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.

Census Bureau “Media Specialists” cost taxpayers major $$$$ whenever they travel

Here is a fascinating story from Louisiana that details an extremely cost inefficient policy…

BY STEPHEN LARGEN

The U.S. Census Bureau is using a travel policy for its media specialists that can cost taxpayers hundreds and even thousands of dollars for a single media interview.

Each time a media outlet like The News-Star requests to interview a census enumerator, a worker who goes door to door in local communities following up with residents who did not mail back their census questionnaires, Census Bureau policy dictates that a media specialist must be physically present at the site of the interview.

The bureau says the policy ensures enumerators do not unknowingly release information about their work that is supposed to remain confidential.

When The News-Star requested an interview with enumerators who are working in local neighborhoods for an update on how the process is unfolding, the bureau responded by flying a media specialist based in New Orleans to Monroe through Dallas.

The specialist stayed in a hotel the night before the roughly 30-minute interview, and used cab rides to travel while in Monroe.

Immediately following the interview with the enumerators, the media specialist headed back to Monroe Regional Airport and flew home

CLICK HERE for the rest of the story…

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19 Responses to “Census Bureau “Media Specialists” cost taxpayers major $$$$ whenever they travel”

  1. FL-RI Says:

    While I would agree that at first glance it seems silly to fly someone in for a 30 minute interview, but it is identical to what any regular organization would do. What would happen if the Enumerator started telling a story and mentioned someone’s name, address, or neighborhood? They would open the Census up to PII lawsuits, and we all know what kind of field day M2C would have reporting on a PII breach.

  2. Ena Umerator Says:

    I see it as a safety measure. It’s too easy for an enumerator to accidentally screw up and divulge PII. It’s worth it to me, as a taxpayer.

  3. Enumerate this Says:

    FL-RI and Ena Umerator, are you guys fucking nuts?

    1. If we can’t trust an enumerator to not divulge confidential information in a brief 30-minute interview with a local reporter, how can we trust them to do enumerate completely and accurately?

    2. All kinds of organizations — organizations that treat their employees like fucking adults — permit their staffers to be interviewed without babysitters all the time. It is absolutely not “identical to what any organization would do.” Bullshit.

    3. If management insists on having a minder babysitting the interview, why not use a crew leader, FOS, or senior LCO manager? Any of those people are capable of making sure an enumerator doesn’t unwittingly divulge confidential information.

    I’ll tell you what’s really at work here:

    1. Career and office census employees believe that temporary staff and field workers are — without exception — the dumbest motherfuckers in the room who couldn’t tie their shoes without a Job Aid. The thought of a lowly enumerator talking with a reporter horrifies them.

    2. Flying for each and every interview is a SWEET deal for the “media specialists,” a sweet deal that they surely portray as vital to the census mission. Using a FOS or other high-level LCO manager to babysit the interview would derail the travel gravy train.

    And never mind that most of those “media specialists” are barely qualified and do little to no work. Your average CL does more work on a Monday morning than a “media specialist” does in a month.

  4. Enumerate this Says:

    Good find, SRM. This story is going to give me indigestion all day.

  5. mantis Says:

    From the linked story:

    “Northeastern Louisiana had its own media specialist before the enumeration process began, but because of layoffs the state has only one specialist remaining.”

    What do you want to bet the savings from not employing full-time specialists in state outweighs the cost of occasionally transporting one for a media interview?

    Oh wait, spiteful wingnut conspiracy theorists don’t do math! Too busy with the skreeeee!

  6. pranita veeria Says:

    @Enumerator This…….bravo !!!!!

    If LCOM’s, or Area Managers can’t be trusted to handle an interview, then why pay them $ 34.00 an hour or $100 K annually respectively? The paranoia that runs throughout the Census , especially when dealing with the media is laughable…the NY RCC has without a doubt the highest paid “fat-cats” anywhere in the country…

  7. annonymousse Says:

    Thanks, Enumerate this, for once again being the voice of reason!

    Yes, most organizations at least want you to get approval from higher ups, or pass it off to someone who is a “media” person. Flying someone in is a tad ridiculous. We’re sworn in to uphold confidentiality—I think we can handle the press. We have to handle wingnuts with blow torches, and guard PII like its gold. The press…piece of cake.

  8. James Says:

    Yawn.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    So SRM, how much money was spent protecting your data today?

  10. JAG Says:

    The local school district is full of highly educated teachers…..many with Masters Degrees and some with PhDs. But you know who does the talking to the media? The public relations specialist. The police and fire departments give statements via PR people. If not the PR person, then the chiefs. So, it’s not unusual for companies or governments to use PR specialists to talk to the media.

    The argument that the census taker, who was never provided media training, is perfectly suited to talk to the media is ridiculous! The next post you’ll be complaining about the Census allowing untrained people to talk to the media. If you think the census takers are ready to talk to the media, you haven’t been reading the legitimate posts on this site. ie, those that threaten residents, meet in Starbucks to discuss their work, take their dogs with them during interviews, etc, etc

    The way I see it…..the census taker is focused on their 10 minutes of fame. The media specialist is focused on the census message.

  11. CLA Dave Says:

    Conduct the interview via conference call or skype. Why is the physical presence of the media flack necessary? To physically prevent the enumerator from misspeaking?

  12. justaclerk Says:

    This is my first time commenting on this blog, but it looks like once again a chance to make a reasonable point is being blown by the blogger’s kneejerk sensationalizing, and seconded by people with some kind of chip.

    As an admin clerk, I’ve no giant love for the way the permanent operation treats us, to say the least. And I don’t think flying media specialists into every single interview makes a lot of sense, but as for characterizing the golden chance to fly into Altoona or Gary to sit in on a morning broadcast as “sweet,” oh please.

  13. Enumerate this Says:

    @JAG: Either you don’t read the newspaper closely or the reporter who covers your school district is lazy and stupid. A competent reporter talks to a wide variety of people in an organization. They may need to work with a PR flack to arrange an interview or find a source, but I would be shocked if teachers, principals and administrators are -never- quoted.

    You’re right that it’s not unusual for flacks to deal with reporters. But reporters don’t like dealing with flacks because they rarely know what they are talking about. (If you administered IQ tests to 100 random enumerators and 100 random census “media specialists,” I’m confident the enumerators would come out on top. And that’s saying something.) Reporters want to deal with the people on the ground — enumerators, cops or soldiers. You don’t see The New York Times sitting around CENTCOM waiting for the daily briefing about how great things are in Afghanistan. Their people are out in the trenches, even though the vast Pentagon media affairs bureaucracy would prefer to keep the reporters inside towing the party line.

    And I reject your claim that enumerators aren’t “ready” to speak with reporters. Again, if you don’t trust me to talk to local TV for 15 minutes how can you trust me to be truthful and competent in my enumerating? You’ve bought into the fiction that talking to a reporter is a Dangerous, Complicated Task only to be attempted by Trained Media Specialists — most often fresh-faced marketing graduates named Brittani who know little about the press and nothing about field operations.

    Even if I were to concede that the average enumerator isn’t media material, surely every FOS has a star enumerator (clean and articulate, as Joe Biden would say) who would comport himself well and not embarrass the census bureau. When a police chief or PIO arranges a ridealong with a reporter, he doesn’t pick the biggest prick on the shift. He picks the guy who’s smart, savvy and who won’t put his foot in his mouth.

    But that would require trust. And we all agree that field/temporary personnel are not to be trusted. Headquarters pukes were probably sitting around a Washington saloon during the 1880 census, bitching about all the dimwitted enumerators and EQs coming in with tobacco juice. Media specialists were riding in fancy stage coaches for a week to babysit an interview with the Lincoln, Nebr. Journal. (GSA rate, of course.)

    @justaclerk: Fair enough regarding the glamour of Altoona, Pa. or Gary, Ind. I like flying and traveling and hotels, and would love a job where I had to travel a day or two a week into exactly those kinds of places. I’d also like the frequent flyer mileage and the per diem.

    Perhaps I’m the outlier — many folks dislike the hassles of travel and time away from home — but I’m sure those trip opportunities are funneled to those who want them. If I worked in an RCC media office and someone announced “no more trips to third-tier cities to babysit interviews,” I would be absolutely crushed.

  14. somewhere in the census Says:

    FL-RI Says:” They would open the Census up to PII lawsuits, ”

    I can tell you haven’t the vaguest idea what you are talking about, there is no such thing as a “PII lawsuit”.

    The fact is that almost all the interviews with census workers simply avoid official channels. At this point 95% of the workers are near the end of their term and there is nothing the bureau can do about it. Real reporters don’t deal with flacks except to get some kind of official reaction to something they are already going to report. I have yet to see a whiff of PII in any of the anonymous sourced pieces anyway.

  15. Enumerate this Says:

    Final thought: Everyone’s read today about Gen. McChrystal and the impertinent things he and his staff said about Obama, Biden, etc. McChrystal has subsequently fired his press aide.

    How did such damaging words end up in print even with McChrystal having a press aide, or more likely a boatful of press aides? Because they ultimately can’t control what comes out of someone’s mouth or what a reporter writes.

    If a reporter asks me what I think about the census field operation, and I reply “I think the census field operation is dominated by crazy fat women prone to drama and who wouldn’t cut it as a Wal-Mart shift manager,” the media specialist at my side babysitting the interview can’t walk that one back. I said it, and the reporter is free to print it.

    The danger isn’t a rogue enumerator revealing confidential information to a reporter. The danger is an enumerator speaking candidly about what a clusterfuck the census field operation is.

    I’m being interviewed by a reporter and I have a “media specialist” by my side,

  16. Anon 23 Says:

    Everyone has a speciality, medias speciality is smoothing things over and providing enough smoke and mirrors so the bureau looks good and you (average joe) cant really see whats going on. Give them some credit, they’re good at it. Enumerators, crew leaders and oos would speak to much of the truth! You need more fluff people, that’s why there’s media!!

  17. anonymous Says:

    Typical Census waste and mismanagement. I pay taxes, too!

  18. Somewhere in Suitland Says:

    While the blog posting sounds like Census career employees don’t trust the temporary employees, I doubt that’s the case in this instance. I’m a career Census employee who doesn’t work on the 2010 Census, and I can assure you that I would be in very deep doo doo if I gave an interview to the media without letting the Public Information Office at headquarters know in advance. This might actually be a Department of Commerce policy.

  19. Arpad Golgoth Says:

    I got a 95 on the test. The proctor seemed excited by this. They wanted me to be a supervisor. Then they told me I had a criminal record when I do not. They would not tell me what I did, or when or where I did it, just that I had to prove to them that I didn’t do it. Like the guy in the Trial by Kafka. Then I heard about about a class action suit vs. the census bureau by lots of people who had the same thing happen to them. I emailed the law firm that was handling it and sent them all the documentation in support of my story. A barely intelligible black woman called me back and asked me if I was a white man. I said yes. She said I could not be part of the suit because I was a white man and hung up. What happened to this country?