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.

Who estimated the 2010 Census supplies and printed materials contract? (RIP dead trees!)

The following article comes from a former 2010 Census manager:
A month ago, MyTwoCensus posted a picture of hundreds of boxes of materials that were being recycled. Although no one will argue that recycling is good for the environment, the truth is none of this should of been printed in the first place. The Census Bureau estimate of the census forms they needed were off completely wrong and here’s why:
The company contracted to print the enumerator questionnaires (D1-E) printed over 200 million questionnaires. However the NRFU workload was only estimated to be 47 million households. Critics could argue that the NRFU workload was unknown before the printing contract was awarded however the American Community Survey estimate of 2008 only showed 128 million households in the United States. If America had a zero percent response rate they would still require only 128 million questionnaires, not the 200 million that was printed. There were 15 million enumerator supplemental questionnaires (D-1E SUPP) printed which field staff used when there were six or more household members. Information on how many households have six or more people was unavailable however only 23.4% of American households have 4 or more members. Any statistician can say with confidence that households with six or more members is negligible.
The errors in estimate cascaded to other printed materials such as information sheets and notice of visits also being overprinted. For example even though census procedures specifically allowed only three personal visits; in some regions to increase accuracy and avoid going to a proxy some enumerators made more than three visits. However Stephen Morse’s picture clearly shows there are still hundreds of boxes of these forms unused. Another example were the forms for eligibility employment verification (I-9) forms. The contract for the I-9 forms was 20 million, yet the census only ended up hiring about 600,000 employees across the nation and estimates show only a couple of million applicants.
None of this news should be surprising, Census models are completely inadequate. In 2009 during address canvassing they threw away millions of taxpayers’ dollars on training employees for which there was little or no work available. Each office returned palettes and palettes of office supplies such as pens, pencils, paper clips and rubber bands. The companies contracted to provide these were the ones who received the money.
If Census managers are infuriated over this picture perhaps they should be funneling their energy towards ensuring that their money is spent on technology that actually works and the proper amount of printing. Surely printing 200 million questionnaires for just 48 million households assuming assignment prep error is a little overkill.

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21 Responses to “Who estimated the 2010 Census supplies and printed materials contract? (RIP dead trees!)”

  1. Mary Says:

    You only mention NRFU. What about the other operations? Other food for thought: System development, testing, training, mistakes, damaged forms, contingency planning. You might want to consider that because there were a lot of people using forms that did not work in the field. What happens when a part of the US gets flooded or god forbid something worse happens at a distribution center? You think this is a joke, but we actually do risk mitigation when you only have one shot to get it right.

    How much did it all cost to print? How much was the contact? If the contract value was low and the materials are being recycled, then why are we talking about it?

    Also, is it cheaper to print multiple runs or one big one? If it helps put things in perspective, why don’t you find out what we did during 2000.

  2. anon Says:

    So many questions! What if the response rate were 2% worse?

  3. GS-X Says:

    Whack this “former 2010 Census manager” on the head. The statement
    “Any statistician can say with confidence that households with six or more members is negligible.”
    is false. The idiots at Census headquarters have been paid to undercount the US population.

  4. Charles Gordon Says:

    What is the big fuss. Did you not know that some one had a uncle in the print business. What is worse is that there was so much stuff sent to the LCO’s that had to be either thrown out or recycled. Would it not have been better to store in a central location and ship to the LCO’s on an as needed basis. If they wanted to do the count this time statastically, could they not have done the same with all the supplies each RCC and then each office needed.

  5. P for Pres Says:

    It’s Obama’s fault

  6. GS-X Says:

    This article underscores the fact that the US Census Bureau isn’t good at estimation of any sort.

  7. NJCensus Says:

    @GS-X, I completed over 300 cases in NARFU, VDC, RES and never found a single household with over 5 members. I think my entire crew of 30 people may have found about a dozen households that consisted of 6 or more people. I also found only one house that was owned “free and clear”. The owner was an eighty-five year old woman.

  8. Patrick Says:

    @ GS-X, NJCensus:

    It will depend where you live. If in a city, chances are good you will have significantly fewer houses owned free and clear and you will also find fewer large families than you might find, for example, in a more suburban area. And if you live in more rural areas, you will find significantly higher numbers of both free and clear houses and larger families (I was CL in upstate New York and had no city districts whatsoever).

  9. Solong Census Says:

    What is so sad is the Census Bureau is our collector and keeper of data, our statistical experts who analyze and project information and data for our nation. Yet, they can’t analyze current conditions and estimate or project supplies, services and staffing needs. They spent considerable amounts of money on unneeded supplies and services. They hired and trained too many people. For AD CAN people were hired and trained in the LA Region who never worked because they weren’t needed. Yet upper management insisted they be hired. The question we must ask is how reliable is their product? You have heard the old saying “garbage in; garbage out”. They may have completed the “largest Census ever”, 2010, on time, met goals at all costs, but did they do service or disservice to our communities and to the taxpayers. If this were private industry, these managers would have been on the unemployment line afer AD CAN.

  10. SAS Says:

    Re GSX:

    Indeed—the claim that there are no households with more than six people is not only statistically ludicrous, it’s experientially false. In the Salt Lake City, Utah, LCO, we were chronically short of the supplemental forms. The other Utah LCOs were even worse off. Blame large Mormon families, I suppose, but don’t immediately blame the Census.

    Part of this is a calculus of cost—we can estimate population, household size, etc. but the point of the census is to actually go and count. And when you’re doing the count, running out of supplies is a problem. Printing up new materials at short notice costs a lot more, and distribution is a logistical challenge. So I can understand why they erred on the side of printing more stuff than they needed, and set the system up to have excess at every level.

    You can certainly claim that they still produced way too much—and I’d agree with you. But some amount of oversupply makes good sense.

  11. EnumeratorInHeels Says:

    Re SAS:
    The author does not state there are NO households with six or more people. He says that it is a very small percentage compared to the other NRFU cases. If your LCO in Utah were chronically short of supplemental forms perhaps we could of given you a few pallets worth. Our office only went through a single box 850 forms. We also had so many rubber bands the office staff had a contest to see who could make the biggest.
    I know the Census headquarters is cringing at this article and hopefully the Inspector General has looked into this already. Kudos to whomever wrote this.

  12. P for Pres Says:

    I blame the Census for under-preparing.

  13. GS-X Says:

    Thanks to all who weighed in.
    As a Census Insider I cannot share titled info in the best defense of my statements.
    The NRFU workload NJCensus describes is not even representative of the neighborhood NJCensus enumerated.
    The free and clear owners were probably more likely to mail back their census forms than those who did not.
    With the second highest median household income, NJ is not representative of the nation. Check out the census web site. Median household size would be a more useful statistic for us but Census reports average household size. Screwy. Yet the Census Bureau web site shows they should have known from their own statistics that Utah households have the greatest average size in the nation. No excuse for a shortage of supplemental forms in Utah. Search on doubling up and you will find a lousy bar chart presented September 16th, 2010
    showing an increase. Does anyone remember that “Doubling Up” was more prominently displayed on the census web site than it is now?

  14. GS-X Says:

    We do not read the Director’s Blog.
    There is a March 29, 2010 post on Doubled-up Households. No statistics in it.
    Does not say anything about how enumerators might need supplemental forms to enumerate doubled-up households.

  15. NJCensus Says:

    @GS-X, I worked in several Northern NJ towns, about 10 miles outside of New York City. The area is very densely populated. I’m not trying to start any arguments, or point fingers at anyone, I’m just relating my experiences. When I say that I completed over 300 cases, I’m talking about the total for the three operations I worked: NARFU+VDC+RES. I worked for three different crew leaders. About 1/3 of my cases were single family homes, the remainder were apartments, co-ops, condos and the like. Some of the buildings I worked in contain over 200 units. One apartment complex had over 100 NARFU cases alone. I never needed to use a continuation form. As best as I can recall, I think my NARFU crew found less then two dozen households that contained 6 or more members. We were, however, well supplied with continuation forms. Is that an example of waste? Should someone at the Census have known that very large families are not the norm in the NYC area? Actually, the fact that we had lots of continuation forms didn’t bother me at all. What I found really shocking was the poor planning…no planning actually…in dealing with apartment buildings, condos and the like. Apartments, condo, co-ops caused us endless problems — hostile tenants, obstructionist management, indifferent/arrogant landlords. I’m not privy to the numbers, but I’m guessing that the waste caused by poor planning, regarding multi-unit dwellings, cost a lot more than the unused continuation forms. Why was there no outreach to property owners/management before enumerators were sent? Why was nothing done when the LCO was informed of the problems? Their stock reply was, “keep trying”. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.

  16. GS-X Says:

    NJCensus, I agree that poorly planned NRFU enumeration of multi-unit dwellings is a more serious 2010 Census problem than the distribution of continuation forms. You ask very good questions. Let’s see how Census management answers them!

  17. anon Says:

    The malware warnings are back. When is this going to go away?

  18. Al Forteni Says:

    Yes, the malware continues. Someone doesn’t like this blog and released a virus. The attacking computer is

    Source address:

    I wonder who did this? Census operatives? Those who don’t want the truth to come out? Hmmmm, suspicious.

  19. P for Pres Says:

    Really Al Forteni, think you need to learn about IP addreses. Also, .ru, must be the ruskies are after mytwocensless.

  20. remacts Says:

    200 Million EQs seems about right.

    You must consider the 2010 Census foolishly classified Timeshares as Housing Units. I ought to know as I was AMFO.

    Our LCO received numerous calls from Timeshare Vacation Resorts in our area asking what to do with the Giant Bags of Questionaires delivered to them. We were instructed to answer “just throw them out”

    All these EQs not returned from these timeshares them became an gargantuan part of NRFU and the waste perpetuated itself bigger and bigger.

  21. Al Forteni Says:

    P for Pres,
    Didn’t you blame Obama for it? I’m not a tech person so, I just listed what I saw. Obama , rusies, Census Ops, hackers….you, me? Never know. Conspiracies are everywhere and Census Management conspired in some cases to do bad things. Can’t let them off the hook. Someone(s) didn’t like this blog.