy theory, folks: it really did happen. There’s even a document on the census.gov site containing what amounts to both an admission that this happened (by R. Groves) and a belated apology to the Japanese-Americans. The Census contributed data on a “block-by-block” basis that allowed the War Dep’t. (remember, this is before it morphed into the “Defense” Dep’t.) to locate the “enemy”. As a result of this, there is still a deeply-seated mistrust of the Census among Japanese-Americans; they’re not dumb.

    I’m not sure how willing the CB was in this illegal disclosure (this was way before Title 13, but the disclosure was still illegal even then), or whether they were forced to do it against their will. But they did do it.

  18. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Despite social media directive, at least one blog survives… Says:

    [...] the Census Bureau’s directive that Census Bureau employees keep their traps shut, some Census Bureau critics survive, albeit few. [...]

  19. Senseless Says:

    I think they are concerned about employees writing books about the screwed-up mess that we have all witnessed. We all have plenty of tell that isn’t Title 13 or PII. I believe that people would be shocked to know the truth. I would love to tell the truth and get the story out there.

  20. end the census Says:

    As I’ve said, we have been verbally and repeatedly warned by our manager and others at the LCO, that we’re never ever supposed to tell anybody about anything, that we’ve experienced or witnessed or overheard, about anything to do with our jobs. PERIOD. And every single time, those warnings include repeated references to the “life time oath” we swore when we were hired.

    Well no, the oath I swore — the oath all of you swore, too — didn’t have anything to do with that. The oath was about PII, specifically the PII of the residents we encountered while we are enumerating.

  21. end the census Says:

    That’s shocking to learn about the Japanese Americans who were rounded up because the census bureau broke the law :( What a sad, sad mess.

  22. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @end the census: you can read all about it in this document (PDF) from the Census web site. Do a search on “Japanese” when you read the document.

  23. Ex-IT Says:

    I’m sort of amused by the last part, that implies that the penalties for discussing Census operations are the same ones for disclosing confidential information. The problems frequently discussed here and elsewhere are not “nonpublic information that is protected by statute”. They have in fact been very publicly mentioned in the GAO and OIG reports to Congress.

    It is really about the same as pointing out to students that restrictions about chewing gum in class are “IN ADDITION” TO PENALTIES AGAINST TREASON AND MURDER WHICH CAN INCLUDE LIFE IN PRISON OR EXECUTION.

  24. California FOS Says:

    PM, thanks for your thoughtful post. I’d like to think that, if you were working for me, you wouldn’t think of me as a “low-life FOS who can barely write legibly,” but I do know that there are FOSes out there who fit that description. :-) I don’t agree with everything everyone says on this forum, but I find it enlightening and entertaining all the same, and a great way to take a break between reviewing EQs and signing 308s. I count my blessings every day for working out of an LCO that seems to have quite a bit more resemblance to normalcy and civility than some of you all experience. Certainly we have our share of issues and nutcases, but they pale in comparison to so many of the stories I read here. You have my sympathies and my gratitude for putting up with all the [expletive deleted] and sticking it out, and doing your part to try to ensure an accurate count of population in your little corner of the country.

    By the way, PM, watch out who you give that signed blank 308 to. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for them going over their 40 hours for the week. :-)

    Keep up the great work, and keep it real. Despite what you may be told or led to believe by your bosses, the country and its government need folks like you. Thanks for your efforts.

  25. pranita veeria Says:

    Census is afraid that toooo many blogs will disclose the incompetence that exists