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.

Let the Freedom (of information) Summer begin!

Today, Michael C. Cook of the Census Bureau’s public information office wrote the following in the comments section of this post:

The Census Bureau publicly discloses on our website a status log of all FOIA requests to assist organizations like My Two Census and individuals to track the status of formal public records inquiries. In addition we have routinely provided My Two Census with status reports on your many requests.

On February 14, 2010 you requested records on the translation services contract with Diplomatic Language Services and we provided a response in 31 days.

On February 19 and again on the 26th you submitted a modified request for correspondence with various public officials and emails which contained your itemized list of 26 profanities. We have partially complied with this request.

On February 25, 2010, you requested travel records on all Census employee hotel stays for a 14 month period. As of today, we have not received from you the legally required fee to cover the cost of this substantial request.

On April 20, 2010, you requested all records relating to technology systems at the Census Bureau covering a three and a half year period beginning in 2006. As of today, we have not received from you the legally required fee to cover the cost of this substantial request.

On April 25, 2010, you requested copies of all emails between four Census employees during a one week period in February. As of today, we have not received from you the legally required fee to cover the cost of this request.

On June 14, 2010 you requested a log of all your requests.

Last night you requested information on an employee in our Chicago Region.

What you don’t see here is the exorbitant prices — in the range of $30,000 — that the Census Bureau tries to charge me to fill these requests. However, journalism organizations, like MyTwoCensus.com, are exempt from these fees. Nonetheless, though in 2009 the Census Bureau forced me to create appeals to claim my status as a journalism organization and then waived the fees, in 2010 the Census Bureau has not recognized MyTwoCensus.com (currently getting more daily hits than ever) as a journalism organization. Here’s what I wrote back to Mr. Cook:

How in god’s name do you expect me to pay these fees? I am working for myself and this site is no longer funded. Journalism organizations are excluded from paying fees, and I only request electronic copies as I don’t believe in wasting paper. It is an insult to have to have $30,000 on hand every time I want to make a request. What do you think?

In light of this information and the Census Bureau’s continuous effort to shield itself from damaging information being released to the public through MyTwoCensus.com, I will be starting the Freedom (of Information) Summer initiative, whereby I will make FOIA requests five times per week throughout the summer. As you already read in a previous post, the Census Bureau’s FOIA staff doesn’t get all that many requests, so I’m going to make them work a bit harder to encourage more government transparency.

My voice will not be silenced, and yours shouldn’t be either. If you would like me to request information on your behalf, please be as specific as possible (dates, terms, people, etc.) and I will do my best to file FOIAs that have legitimacy for you. Here is some more info for you to check out:

http://www.census.gov/po/www/foia/foiaweb.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_Information_Act_%28United_States%29

Tags: , , , ,

54 Responses to “Let the Freedom (of information) Summer begin!”

  1. anonymous Says:

    Good work, Stephen!

  2. Vacant/Delete Chick Says:

    Here’s to MORE TRANSPARENCY!!!

  3. JAG Says:

    I would agree that $30k is a lot of money. However, you’re are asking Census to reproduce travel documents for tens of thousands of people, maybe more, for a 14 month period? Are you kidding me? Documents that are distributed through 500 offices? How many people do you think it would take to prepare all those materials? What would you really do with hundreds of thousands of pages of travel info once you got it.

    You complain constantly on this site about taxpayer waste yet you expect census to turn over whatever you want whenever you want it regardless of the taxpayer expense? I’d say congrats to Census for not forcing the taxpayers to pay for your request! You think you should be exempt? What’s the limit on how much taxpayers money should be spent to satisfy your requests?

  4. Al Forteni Says:

    This amount it costs the Census Bureau to produce these documents is a drop in the bucket compared to how much they have wasted. If they had more transparency in their operations, didn’t lie, abuse their employees, waste resources and were ethical, there wouldn’t need to be requests for information.

  5. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    @JAG – there are a half dozen employees of the Census Bureau FOIA office. As my links will show you, they don’t really answer many requests. If they are already on the payrolls, let them do some work. All journalism organizations are exempt under the current statutes.

  6. nerfoo Says:

    I’m with JAG on this one & thanks for helping me put my finger on what didn’t feel right about it.

    A watchdog group/blog/person, who’s mission is to make sure that taxpayer money is well spent, encouraging frivolous spending (and much time wasted) just to make a point? And what is the point? It seems kind of like some kind of childish tantrum to me

  7. nerfoo Says:

    I’m curious – what defines ‘journalism’ these days? It used to be easy – printed newspapers & FCC-regulated radio & TV news programs, I would guess. Now, in the days of the internet, is it determined by website traffic? It can’t just be that, because then http://icanhascheezburger.com/ would count as ‘journalism’, too :-)

  8. JAG Says:

    @SRM…..a half dozen people in the FOIA office? If the travel documents are in the 500 offices, how do you expect 6 people to get the documents without the work of, minimally, 500 other people?

    Recently, you complained that $40k of taxpayer’s money was spent moving people from Lincoln to Omaha yet you are asking Census to wave $60k in costs to you? Why is it a waste of money to spend $40k to complete the agency’s mission but perfectly logical to spend more than that to satisfy your request. While it may be true that journalism organizations are exempt, I still think it’s a waste of taxpayers money! What’s to say you won’t request comparable documents from 2000 or 1990?

    The government has to draw the line somewhere….that’s good news for the taxpayers in my book!!!!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    *cough* duplication fees *cough*

  10. QC CL Says:

    SRM, like those of us who work for the census, your job is winding down as well. If you think these rants are a way to build your reputation, think again. Certainly the decennial census operation and the Bureau have many problems. But this ain’t the right way to watch dog them. And it’s not the right way for a would-be professional journalist to position himself for his next gig. In any reputable newsroom you’d be fired for making threats like this. Go ahead, be a watch dog. Be a dogged watch dog. But don’t be an a$$. Not because you should be a nice guy. But because it’s counterproductive to your mission.

  11. symbiotic Says:

    As a retired federal attorney who spent many of my 18 years dealing with FOIA requests, had I received a request like yours with the veiled threat to put them to the task, I would have you through so many hoops that you would loose your breath (I am only saying how it can be perceived and possible repercussions).

    Keep in mind a few things, mainly that they could do nothing. You might try a political recourse but that could be dodged. Then you would be forced to federal court. Unless you find someone to do it for free (not too likely when they read what you wrote), then it will cost gobs of money. The census has a bunch of Agency attorneys (like I was but with a different agency) who partner up with DOJ for the “fight”. The legal process can drag on for years and years. I would suggest you get someone familiar with the law and its workings to strategize with before you write more messages. Just a thought.

  12. anonymous Says:

    Must agree with QC CL . You are starting to drift away from being a watchdog for the Census. It’s starting to sound as if you have a personal vendetta against the Census. For all the gripes and complaints here, there are thousands of good, hard working, honest people out there doing the best job they can to complete this work, and you do them a disservice if you start going off at a tangent.

    Seriously, as a professional journalist, you should know that using phrases such as “how in Gods name do you expect me to pay these fees” is counterproductive and amateurish. Lets get back to some objective coverage.

  13. MotleyCrewLeader Says:

    A journalist is unbiased or at least tries to be. You are not.
    A journalist researches reports and stories for their accuracy and truth. You do not. You publish rumors and gossip as news items. A good journalist does not.

  14. watermelon Says:

    Calling for the Census Bureau to be TRANSPARENT.

  15. nerfoo Says:

    I had posted a comment earlier that is still ‘awaiting moderation’. I’m thinking it’s because it has a link in it, so I’ll post it again, without the link…

    “I’m curious – what defines ‘journalism’ these days? It used to be easy – printed newspapers & FCC-regulated radio & TV news programs, I would guess. Now, in the days of the internet, is it determined by website traffic? It can’t just be that, because then the LOLcats website would count as ‘journalism’, too”

  16. James Says:

    It seems to be that this site is turning into a steady vendetta against the census operations. Not sure why. I was looking for a place that posted the unoffical news of what was going on, and yes, employee and organization problems. Not a hate site which this is rapidly becoming. I suspect that this may be the last real ‘journalism’ ‘job’ the chief blogger has. After all, having someone’s girlfriend dress up like a hooker and go into a community organization with a hidden camera has already been taken.

  17. anonymous Says:

    My Two Census Site is great for presenting ALL SIDES. Thank you MyTwoCensus!

    2010census.gov Site (especially the Director’s Blog) is a good site for positive, pro-Census news. Is that what some posters are looking for?

  18. 9 Says:

    ^^^^^^ SRM, is that you?

  19. nerfoo Says:

    I think that there’s a balance that people (myself, anyway) were hoping for, something that is neither “The Census Is Perfect!” or “The Census Is Wrong In Every Way!”. Something based in reality, not in public relations -or- in sensationalism that hopes to be so shocking that no one questions it’s veracity or scope.

    I wonder if there are any websites out there like that…

  20. nerfoo Says:

    But, in the mean-time, we’ve got this blog where the posts are, for the most part, sensationalist & often quite inaccurate. And the blog posts are open to comment from the general public, which includes some people who do read them and question their veracity and scope.

    It would probably nice for the blogger if everyone just agreed with him all of the time.

  21. JAG Says:

    “My Two Census Site is great for presenting ALL SIDES”

    Really? When does that start?

  22. lagirl Says:

    Stephen I have to say I agree with QC CL and the other comments here.

    You need to just quit whining and find some other sources for the information you want. It might require some real investigative reporting. But then again, you are a professional.

    And don’t forget most of us have been working for the census the last few months. We are all Very Aware of how frustrating and difficult it is to accomplish anything. Therefore it is no surprize to us that you too would hit a wall and nobody will help you out. That’s how it goes.

    So maybe this is a good thing: the reporter gets a direct experience of what we the employees have been bitchin’ about all along.

    Chill out. Have some beer. Watch some soccer. See you monday.

  23. anonymous Says:

    No two RCCs and LCOs operate in the same manner. You can see the different CLs and Enumerators posting on this site ….. I’m not surprised – some employees are excellent, others are just plain crappy!

  24. anonymous Says:

    JAG, the travel documents have probably been lost, misplaced, or disappeared from the database.

  25. anon Says:

    Guess what? I just finished reading comments on the Director’s Blog site. There are many former and current census workers complaining on that site, too. However, they are mild-mannered about complaining.

  26. Enumerate this Says:

    @symbiotic: Yours is the voice of reason.

    @SRM: I enjoy this blog, and it serves an important purpose. I’m thankful you put the time and effort into it. But a “savvy young political journalist” (as you describe yourself) doesn’t threaten to generate a blizzard of FOI requests out of spite. That’s not legitimate inquiry from a legitimate news organization. It’s frivolous nonsense, no different than nutty pro se litigants or prisoner lawsuits.

    Take symbiotic’s counsel to heart. Get in touch with an attorney who specializes in FOI issues. A good one will be willing to talk with you for a few minutes on the phone free as an “initial consultation.” Or get in touch with a print news reporter who deals with federal FOI issues.

    At least have a talk with your dad (it is father’s day, after all) or someone else whose advice and insights you trust and value. You’re going off the rails here.

  27. JAG Says:

    Anonymous, unlikely since census has attached a fee to providing them

  28. anon Says:

    AOL’s Confession of a Census Worker – June 9, 2010.

  29. JAG Says:

    Here’s another thought……MyTwoCensus has in the past, “claimed” to have conducted an investigation….in one case, reporting that there were hundreds of thousands of workers that did not receive pay checks. I requested details of this “MTC investigation” and received absolutely no comments whatsoever.

    Hmmmmmmmmmmm……..makes one wonder if there even was an “investigation”

  30. Josh Says:

    What an incredible disappointment this site has become

  31. anonymous Says:

    Disappointment? NRFU operation has ended for many LCOs. Former Census workers feel safe in commenting at this time while telling their work experiences. Why are people “censoring” this site while individuals are just posting their “two cents”?

  32. nerfoo Says:

    anonymous – what do you mean by ‘censoring’? I don’t see any censoring, I just see discussion. Censoring would involve removing things or not allowing things to be seen/read.

  33. GS-X Says:

    QC CL, SRM’s job should not be winding down yet. We’ve got a few more years of 2010 Census news to read.
    The data releases, the Complete Coverage Measurement operation, lawsuits and other challenges to the numbers. As far as expecting SRM to act like a “professional journalist”, most professional journalists are either clueless about the 2010 Census or simply run Census Bureau press releases like the robots they are. Definitely time to redefine professional journalist.
    FOIA is a game in which requesters try to get information that the dishonest agency releases because they mistake it for smoke. Most of the time, government agencies only accidentally release damaging information. Government agencies do not spend resources exhaustively searching their files. They release only enough information to convince the requester to stop asking for documents.

  34. Jon H Says:

    You should pay for the cost of your time-wasting idiocy. Better you than me, or millions of other productive taxpaying citizens.

  35. Interesting tweet Says:

    therealaditya: Guy On Internet Will Destroy the Census With FOIA Bombs: “Savvy Young Political Journalist” Stephen Robert Mo… http://bit.ly/aB7CD0 #buzz 14 minutes ago

  36. Ego Nemo Says:

    To fulfill some of your requests, our government (ie, the taxpayers) have to incur expenses not budgeted for, or anticipated, or required as part of the strictly-constructed requirements of the agency as set out by law.

    You’re causing the government to spend money.

    Let’s have a debate over whether all the taxpayers should pay for it, or whether the requester, in compliance with strict self-reliance and smallest-government possible principles, should bear some of those costs themselves.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    Who do you think is going to pay for the time for the taxpayer-funded government employees to fulfill your fishing expeditions? We all are, and it’s a waste. I don’t need my hard-earned tax dollars going to help you justify not getting a real job.

    You can’t just go on fishing expeditions. You need a real reason for an FOIA request.

    I’d like you to justify every one of these FOIA requests on this blog. That’s my request to you.

  38. horatio Says:

    You are a freeloader who is wasting my tax dollars with frivolous and intentionally obscure FOIA requests. You want the info? Fine, but you have to pay what seem like relatively reasonable costs considering the complexity of your requests.

  39. LarryKat Says:

    Have you got enough attention for yourself yet? Why not do something constructive instead of costing the government more money? If I were the director of the census and was being bothered by a gnat like you I would make the bill at least $100K a pop.

  40. LarryKat Says:

    Wow – just read through the comments thread… guess this stunt backfired, huh? Maybe ambush journalism would work.

  41. Chris Says:

    “How in god’s name do you expect me to pay these fees? I am working for myself and this site is no longer funded. Journalism organizations are excluded from paying fees, and I only request electronic copies as I don’t believe in wasting paper. It is an insult to have to have $30,000 on hand every time I want to make a request. What do you think?”

    Maybe they’re saying exactly what you’re trying not to admit: you’re not a journalist. You’re a wingnut conspiracy theorist who is trying to use antagonism, intimidation, and outright annoyance to try and make a point… but unfortunately you’re not quite smart enough to be able to pull it off.

    But please, feel free to present some credentials to prove them and me wrong.

  42. bobzbob Says:

    How in god’s name do you expect me, the TAXPAYER, to pay these fees for you? I am working for myself too, and I don’t have $30,000 to give the government everytime you make a nutty request.

  43. mantis Says:

    Nothing like a self-proclaimed opponent of the wasteful spending of tax dollars insisting, out of spite over the fact that government won’t waste taxpayer dollars for him, that the government waste even larger amounts of taxpayer dollars for him.

    Oh, but you call yourself a journalist, instead of a so I guess it’s ok.

  44. asif Says:

    So you want the taxpayer to foot your bill for frivolous FOIA requests? As some pseudo-journalistic effort to expose frivolous spending of taxpayer dollars? The stupid…it burns.

  45. bill Says:

    jesus, you’re a douche.

  46. anonymous Says:

    Who do you think is going to pay for the time for the taxpayer-funded government employees to fulfill your fishing expeditions? We all are, and it’s a waste. I don’t need my hard-earned tax dollars going to help you justify not getting a real job.

    You can’t just go on fishing expeditions. You need a real reason for an FOIA request.

    I’d like you to justify every one of these FOIA requests on this blog. That’s my request to you.
    ——————————————–

    If you’ve got such a strong case, SRM, answer the question above.

  47. FREEDUMBS Says:

    i aggreez wit the peoples here that freedom isnt free and srm is doing the LORD’s work in holding socialist NObama a count-able. we need moar concernd journalists like srm to investigate the corrupt census process that the socialist NObama is using with his Chicago thugs to take away our country.

    If they demand your money for your requests you should pay with TRUCKNUTZ instead. also

  48. trucknutzinal Says:

    lol this is all fail

  49. Enumerate this Says:

    mytwocensus makes wonkette! I can’t believe I missed this today:

    http://wonkette.com/416165/internet-guywill-destroy-the-census-with-foia-bombs

  50. Satorist Says:

    Hey, Frat Boy, I just read your love letter to Bob Novak. That was
    eye opening.

    Every single wild, unsubstantiated thing you’ve ever accused the Census
    Bureau of is outlined there. There is absolutely no premise for
    objectivity. In your application alone, you prejudiced everything you have
    ever, excuse the expression, written.

    And by the way, can you tell us about your visits to ALL 12 regions. I’m
    not remembering reading about your reporting on that.

    Here’s a “MyTwoCensus Investigation” for you: SRM LIES IN APPLICATION FOR
    FUNDING.

    Where I come from, making false claims for money is called FRAUD. Anyone
    else think the right-wing Phillips Foundation deserves a refund???

  51. one of the anonymous Says:

    To: Satorist and the last few very NEGATIVE posters

    You are entitled to your opinions, however, that doesn’t mean I agree with you.

  52. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Sadly, for every intelligent person that reads MyTwoCensus.com there re 5 morons. Meaning you Satorist. The fellowship gives journalists the FREEDOM to pursue a project broadly based on an outline. And that’s what I did. And I am extremely pleased with the results…

  53. Satorist Says:

    One of the anonymous: Actually more a judgment than opinion, and not meant to imply agreement from anyone else. Do you often think the expression of someone’s point of view implies that you agree with it?

    SRM: Ooh, subtle wordsmithy sarcasm from an journalist. I think you just called me “5 morons”. Ouch. But let’s forgo further name-calling and return to the subject: where are the articles you’ve written datelined Seattle or Chicago, Denver, Dallas, etc.?

    I’m sure you are “extremely pleased” with how you spent foundation money, the question is, should Phillips be? For instance, about that Census official who advised applicants to falsify their addresses during the testing session that you attended: did he also tell them how to retrieve their payroll checks sent to those fake addresses? Did you engage other participants during breaks or after the session to see if any of them used falsified addresses? Follow up with anyone who was hired? You know, in any way do the kind of investigative journalismy stuff you hyped to Phillips?

    You aren’t just making stuff up sitting in your momma’s basement, are you Cronkite? Because travelogues usually require travel and even Mr. Goldberg relies on facts, if only to distort them.

  54. enumerator Says:

    Satorist, I’m yawning.