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.

Daily Sound Off: The real problems with payroll

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

I work for the payroll department in my LCO.  I wanted to explain some things about how Census payroll works and why people are getting paid late.  I would appreciate if my name were left out of this, but feel free to publish some or all of the information contained below.

As you may know, in order to get paid for a day’s work a Census employee must submit a daily payroll form that we lovingly refer to as a “308.”  The 308 contains several redundancies to help catch potential errors.  For instance, the employee must mark both the date worked and the day of the week worked, and if these do not match the 308 will not be processed until the office can determine what date the employee actually worked.  The employee also must enter the number of hours worked and the times worked, and if these do not match the employee will be paid for the lesser of the two numbers.  Finally any expenses incurred must be explained and any over $5 must be accompanied by a receipt; in order to save taxpayer dollars we regularly reject claims for ridiculous things that the employee does not need to complete their assignment.

The reasons that we’re having so much delayed payroll come down to the problems with processing these time sheets.  First of all, as I mentioned before, if there are any errors with a paysheet, that sheet may be placed into a problem file to be dealt with later.  Ideally we deal with all problem 308s in their appropriate pay period, but the first three weeks of NRFU were not ideal.  You’ve heard of all the paperwork new employees have to fill out?  All of that has to be processed by the admin department *before* an employee can be paid.  Admin departments basically had to begin processing one to two thousand hiring packets plus five to ten thousand pay sheets starting at the end of the first day of training and be finished by the following Monday.  For many LCOs, that just didn’t happen.  That’s why we all put in overtime that week – to try to get as many people paid as possible.

Now, from the perspective of someone whose job it is to process paysheets, the thing about problem 308s is that some are very easy to deal with and some are very difficult, but almost none of them would exist if the employees themselves took the time to fill these things out right.  Everyone who works for the census was tested on the ability to read and count and everyone who works for the census was hired basically to enter information on forms, and filling out pay sheets does not require any skills beyond these.  And yet we continuously have problems with people who apparently cannot count to 40 – who either claim overtime with under 40 hours a week worked, or claim no overtime with more than 40 hours a week worked.  We continue having problems with people who apparently cannot glance at a calendar long enough to verify both the date and the day of the week.  So while we try to get these errors fixed, a large portion of the employees who are getting paid late are being delayed because they made mistakes on their paperwork that we cannot easily deal with.

Of course the other problem we’re facing is that we can’t process payroll that we don’t have.  I’ve heard numerous stories of FOSes and CLs who don’t submit 308s on time.  I understand from the Crew Leaders’ position that they have a lot to do, but most of our CLs get their 308s in on time.  The maybe 5% who don’t account for 90% of the phone calls we get from enumerators who have missed several days’ pay from their checks.

This is a personnel problem.  We simply don’t have a good way to motivate large numbers of temporary employees to do their jobs promptly and correctly.  Every job has its share of lazy or incompetent employees.  The Census does work to terminate these, but if we have to give each CL who brings payroll in late (or never) at least two warnings, that’s at least three weeks of delayed payroll before we can replace the person, which is why we’re getting stories from across the country of whole crews who haven’t been paid for two or three weeks of working.  Rumor around the office has it that the terminations for unsatisfactory performance are going to start coming fast and furious starting next week, although we’ve already got a decent pile going now.

Now, the admin department gets well over a hundred calls a week inquiring about missing hours or days.  In the vast, overwhelming majority of cases – including every single call I have personally handled – these hours or days are already processed and on their way to the employee on the next pay period.  I understand that it is difficult for many people, especially those whose only job is the Census, to have to wait three weeks instead of two to be paid for a particular day’s work.  Some people may be counting on being paid on time.  I think that the situation would have been helped immensely if we had issued a blanket disclaimer at training or even during the hiring process that it is normal for it to take up to four weeks to be paid for any particular day worked.  Somehow, people formed an expectation that a gigantic government bureaucracy staffed entirely by people with virtually no experience would be fast and efficient at handling paperwork, which makes me wonder if none of these employees who are calling us up or going to the media because their pay is a week late have ever tried to mail a letter or get a driver’s license.  Anyhow, we try to stay cheerful but a certain fatalism develops when all we can do is tell people, essentially, that their check is in the mail.

I can say that fortunately our department is now caught up with payroll on a weekly basis, and it is only when CLs or FOSes bring 308s in late that we process them late.  However, payroll is already on a delayed basis by design – so if I work on a Monday, that 308 gets processed by the LCO and “closed” the following Monday, which means that a direct deposit will be issued the week after that, usually on a Wednesday – a delay of up to 17 days.  So people who missed hours on their last paycheck were actually missing hours for the week of May 9-15 – which was basically the second week of actual work, and third week of employment, and at that point we had many but not all of our glitches ironed out.  By that point we had issued directives to FOSes and CLs about how and when to fill out and bring in 308s and started getting positive responses, which should be reflected in even fewer errors in next week’s checks.

However, the heart of this issue is actually in how the Census approaches the hiring process.  While the recruiting process stretches over two years, the hiring process is basically crammed into a week.  Queens LCOs had to hire 1600 – 2200 employees over the week of April 19th, for a training session that started April 26th.  This has obvious problems.  First of all, we were asking people – many of whom had taken the test months ago, in the fall or even summer – to drop everything and come in for training with a week’s (or in some cases, a day’s) notice.  This is pointless and disrespectful and also resulted in the loss of many promising candidates.  Basically, we weeded out everyone who had a job, or responsibilities, or the ability to plan, or the self-respect to demand to be treated courteously by an employer; then we hired whoever was left.  Certainly we found some people who were competent and hard-working and just down on their luck or hit by the economy, but the overall caliber of employees is lower than what it would have been if we had given people adequate notice or contacted them in a timely fashion after they took their test.

The second problem is, as I have said, the logistical difficulty of processing 2000 new hires at once.  If we had hired people on some kind of rolling basis we could have gotten their paperwork filed and their payroll started up before they had to start working.  If we had started hiring and taking care of administrative matters in, say, March or even April 1st, as most test-takers were promised, then we could have gotten people trained, processed, and into payroll before NRFU even began.  This would have eased the burden on admin, but also on NRFU and the people who had to get training sites for thousands of people all during one week.  This would also have reduced the number of people who were verbally hired but never contacted again, or who attended training but were never assigned a CL, or who were assigned a CL but never any work.

Also, there simply has to be a less resource-intensive way to handle payroll than having each employee hand a piece of paper to their CL each day, to be handed to the FOS each day, to be brought into the office each day, to then be audited by one clerk and then entered into the payroll system by another clerk and then sent to a different agency entirely for final processing.  We did payroll exactly the same way in the 2000 Census, and guess what?  We’ve had ten years and the internet since then.  We have secure banking, we have ebay, amazon, paypal (all of which, I realize, we also had in 2000).  Why can’t we have a server that the employee can log on to to enter their information; that the CL can log on to to approve the hours worked and digitally sign; that can automate the auditing process and eliminate the need for a separate data entry process?  I believe I was promised a paperless society when this whole internet thing started, so what gives?

In short, we in payroll are struggling to get everyone’s pay processed correctly and on time, but the system for doing so is incredibly inefficient, incapable of surviving the level of human error presented by barely-trained temporary Census employees, and compressed into a set of arbitrary and irrational time-frames that make actual prioritization of tasks or long-term planning impossible.  So some of us are doing the best we can, some people aren’t doing well at all, and are being fired ASAP, but ultimately I think we have to blame the planners.  There’s really nothing any of us on the ground can do to remedy the systemic problems that come from an unnecessarily paper-heavy and error-prone operation in which everything is rushed and the right hand never seems to know what the left hand is doing.

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34 Responses to “Daily Sound Off: The real problems with payroll”

  1. Samantha Jackson Says:

    Admin Day should be held a week or two, or rolling over two weeks prior to training so that Admin can keep up with processing appointee folders and have everyone hired in the system when the payroll flood starts during training week. Also, the number of computer terminals in the LCO is woefully inadequate. There just aren’t enough stations for the bodies necessary to process the appointment paperwork and then the flood of 308′s. Fortunately for Admin, PBOCS is usually down so Admin doesn’t have to compete much with Field Ops for a seat at a computer.

  2. Dairyland CL Says:

    The one and only thing the HHC did right was process payroll entries fast. The Enumerators and Crew Leaders entered their “E-308s” every day and transmitted them along with their completed AA information, while also sending and receiving messages and receiving new AA’s. By Monday morning, the FOS had it all in and approved. The Census Bureau might have kept the things just for that.

  3. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    Question for the O.P. (the person who originally posted this piece): How much of the problem do you think is due to having to process daily, as opposed to weekly, pay sheets? (Keep in mind that the 2000 Census used weekly pay.)

  4. Temporary CB employee Says:

    Thank you for your informative piece. Our LCO is catching up on payroll.

  5. Anonymous #11 Says:

    The payroll issues continue in our LCO. CL taking the 3-day Memorial Weekend off. CLA told us early this morning, we must be “on-call” today and tomorrow. We must work Sunday and Monday, too. Some individuals have completed 40 hours for this week and CLA still told them to be “on call” to work this evening and all day tomorrow. He said the Census will pay OT – none of us believe this. Just because the CLA must stand-in for the CL this weekend ….. What are your opinions? Will we get OT for working > than 40 hours, get regular pay, or get fired since OT is not allowed?!

  6. CLA Dave Says:

    In 1990 NRFU, pay arrived on time.
    In 2000 NRFU, pay arrived on time.
    In 2009 Address canvassing, pay arrived on time.
    In 2010 Enumeration of transitory locations and group quarters, pay arrived on time.
    Now pay is not on time, but it’s our own fault? Yeah, right!

  7. CLA Dave Says:

    Anonymous #11 – Do NOT work overtime unless it is approved in writing from the LCO in advance.

  8. In some LCO Says:

    “This is a personnel problem. We simply don’t have a good way to motivate large numbers of temporary employees to do their jobs promptly and correctly. Every job has its share of lazy or incompetent employees.”

    What you have described in your full post above is actually the OPPOSITE of a personal problem. It is a management and planning problem.

    It is not a personnel problem when you have non admin Field Ops clerks with 15 minutes of casual and inconsistent “training” on auditing, doing the auditing the 308s and making their own mistakes and delaying pay or screwing enumerators out of pay as happens often enough.

  9. Anonymous #11 Says:

    Thank you, CLA Dave. Our crew received nothing in writing.

  10. CLALA Says:

    It’s not workers’ fault when they get bad information resulting in D-308s being returned and a worker not getting their pay. I split my time between CLA and enumerator work and was instructed to turn in two per day if I did both duties. They were returned because I have to take a 15-minute “break” between CLA and enumerator duties or the times will touch and the system won’t process it. So if I am doing enumerator work from 2-4 I have to wait til 4:15 or the system will reject the 308s.

  11. pranita veeria Says:

    When you spend the time having new hire Managers go through the redundant application and “resume” process, and have incompetent Area Managers and ARCM’s do the interviews on these Managers, then the process falls apart all the way down to the clerks. If the Census wants “private sector” managers to come in and manage LCO’s, then let them do their jobs…stop micro-managing from the RCC

  12. Dixter Says:

    WHY are time sheets done daily? I’ve never worked out a job where you spent this much time filling out time sheets. I’ve also never been mis-paid or had my pay delayed so much.

  13. LCO-AM Says:

    Excellent write up.

    The admin department at our LCO was excellent in terms of getting payroill completed.

    My only beef, and then again I understand why it happened and I could not of done it better, was when we submitted D-150′s, the last hires were sometimes not made until the day before training. This caused some logistical challenges, we met them all.

    In some ways, it was tougher finding people that we originally thought, but we hit the goals.

    Oh, overtime is allowed with prior written approval.

  14. dedstick Says:

    I agree, very nice article. I would also add to those of you worried about unauthorized OT. If your CL tells you it’s available take it. Written consent from the LCO may not make it to you in time but keep in mind that the closer we get to the scheduled end for this project the more pressure will be placed on everyone to produce and this means longer hours for everyone. This does not mean you can work OT whenever you want – but if your CL/FOS instructs you to, and will indicate this in the remarks section on your 308, you are in good shape for some extra pay. The authorization forms will be submitted and signed before the end of the pay period and your extra help will be greatly appreciated.

  15. Chicken Little Says:

    Finally, I was able to post on “Census Workers Not Being Paid in Queens”. Some Census workers have not received their first paychecks! People have rent/mortgage, car payments, bills, groceries, …. Some Census employees can’t afford to be unpaid volunteers!

  16. PM Says:

    Super and in-depth post, thank you. Our LCO went through the same throes- MOCAD to rattle cages of those who had started their recruiting adventure a year before (many now gone, not surprisingly); a testing blitz of thousands, a processing of over a thousand personnel signup folders (the D-423 pack)- and that fingerprinting maze they figured out!

    And all (except MOCAD, which was more like Heimliching skeletons) in that Just In Time style.

    “OK- here’s your training…

    got it?”

    “Well… uh…”

    “GOOD!”

    “Uh-oh- you didn’t cross a T right here! D-283 time!” (we’re already out). Who thinks of termination as the fix for underperformers- who most likely didn’t get trained properly in the first place? How DO people pass the test well- then get lost in a class run by some clown working from a badly constructed course guide? I heard of a CL who… read… like… this…
    Excuse me… who’s qualified to lead whom?
    If confusion is a good excuse for sacking them, we could sack most people on this site as well- me included- or have we become mid managers too now? (I’ve heard of people not being trained, to set them up for termination… um…uh… ) Self-destruction of our crews is built in to the structure.

    Payroll is going overnight; it’s like Skylab in there. And one comment was spot on, in more than only payroll: clerks are shifted from this to that, OJT is more as-you-go T once the rudiments are shown… but to keep our disagreement to the minimum- isn’t it a deep-level problem? So much of this seems not done well at the start, and it’s a domino effect as to whom it knocks down. I’m happy to see the mid-manager idea again. We should cut half of them with no loss. I’m pleased to see the HHC brought up. I had thought we could dedicate these (what flea mart did they go to anyway? I want one to go with all my other swag!) to payroll now that the mapping is impossible on them, and BAM! Done at least almost daily- and no purple pencils and all that checking and recalc-ing someone’s NDOT because they couldn’t navigate it anyway. (I’m sure it’s simple, but when RCC issues one memo, then one clarifying that, then another, one a day, something appears wrong with the original framing to me.) Somewhere between Suitland and the RCCs was a huge gap to jump, it looks. The overall thing was set up, but by the time it comes to FLD it’s a jumble as to what you’ll get (Forrest G: “Life’s like a box of Census memos…”) I just saw a memo from RCC with some updated 308 processing arrangement…
    If the basis is crooked, we’ll just beat our staff up trying to fix it on the fly like this- and we are. It’s not worth argument between ourselves as to which of us is wrong; I think it was just made wrong this go around, and needs a stripdown to what is known to work; this apparently ain’t.

    I heard of moving shipping to DAPPS (if it sounds weird to you, it does to us). I didn’t think DAPPS was for FO (or QA) processing, but for personnel- I think that “Applicant” in the name was a good decoy. That latest trick got something like 4 memos just over the weekend to fix it, too.

    Everyone gotten the “disposition of materials” memo, with that sad spreadsheet? How come it’s broken into operation, instead of just a list with number and name, so you can go through it straight, one time? It’s not even done well. “Z1079- popular bag to sell on ebay- see page 2″.
    And so, what’s on page 2 about it? Nothing on my page 2. We send them to NPC, or chop up, but NOWHERE in this stellar manuscript does it say what to do about them (unless it’s “see page 2″). Who turns this stuff out anyway? I’m not looking for a patch to a dodgy list; I would like the progenitor of this to be removed from the chain, and have someone- higher up the line- do this kind of work with a sound overview of the whole game. The mid-managers shouldn’t speak because they don’t know- and not even thier fault if no one told them.

    There was a piece in my school paper: “The Ultimate Admissions Test”, with things like “You’ll find a razor blade. Cut out your appendix.” It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously as a model for running the Census, someone tell them…

    It’s taking too many patches (and too many mid-level cooks) because it’s just put together wrong from the git go. Three training books, for example. How about one? Ordering via fax? The SPR was the last revision to process that already didn’t work. How about an online form from the start like the rest of the world? Addressing the minutiae- this point about this form, or that procedure, isn’t doing but wasting our time. This forum reflects some great ideas, but a lot of questions that should’ve been answered at work. Why wasn’t it done straight at first? We seem to have gotten a system not engineered like those arms that they give peasants and anyone can put to work right now, but some cumbersome dream scenario that just doesn’t hold up to design when deployed.

    if it really *had* a cohesive design, that is.

    Thanks for the lucid and extensive post. (!)

  17. anonymous Says:

    I haven’t been paid since starting work April 27. They’ve given me the run around for 3 weeks now, always saying “Wait until next Wednesday” When I call on Wednesdays to tell them that I haven’t been paid, no answer, no voicemail. Two weeks since verifying my routing number in person at the LCO, still no pay. When I go to LCO to straighten it out they belittle and ignore me, tell me they are working on it. I had to get my FOS to go down there to back me up, even with his help I was sent to yet another person, who told me to wait until Wednesday. I don’t believe them but I don’t have anything else I can do. The hierarchy is ironclad against justly addressing such a serious issue from the lowest position. Ridiculous.

  18. anonymous Says:

    anonymous 2:20 am – I’m sorry about your LCO. I would call my Congress person and the newspaper.

    PM – excellent post!

  19. pranita veeria Says:

    PM…great post…so true on SOOOOO many counts….you didn’t include EEO complaints that run WILD here in NYC….wonder if the other states have the same issues????

  20. marigold1960 Says:

    I am currently working at the LCO in district 2616. I signed on with an office clerk position in January. My first assignment was recruiting and now I am currently working in the NRFU (No Response, Follow Up) area reviewing incoming 308′s and EQ’s and checking in AA binders. We haven’t had any of the major problems I keep reading about. The only major problem we encountered was problems with PBOC, but that was a national problem everyone had. We were able to get over that hump and managed to catch up to the point where we were just waiting for more incoming work. In fact we are doing extremely well. All processes continue to run smoothly and everyone is getting paid on time. I was told we are at about 65% completion. And ranking very high in our state. Sorry to hear everyone else is having so many problems!

  21. Senseless Says:

    I just came from a meeting at the LCO. After all the talk of how payroll is getting caught up and people are working 24/7 on payroll I was surprised to see 2 people in Admin and one of them was reading.

  22. your answers are confidential Says:

    Senseless, you are correct. LCO offices are operating on skeleton staff today and probably this Memorial Day Weekend. WORKING THIS FEDERAL AND BANKING HOLIDAY SHOULD BE OPTIONAL.

  23. ntsc Says:

    My LCO is not only caught up but has never fallen behind. And we are very near NYC. Today was very slow and we only have Saturday 308s due.

    I don’t disagree that the methods are circa 1980, but it is not that hard to stay up to date. I’ve worked about 8 hours of overtime, not even what I was authorized.

  24. angrycl Says:

    Our problems in our LCO were so bad the head of admin apparently got fired last week. I’ve heard horror stories. I will not repeat them as I’ve no idea how accurate they are, but I will say was at our LCO yesterday and everything–for the first time since the heavy wave of this operation started–looked orderly.

  25. In some LCO Says:

    marigold1960:”I signed on with an office clerk position in January. My first assignment was recruiting and now I am currently working in the NRFU (No Response, Follow Up) area reviewing incoming 308’s and EQ’s and checking in AA binders.”

    So much for the claim that admin (which is trained for it) only does the 308′s when NRFU clerks are in fact doing the auditing. I have to ask what written material and formal training Marigold has for 308′s? In our NRFU trained office clerk crew there is none and 308′s are audited by people with no training, just a set of ever varying oral instructions. Valid receipts are rejected and hours miscalculated by office clerks.

  26. EQNV Says:

    What I will never forget and never appreciate is how all of our hours and completed EQs were scrutinized with accusation. I can understand asking questions to clarify or to determine if we did the job thoroughly and properly, however, to imply outright that it could not have taken such and such amount of time, or to say outright that it is not believed that we visited the minimal three times at various times and days have been too much to bear without comment. This little temporary job has played out as if I volunteered to work free or that I volunteered to be verbally abused. We were told that we have to work a mandatory 20 hours a week, which is no problem. Then we are told we must produce 1 EQ per hour worked or our work will not be paid for. In the beginning, I was producing twice as many EQs as hours. Then when it was getting down to follow ups, I would be physically out in the field, going everywhere, calling everyone, but told that if I could not produce a completed EQ I could not report my work. If I insist on reporting my work hours I would be let go. And when there was not a threat of letting one go, there was a threat how I would not be recommended for the next rotation, although that next rotation could never be named nor have a date attached.

  27. Maiasaura Says:

    EQNV: You were told you couldn’t report your hours unless you produced a certain number of complete EQs??? Is it that bad in Nevada? Yow!

  28. Enumerate this Says:

    @EQNV: Contact an experienced employment law attorney and wear a wire.

  29. Census Boy Says:

    The problem is the weird need to have the D-308 turned in by the end of every work day instead of the following morning — this creates so much extra stress and strain for no particular reason.

    And the biggest Census bullshit is telling workers they have to deliver an EQ every hour — or they get written up. See, this was never told to us in training — nor in the first few days of field work. Had we been told that the Census was treating its enumerators like car salesmen, that’s one thing. But to expect people to be out in the field for 3-4 hours and not get paid if they haven’t gotten any EQ’s (and that does happen folks) is BULLSHIT and I would think ILLEGAL.

  30. One of the Anonymous Says:

    Tomorrow is payday …. I hope the payroll is a accurate as the Census count!

  31. One of the Anonymous Says:

    Census Boy, you are so right. On Memorial Day Weekend, many people were on vacation or not at home.

  32. anonnymoose Says:

    Census Boy, it is illegal. You should be paid for any time worked. Go above their heads and get some clarification and if that doesn’t work, report your CL to the department of labor. If you make an attempt by phone or by foot or have a meeting or any administrative work. This is not the norm. We were also told 1-2 completed per hour, but this is virtually impossible, considering the high likelihood of refusals. They’re just using scare tactics, which just creates problems and anxiety with enumerators who are already involved in a stressful and sometimes dangerous job.

  33. 'nuff already Says:

    Okay, there was a data entry error inputting my bank account number during the initial set-up of direct deposit. Needless to say, on the first payday of May 12, yup, you guessed it, no direct deposit. Good news, though, at least I received an earnings statement. I contacted my LCO on May 15 and was able to get the information corrected. Alas, it was not done in time so the residual pay from training (4/29, 4/30 and 5/1) plus pay for period 5/2-5/8, still presented on 5/19 against the incorrect account number and was once again returned to the regional census office. And I haven’t seen it since. Today is June 2nd and I’m still waiting for residual pay for 4/29, 4/30 and 5/1, plus pay for the period 5/2 – 5/8. That’s $813.00 plus change that the CB is holding hostage. I called this morning and was told to call the regional office. I called and was told the system is down. People promise to call me back, but I have little hope of hearing from anyone, I never do.

    LET ME SAY IT AGAIN….CENSUS 2010 IS THE MOST POORLY RUN, INEFFICIENT OPERATION I HAVE EVER SEEN…

    IT HAS BEEN AND CONTINUES TO BE A COLOSSAL WASTE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS! THAT’S RIGHT…TAXPAYER DOLLARS…

  34. census lackey Says:

    Yeah, I can’t say I agree.

    My CL was not paid for SIX WEEKS! She was paid on time for her training week, then nothing. When they started paying her on time, they still have not paid her the back pay she is due for the time they could not get their $h!t together! There has not been a single payday where our small QC crew of 12 have all been paid accurately. I think our issue is with the staff in our LCO. Things keep getting sucked into another dimension.

    Of course, the ROOT CAUSE of most of the problems is the fact that one only has to get 10 of 28 questions correct on the exam to be hired by the CB. Since when is 35.7% PASSING?