Citizen Journalists: Census Bureau employees completing forms at fast food locales when residents are not around
Examiner.com, a citizen journalism site that I wrote a couple of pieces for about the 2010 Census, published the following story from Houston. Is this going on elsewhere too? Thanks to Stephen Dean in Houston for the following:
While stopping in for a quick sandwich, people are seeing what they call suspicious behavior by US Census Bureau ‘enumerators’ throughout the Houston area.Workers are opening up personal census questionnaires and then filling in box after box, sometimes seeming to fill in every entry on some forms. Other times, the workers are seen opening up the forms and erasing entries and then marking in new entries.In one northwest Houston fast food restaurant, a security guard who was on his lunch break spotted what looked like a group of census workers feverishly filling in other people’s forms so he confronted them. He also called an investigative reporting team.The man said it didn’t seem right that these door-to-door census workers would be filling in personal questionnaires without the citizens being present. He said it defeats the entire purpose of having enumerators going door to door to get an accurate count.When he confronted the workers off the West Sam Houston Tollway (Beltway 8) at Victory, he said one worker answered that census workers had to finish filling in the forms because citizens weren’t doing it.But the security guard, who asked that his name not be divulged, said it seemed as though as many as a dozen of the Census workers had gathered in that restaurant to fill in forms so that they could shorten their workday by making fewer actual door to door trips.He said he felt the 2010 Census would be inaccurate if workers are handed a stack of addresses to visit and they instead filled out the forms themselves without ever knocking on the doors.The man wondered if it was happening elsewhere.Sure enough, a woman in The Woodlands notified the investigative reporting team on the KPRC Local 2 Facebook page that she saw the exact same thing happening near her home, and what she overheard was troubling to her.The woman wrote in her Facebook message,These census workers were talking about a coworker who was making up information about the people they were trying to contact rather than actually doing the job to accurately document the information.”She wrote that it seemed like these workers, at the Whataburger on Sawdust near I-45 in The Woodlands, had no plans on turning the person in. They just seemed to be lamenting the fact that they were working with a deadbeat.For that witness as well, it raises flags about the accuracy of the 2010 Census. She wrote,I use the census from years ago to help me with my genealogy research. Overhearing that conversation did not make me happy to know that the information might not be accurate.”The investigative team sent hidden camera crews into both restaurants and found the groups of census workers, sitting in the exact places that the tipsters described.On the westside, hidden cameras were rolling as 8 different workers arrived in separate cars and started spreading out personal census forms on the tables.One woman carted in a large plastic crate full of paperwork.At times, the workers were doing what you’d expect them to do. They were opening up forms and examining them, and then entering the responses provided by citizens into a master notebook. In other words, the master notebook was the only thing in which they were making entries, looking down at the personal census forms and then logging the answers that were already entered with the citizens present.Other times, different stacks of census forms were opened up and the workers started filling in box after box after box by themselves, as the hidden camera was rolling.Eduardo Guity, the Houston spokesman for the Commerce Department’s US Census Bureau, insisted that no workers were filling in the forms themselves. He also said that workers were not changing entries on the personal census forms, despite what was captured by the hidden cameras and despite what citizens have reported in separate parts of the Houston area.In an e-mail, Guity said enumerators were merely involved in checking the accuracy of the forms that had been filled out at citizens’ homes. He said, at this stage in the census count, citizens aren’t supposed to be filling out the personal census forms themselves. He said that was done during the mail-in portion of this year’s count. At this stage in the process, he said it’s up to the enumerators to fill in the forms.He suggested that the concerned citizens and the hidden cameras were merely seeing workers correcting the entries after visiting the houses and apartments they are supposed to be counting.When confronted by a reporter with a full TV camera crew, the census workers on the West Belt at Victory said they were not allowed to comment. One woman, who identified herself as the supervisor, said they were not fudging the forms by making up answers themselves without visiting the homes. She said they weren’t doing anything improper. She said they were doing what they are supposed to be doing.At The Woodlands location, a reporter approached one census worker when he was alone to inquire about the conversation that had been overheard about fudging the census forms. He said the comment must have been misunderstood. He said any accusation of falsifying census forms is dealt with quickly.Census workers say there are restaurants designated as meeting spots for their field crews all over the United States.This raises another issue about privacy. Census policy requires strict privacy for all census information, and yet a reporter was able to read names and addresses on forms in these restaurant meeting spots. The reporter also overheard names, addresses, and phone numbers being repeated back and forth between census workers, sometimes with specific household details being uttered out loud.The reporter would have been able to write down names, phone numbers, addresses, and numbers of people living in homes on several different occasions during these meetings.Since each restaurant rallying point is specific to a certain area, the reporter heard names and addresses of people who lived near the restaurants, so it would be possible for anyone in those restaurants to harvest the same information.In some cases, Census workers were overheard stating a person’s name and address and then mentioning that the person does not arrive home from work until after a certain time. In one case, a census worker said he had been trying to knock on the door of a particular address that he uttered out loud, but a neighbor informed him that the family was away on vacation.That means that, instead of a reporter, it could have been a burglar hearing these government workers blurting out names and addresses of vacant homes.