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.

The price tag of 2010 Census managers go to Vegas baby, Vegas… broke the story that managers from the Denver region (140 of them) went to Vegas for a “debriefing.” Unfortunately, Steve Jost and the Census Bureau Public Information Office never returned my calls/e-mails requesting the PRICE TAG of this event. Now, a month later, a CBS affiliate in Denver has taken up this case, as has a Congressman from Colorado:

A CBS 4 investigation has learned the U.S. Census Bureau sent 140 administrators from Colorado and nine other Rocky Mountain and southwestern states to Las Vegas for several days to discuss “lessons learned” from the 2010 census that could be applied in the next census in 2020. The trip cost an estimated $100,000 in airfare, meals and hotel costs and is coming under withering criticism from a Colorado congressman.

“It’s impossible to argue this without saying these folks took a vacation and they took it at taxpayer expense,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, a Republican congressman from Colorado. “I mean I think it’s the equivalent of theft,” said Coffman, who insisted the Census Bureau could have saved taxpayers money by gathering the same information from administrators by conducting online and written surveys, phone conferencing and a host of other data-gathering methods that would not involve congregating in Las Vegas.

“You need to be respectful of taxpayers. Don’t waste their money on a three-day party in Las Vegas or anywhere else to have discussions you can have via a written survey.”

The CBS4 investigation learned that the Census administrators were flown to Las Vegas Aug. 24 and put up at the luxurious Treasure Island hotel and casino on the Las Vegas strip. Some of the managers stayed for two days, others stayed for three. The Census Bureau obtained a government rate of $61 per night per room with every 40th room free, according to census officials.

While census officials say they haven’t tabulated exact costs for the trip, the federal government per diem rate for meals is $71 per day and $53.25 on travel days.

CBS4 has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the federal government to obtain precise costs for the trip. Census officials were not able to provide cost estimates for flying in managers from Colorado, Arizona, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada.

“It helps to have an exchange of information and ideas,” said Steve Jost, Associate Director for Communications for the Census Bureau.

Jost told CBS4 that the post-census meeting took place in Las Vegas because it had the lowest airfares, hotel costs and meeting room charges in the region. Jost said a meeting like the one that took place in Vegas “improves quality and processes and allows us to be efficient.” Jost said the debriefing involved three senior managers from each Census field office in the region and that they discussed “what worked, what didn’t work, how we can improve, training, monitoring big tough questions.”

Asked why the Census Bureau couldn’t have saved taxpayers money by gathering the information by surveys or electronically, Jost said his agency has had video meetings, webinars and has done mail and web-based surveys. But he said, “Sometimes you just need to sit down and hash things out face to face with these people.”

Another Census spokesperson, Raul Cisneros, told CBS4 the gathering only involved 1/4 of one percent of Census employees in the Denver region.

“We wanted to have face-to-face meetings so we could drill down and cover key topics,” Cisneros said. “This is standard management practice … we want to get that local knowledge.”

Coffman said he agrees that “after action,” data gathering is important. But he said it could have been done other ways and “this is an absolute waste of taxpayer dollars.”

In the past, President Obama has been critical of holding meetings in Las Vegas. Obama criticized corporate CEOs for junkets to Las Vegas. He told an audience in Elkhart, Ind., “You can’t get corporate jets, can’t take a trip to Vegas or the Super Bowl on the taxpayer’s dime. There’s got to be accountability and responsibility, something I intend to impose as president of the United States.”

And after taking office, Obama again criticized spending money in Las Vegas.

“When times are tough you tighten your belt. You don’t blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when you’re trying to save for college. You prioritize, you make tough choices. Its time your government did the same.”

CBS4 has learned the Las Vegas meeting was actually one of a dozen that involved flying census managers into central locations and putting them up at hotels. The Census Bureau has 12 regional offices in Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Seattle. The Census Bureau held similar “lessons learned” debriefing sessions in each region.

18 Responses to “The price tag of 2010 Census managers go to Vegas baby, Vegas…”

  1. Jay Says:

    Aren’t you the same guy who would blame the Census for not doing lessons learned? I think I know you!

  2. Mary Says:

    Thanks for reporting the results as well as the costs. For all we know they could have solved some big issues for 2020, but all you can bring yourself to report is the location. You couldn’t even muster up the details on the costs. $100k sounds pretty darn affordable to me.

  3. Al Forteni Says:

    Hey Mary,
    You multiply that by all the regions and it starts to really add up. It is not affordable and it is your and my money. We could pay a few teacher and public safety salaries or provide some needed grants to cities with that. The Vegas thing was a reward for finishing first. They cut short operations so they could “win the race” and get rewards like these. This was done at the expense of the communities that were not counted or miscounted when the documents were falsified so that offices and regions could finish first. I doubt any good information was obtained for 2010. Hopefully, Congress will revamp everything from the top down and we will do some of the Census on-line. No need for so many arrogant idiot managers who couldn’t figure out that having meetings at resorts and Las Vegas would negatively affect the public perception of the Census. Clueless. They deserve to be publicly berated. They did it to themselves. Where is 60 Minutes?

  4. JAG Says:

    A reward for finishing first? What a stupid unfounded comment Al!

    If they held the meeting in DC, the lodging costs would have been triple the Vegas cost, meal money would have been higher, and the airfare cost higher as well. If it had been in DC, nobody would have said anything.

    The thought of holding a debriefing after the largest peace time effort of the federal government is considered a waste?

  5. Al Forteni Says:

    JAG – Which region finished first? Debriefing could have been done differently and much less cost. Stop being the apologist for the Census. If they had gone to DC, the cost would have been scrutinized, also. It is taxpayer money and they have no right to squander it especially at the expense of communities. Take your case to Congress. I already did.

  6. Mary Says:

    Al- I just want to understand why someone so upset with the way things were done won’t support a lessons learned, which god forbid might solve some of the very problems he’s complaining about.

    Has he written about problems discussed in Vegas? Nope
    Has he written about the results of the discussion in Vegas? Nope
    Solutions coming out of Vegas? Nope

    Or has he focused on the fact that it was in Vegas? Yep

    Ineffective biased reporting once again.

  7. anon Says:

    What about this:

  8. GS-X Says:

    Steve Jost is right in saying a face to face meeting is needed.
    How can headquarters management decide who to promote and/or rehire if they have not
    personally evaluated who is an obsequious yes-person and who is sexually attractive?

  9. Finally... Says:

    Well I can tell you for a FACT (which is something this site rarely uses) that the Chicago region DID NOT fly managers anywhere for any debriefing meeting. We did our debriefing via questionnaires through email.

  10. Ex AMA Says:

    But Chicago is centrally located in a 3-state region. I’m sure most of their managers drove to Chicago (at 50 cents per mile) for their 3-day debriefing. In Detroit, the regions’ managers drove to Motown and stayed at the Renaissance Center. Ask me how I know…

  11. Finally... Says:

    Ex AMA – I would have been one of the managers that would have “driven to Chicago” for a debreifing and I am telling you…WE DID OUR DEBRIEFING ONLINE via a questionnaire. So before you start joining the mytwocensus journalistic team with your assumptions and false accusations, I would take a step back and listen to what people are saying who were actually invovled. NO ONE from any Wisconsin LCO drove to Chicago for a debriefing. I cannot speak for Illinois or Indiana, but the way news spreads in our RCC area we would have heard. But I would not deny the possibility that all the Chicago LCO’s getting together but they would all be local anyway.

  12. Al Forteni Says:

    GX – You are right about selecting based obsequious yes persons who are sexually attractive. Are there any women regional directors? Hmmm? Is there some sexism, gender roles? Hmm.. Actually, all of the positions for retention or rehire were pre-selected long ago with, yes; obsequious yes, win at all costs mentality, sexually attractive people. Since they were preselected, they didn’t need to meet face to face. The only reason to go on such lavish trips is to reward. Love the You-Tube video of the productive Census meeting. I love rock n roll, too. This will be very helpful in 2020.

  13. Mary Says:

    Still waiting…

  14. Al Forteni Says:

    Mary, I once saw a piece on 60 Minutes where they reported a federal government agency that was sending managers to meetings at places like this. The 60 Minutes reporter didn’t give information on what was discussed at the meeting, results of discussions, etc as you are seeking. They just reported on how taxpayer money was being spent. They did present a statement from the Agency, just like Steve Jost does but, it was standard PR responses, trying to justify the cost of the trip; low hotel rates, cheap flights, etc. Many have stated here that they did their debriefing that didn’t involve travel costs, at all.In a time when so many people are hurting due to the economy, this does not play well on main street. If the Census people had common sense they would not have risked this PR mess but, they think they can do whatever they want. When I worked for a real federal agency, I had many opportunities to go to conferences at Las Vegas, New Orleans but, I never went because I didn’t believe it was appropriate to spend government/taxpayer money that way. Where is 60 Minutes when you need them.

  15. FLAA Says:

    Our managers went to Savannah. All of the 3 allowed to go drove at least a 6 hour trip and were paid mileage, per diem, hotel were prepaid and communications. Our AMFO’s however, were not allowed to attend. Not much of a debriefing if your field operations supervisors aren’t allowed to go is it? I understand that was the case for all Florida offices. This was after written debriefing questionnaires were filled out and returned to our RCC by all managers.

  16. Maiasaura Says:

    As far as I could see, any lessons learned from the 2000 Census were not carried forward to the 2010 Census. I truly doubt that any amount of “debriefing” will result in improvement or support for the 2020 Census. Las Vegas as a place to debrief? Now that’s just silly. Everyone knows what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unless the 2020 Census is headquartered in Vegas, what good will come from any information gathered there in 2010?

  17. Solong Census Says:

    From what I have heard, seen on the Census’ own participation maps, and read on this blog, I believe the Denver Region was the first to finish the Census marathon and the trip to Vegas was a reward for being the first to cross the finish line. It is bothersome that operations were cut short by regions to be able to be in this competition. I am sure the top management of the region got even bigger rewards. How accurate was the 2010 census? Is it close enough for government work, as they used to say. For an agency that is the nations gatherer of data, close enough is too low a standard. Although massive, the 2010 decennial was flawed from the start as they could not forcast and plan properly and they overspent on technology they did not understand. They were pencil pushers trying to work with a digital world and they failed.

  18. James C Williams Says:

    James C Williams Says:

    October 21st, 2010 at 12:13 pm
    October 21st, 2010 at 10:20 am James C Williams Says:

    I also really needed this job, but the difference is I got the job! My situation is that IT (the job) cost me more money than what I made. I lost my 1994 Toyota camry in a large mud hole, (I was known “whatever it takes to get the job done”), doing the best job job that I could.
    So anyhow, I lost my car due to water intake into the engine, so in a few days I bought a 1999 Chevy tracker 4×4,( alot of surgar-sand roads in Fl.) inorder to finish my census job, It also ended short of predictions. Long story short, Census Bureau replied, NO COMPENSATION due to employee negligence. I had liability only insurance because of age of car. Mabe best that you didn’t get the job. I’m very bitter but don’t know how to handle it. I’m NOW paying for two used cars and trying to support a handicapped daughter and her two kids on Social security.
    It’s as if there’s no other waste going on. Thanks for listening!

    2nd comment: After serving in VietNam, after donating over 14 GALLONS of BLOOD in my lifetime, The US Census can’t see fit to compensate me for a 3600 dollar car I lost DOING US CENSUS work. I want to go back to the ’60′s and begin voting different than the way I have.