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. Inspector General’s Memo: Census Says It Hired More Workers Than It Needed As a ‘Cost-Saving Measure’

Interesting article from CNS News (click HERE for full article):

The U.S. Census purposefully hired more workers than it needed, telling the Office of the Inspector General of the Commerce Department that it did so as a “cost-saving measure,” according to a memorandum that Todd J. Zinser of the inspector general’s office sent to Census Bureau Director Robert Groves last week.

“According to Census,” said Zinser’s May 26 memo to Groves, “‘frontloading’ its workforce (i.e. hiring and training more enumerators than necessary to offset turnover) is a cost-saving measure.” The inspector general’s memo, however, suggested that in at least one Census Bureau operation excessive staff had increased the “cost of operations” and that in another operation deployment of an unnecessarily large number of workers ”increased the operation’s direct labor and travel costs.”

In the first quarter of this year (January-March), personnel from the inspector general’s office observed Census Bureau operations in four programs. These included “update/leave” (U/L), in which Census workers deliver questionnaires to homes that would not be reached by ordinary mail service; “update/enumerate” (U/E), which counts people in communities where the homes lack ordinary mailing addresses or street names; “enumeration at transitory locations” (ETL), which counts people at places where their residences are potentially mobile, such as recreational vehicle parks, campgrounds, marinas and carnivals; and “service-based enumeration” (SBE), which counts homeless people at places such as homeless shelters, mobile food vans and so-called “targeted non-sheltered outdoor locations” (TNSOL).

The inspector general’s memo said that the Census Bureau had “overestimated” the staff needed for the program to enumerate people at transitory locations. “During the ETL operation,” said the memo, “crew leaders overestimated the number of Census staff needed to enumerate transitory locations, thus increasing the cost of operations.”

The memo also said that there were so many people hired for the “service-based enumeration” that there turned out to be one Census enumerator for every seven homeless people counted, and that the inspector general’s office “observed significant periods of enumerator inactivity at certain locations.”

“In another operation [which the inspector general’s office confirmed to was the SBE program],” said the memo, “we found many enumerator teams to be unnecessarily large—an average ratio of one enumerator for just seven homeless respondents. We observed significant periods of enumerator inactivity at certain locations, which increased the operation’s direct labor and travel costs.”

As a result of these problems, the inspector general suggested that the Census bureau should “reevaluate” frontloading—that is, the practice of hiring more enumerators than necessary to cover anticipated turnover. “Census should reevaluate its practice of frontloading and develop a better process to estimate workload and cost assumptions,” said the memo. “A more streamlined enumeration process could reduce training and travel costs and be more responsive to changing economic conditions.”

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15 Responses to “ Inspector General’s Memo: Census Says It Hired More Workers Than It Needed As a ‘Cost-Saving Measure’”

  1. Dixter Says:

    Fewer workers getting better training would improve the census process.

  2. PM Says:

    Too much staff?

    High attrition to enumerators. Dozens of 283s at once. For what? Like running around trying to get the numbers for some tyrant who calls that same hustling “unacceptable”.
    This clown needs to get out of any authority whatever. It’s how you get one of the lowest returns in the nation- throw crews together with marginal training, and then bullying, by leaders who can’t.

    But that’s probably figured in (hint- look at the case reassignment spaces for the NRFU enumerators). Why is a process of simply going somewhere to see if someone’s in so fraught with failure? It has to be done, or else, and under your time allowed. Oh- you went .25 over in a week? OUT! We made this 308 for you so you’d have to keep track somewhere else of the time you worked in a week. What’s so hard about that? The fact that we could have given you something like 308C instead, so you see it all in a sensible format, and didn’t accrue OT without an advance OK so you’d get canned.

    On the LCOM’s OT policy sheet (D-993):
    “Overtime is defined as hours of work that are ordered and approved in advance by the appropriate assistant manager or designee…”

    “If you are aware of employees working more than 40 hours in a week with advance approval by the apprpopriate assistant manager or designee in accordance with Census Bureau Policy, you have essentially permitted the employee to work the overtime. As a result, the employee will be compensated for the unauthorized time worked and all those who knew or should have known… will be subject to removal from employment.”

    Huh? Duh? OK- so you’re aware of OT with advance approval like they say it oughtta be… and it’s unauthorized? And y’all get fired?

    I don’t care if it’s a typo. There are lots of these ‘typos’ in our direction, and it’s all taken out on the underlings. Or, if you can, fire the LCOM to make it look good. Yeah, like that Joe Stalin guy! Memos correcting memos correcting the last memo. Memos sending you to pages that don’t say nothin’ about what they sent you there for. Switching shipping to DAPPS or something goofy to make up for PBOCS not working because someone couldn’t really think it out ahead of time. Then like 4 revisions of that as soon as it starts.

    Field Ops gets cold feet. Order more kits. Now make more kits. Now recycle all what you ordered extra and made.

    All of it why?

    “This way isn’t working! Let’s do it some more!” Instead of “This way will work with a minimum of failure… because we actually thought about it.”

    It’s typical to overspend when trying to catch up on anything on the fly- run out and buy this thing that we forgot to think about taking with us on this trip…. only here it’s mega-sized.

    Simple incompetence in management.

  3. pranita veeria Says:

    PM….sounds like you work in the NYC area….LOL The incompetent(s) that are parading as “management” in the NY area have to be the worst in the country. If they’re not intimidating people with their threats, they’re babbling on about policy that even THEY don’t know… what do you call a conference call that upper management incorporates the phrases “hot mess”, “dirty laundry” etc…?? It’s called a regular occurence in the NY area

  4. Ex-IT Says:

    The over-hiring compounded the PBOCS issues during NARFU. The high flow of materials from the field created huge backlogs of questionnaires. LCOs in turn overloaded workstations trying to keep up and the result was a very predictable failure until they started to enforce user limits.

  5. anonymous Says:

    A CL and CLA in our LCO held their binders for one whole month and pretended to work these binders. They were fired …

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Sorry to join the party late folks. Here is my take on this disastrous post:

    1. reader beware…

    2. the IG report didn’t explicitly quantify anything (number of people over and above what they needed for the ETL operation, for example) AND the time frame for the report was January to MARCH, delivered in LATE MAY, responses due back by LATE JUNE?…so it’s more like a lesson learned for the 2020, right?

    2a. the IG report does not cite this as a risk for NRFU operations… conclusion again: lesson learned for 2020

    3. SRM forgot to mention this from the article: Michael C. Cook, public information officer for the 2010 Census, responded by email. “Experiences in 1990 and 2000 have demonstrated cost and time efficiencies associated with the early training of sufficient employees to replace those lost through attrition,” he said.

    My experience: Many other government and private industries do the same thing when high attrition is expected. It’s usually associated with an exercise managers call “risk mitigation”.

    4. Question for the other census workers out there: what month did ya’ll start looking for your NEXT gig? I started looking for my next job in March. If I had found a better job, I would have popped like a cork on New Year’s Eve.

    Nite folks,

  7. GS-x Says:

    Yeah, Anonymous re your 1.: A link to the IG’s memo would have been sufficient.

  8. Jo Says:

    I’m a NRFU crew leader in a metro area. I was very surprised at how much attrition we had on my crew. After talking to other crew leaders, it became apparent that the rate of attrition I experienced is fairly typical. The number of Enumerators trained for my crew was somewhere around 20. About 20% of that number never made it out into the field; another 20% disappeared during the first couple of weeks of operations; another 20% weren’t really “good” enough to continue after a week or two.

    After a month, I had 8-10 that I counted on; by six weeks, 4-5.

    I suppose a more careful (and slow) hiring process might lead to lower attrition in the future. However, I’m glad that we trained as many as we did. If we’d only trained the 10-12 we really needed to get the job done, it would have been a disaster indeed.

  9. Jo Says:

    About the overtime: I only had two enumerators who were close to 40 hours in any given week. They kept track of their hours by themselves, and we reviewed their hours Fri/Sat so that they didn’t go over. If I recall, Enumerators are told during training that they are supposed to keep track of their hours worked during a given week.

  10. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    And really, how friggin’ hard is it to do that (keep track of a lousy weeks’ worth of hours)? I’m really tired of hearing all the bellyaching and complaining about the total incompetence of everyone above them by the likes of “PM” and “pranita veeria” here.

  11. Senseless Says:

    I can understand front loading because the attrition rate is very large. But they also add in replacement training and that creates too many people. For NRFU invite 1700 enumerators to training but keep only 1200. So those people are let go after training. The next week have 200 more people start in replacement training. Why not keep the original enumerators that have already completed training and use them to fill in as needed? They can be in a non-working status until needed. Most would be back to work within a week or two. It would be better than being terminated.

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  14. 'nuff already Says:

    I do not believe for a nano second that the purported “frontloading” was part of the strategy for Census 2010. It just doesn’t make any sense. And if by chance it was done as part of a fine-tuned strategy, then we were definitely lied to about the overall length of the assignment and the amount of hours we could expect to work each week. Clearly if they over hired they would know that the work would get done much sooner than the eight weeks allotted and that some people would not get any work at all. So much for transparency! Furthermore, whomever was behind the decision should be shown to the woodshed. It in no way saved money. How does training approximately 2/3 more people than you need help you save money? The math alone would suggest the direct and indirect costs of needlessly training over half as many people as you needed would cost upwards of $0.5B! That’s a lot of spare change just to hedge a bet! Somebody’s head ought to be rolling!

    But the real issue here is that I don’t believe what happened. I think they deliberately over hired in order to inflate employment numbers. Think about, without census hiring, the employment numbers would be much worse than what’s been reported. This is smoke and mirrors at its best!
    They can call it frontloading or whatever they want, fortunately some of us have the good sense to recognize when the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!

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