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.

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New York Redistricting Map Is Finally Here: The New York Times Makes It Interactive

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

As Congressional districts have been sliced and diced across New York, the New York Times created an easy-to-use interactive map detailing the changes. Enjoy it HERE!

Louisiana vs. The Census Bureau, Department of Commerce, and Obama Administration

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

On November 14, 2011, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell ”filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to recover the congressional seat taken from Louisiana as a result of the 2010 Census. To properly apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Constitution requires that a census be taken every 10 years to count the number of lawful residents in each state. In the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau included illegal foreign nationals, along with holders of guest-worker visas and student visas, in the count of lawful residents of each state. As a result of the Census Bureau’s practice, states with large numbers of illegal foreign nationals gained congressional seats, while states with low numbers of illegal foreign nationals, like Louisiana, lost congressional seats.”

This sentiment was augmented by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch which took further action today:

Judicial Watch, the organization that investigates and fights government corruption, announced today that it filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the State of Louisiana challenging a current federal policy in which “unlawfully present aliens” were counted in the 2010 Census (Louisiana v. Bryson).

The government used these census numbers to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives and, as a result, the State of Louisiana lost a House seat to which it was entitled.  Louisiana is asking that the Supreme Court order the federal government to recalculate the 2010 apportionment of House seats based upon legal residents as the U.S. Constitution requires.

Judicial Watch’s brief was filed on January 13, 2012, in partnership with the Allied Educational Foundation (AEF) in a lawsuit filed by the State of Louisiana against John Bryson, U.S. Secretary of Commerce; Robert Groves, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau; and Karen Lehman Hass, Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.  According to the brief:

Amici are concerned about the failure to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and the corrosive effect of this failure on our institutions and the rule of law.  Among the problems caused by this failure is a redistribution of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to States with large populations of unlawfully present aliens.

Amici respectfully submit that neither Article I Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment, or any other provision of the Constitution authorize or permit the inclusion of unlawfully present aliens in the apportionment process.  As a result, this case raises issues critical not just to Louisiana, but to every State, every American citizen, and our federal system of government.

Judicial Watch argues that due to this Census Bureau policy at least five states will lose House seats to which they are entitled.  For example, based upon the Census Bureau’s calculation, Louisiana is being allocated only six House seats, as opposed to the seven that it would have been apportioned, were it not for the inclusion of illegal aliens and “non-immigrant foreign nationals,” encompassing holders of student visas and guest workers.  The brief also notes that the “apportionment, in turn, determines the apportionment of electors in the Electoral College for the next three presidential elections.”

ProPublica: How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Note: This piece was originally published by ProPublica and has been republished with their consent and encouragement.

by Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson ProPublica, Dec. 21, 2011, 3:38 p.m.

This spring, a group of California Democrats gathered at a modern, airy office building just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The meeting was House members only 2014 no aides allowed 2014 and the mission was seemingly impossible.

In previous years, the party had used its perennial control of California’s state Legislature to draw district maps that protected Democratic incumbents. But in 2010, California voters put redistricting in the hands of a citizens’ commission where decisions would be guided by public testimony and open debate.

The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting 2014 no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”

In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee 2014 a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates 2014 members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines,” according to another email.

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.

In one instance, party operatives invented a local group to advocate for the Democrats’ map.

California’s Democratic representatives got much of what they wanted from the 2010 redistricting cycle, especially in the northern part of the state. “Every member of the Northern California Democratic Caucus has a ticket back to DC,” said one enthusiastic memo written as the process was winding down. “This is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region.”

Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.

“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”

As part of a national look at redistricting, ProPublica reconstructed the Democrats’ stealth success in California, drawing on internal memos, emails, interviews with participants and map analysis. What emerges is a portrait of skilled political professionals armed with modern mapping software and detailed voter information who managed to replicate the results of the smoked-filled rooms of old.

The losers in this once-a-decade reshaping of the electoral map, experts say, were the state’s voters. The intent of the citizens’ commission was to directly link a lawmaker’s political fate to the will of his or her constituents. But as ProPublica’s review makes clear, Democratic incumbents are once again insulated from the will of the electorate.

Democrats acknowledge that they faced a challenge in getting the districts they wanted in densely populated, ethnically diverse Southern California. The citizen commission initially proposed districts that would have endangered the political futures of several Democratic incumbents. Fighting back, some Democrats gathered in Washington and discussed alternatives. These sessions were sometimes heated.

“There was horse-trading throughout the process,” said one senior Democratic aide.

The revised districts were then presented to the commission by plausible-sounding witnesses who had personal ties to Democrats but did not disclose them.

Commissioners declined to discuss the details of specific districts, citing ongoing litigation. But several said in interviews that while they were aware of some attempts to mislead them, they felt they had defused the most egregious attempts.

“When you’ve got so many people reporting to you or making comments to you, some of them are going to be political shills,” said commissioner Stanley Forbes, a farmer and bookstore owner. “We just had to do the best we could in determining what was for real and what wasn’t.”

Democrats acknowledge the meetings described in the emails, but said the gatherings “centered on” informing members about the process. In a statement to ProPublica, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, head of California’s delegation, said that members, “as citizens of the state of California, were well within their rights to make comments and ensure that voices from communities of interest within their neighborhoods were heard by the Commission.”

“The final product voted on by the Commission was entirely out of the hands of the Members,” said Lofgren. “They, like any other Californian, were able to comment but had no control over the process.”

“At no time did the Delegation draw up a statewide map,” Lofgren said. (Read Lofgren’s full statement.)

California’s Republicans were hardly a factor. The national GOP stayed largely on the sidelines, and individual Republicans had limited success influencing the commission.

“Republicans didn’t really do anything,” said Johnson. “They were late to the party, and essentially non-entities in the redistricting process.”

Fed-up voters create a commission

The once-a-decade redistricting process is supposed to ensure that every citizen’s vote counts equally.

In reality, politicians and parties working to advance their own interests often draw lines that make an individual’s vote count less. They create districts dominated by one party or political viewpoint, protecting some candidates (typically incumbents) while dooming others. They can empower a community by grouping its voters in a single district, or disenfranchise it by zigging the lines just so.

Over the decades, few party bosses were better at protecting incumbents than California’s Democrats. No Democratic incumbent has lost a Congressional election in the nation’s most populous state since 2000.

As they drew the lines each decade, California’s party bosses worked in secret. But the oddly shaped districts that emerged from those sessions were visible for all to see. Bruce Cain, a legendary mapmaker who now heads the University of California’s Washington center, once drew an improbable-looking state assembly district that could not be traversed by car. (It crossed several impassable mountains.)

Cain proudly told the story of the district, which was set up for one of the governor’s friends. Cain said he justified the odd shape by saying it pulled together the state’s largest population of endangered condors. “It wasn’t legitimate on any level,” Cain recalled.

The 2010 ballot initiative giving the citizen commission authority over Congressional districts was sold to voters as a game changer. Not surprisingly, it was strenuously opposed by California’s Democrats, who continue to control the Statehouse.

No fewer than 35 Democratic politicians 2014 including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi 2014 and their allies spent a total of $7 million to campaign against the proposition. The effort included mailings from faux community groups that derided the commission’s $1 million annual budget as “bureaucratic waste.” Despite this effort, Californians voted 61 percent to 39 percent to wrest federal redistricting from the hands of state lawmakers.

Immediately, Democrats began organizing to influence the citizen commission. There were numerous opportunities.

According to civics textbooks, the aim of redistricting is to group “communities of interest” so that residents in a city, neighborhood or ethnic group wield political power by voting together. The commission took an expansive view of this concept, ultimately defining a “community of interest” as anything from a neighborhood to workers on the same commute, or even areas sharing “intense beach recreation.”

This gave savvy players an opening to draw up maps that benefited one party or incumbent and then find 2014 or concoct 2014 “communities of interest” that justified them.

Democrats set out to do exactly that.

On March 16, members of the California delegation gathered at Democratic Party offices to discuss how to handle redistricting. They agreed that congressmen from the various regions of California 2014 North, South and Central 2014 would meet separately to “create a plan of action,” according to an email recounting the day’s events by Alexis Marks, the House aide. Among the first tasks, Marks wrote, was determining “how to best organize communities of interest.”

Democrats were already working “BEHIND THE SCENES” to “get info out” about candidates for the job of commission lawyer who were viewed as unfriendly. “I’ll keep you in the loop, but do not broadcast,” Marks wrote.

“The CA delegation has been broken down into regions that will be discussing redistricting at the member level,” read another party email from late March. “Members will be asked to present ideas on both issues” 2014 communities of interest and district lines 2014 “and will be asked to come to some consensus about how to adopt a regional strategy for redistricting.”

Over the next several weeks, California Democrats huddled with Mark Gersh, the party’s top mapmaking guru. Officially, Gersh works with the Foundation for the Future, a nonprofit whose declared goal is “to help Democrats get organized for the fight of the decade; the fight that will determine Democratic fortunes in your state and in Washington, D.C. for years to come: Redistricting!”

The foundation is well funded for this fight. Its supporters include longtime supporters of the Democratic Party: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as well as the American Association for Justice (previously known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America). The foundation was launched in 2006 when Nancy Pelosi’s office worked with both groups to start it.

Neither Gersh nor participants would describe in detail what was discussed at the meetings. But from Marks’ emails and other sources, it is clear that California’s Democrats sat down together to discuss mutually agreeable districts that would protect incumbents.

The value of coordinating efforts to influence the commission cannot be overstated. If each Democrat battled separately for the best district, it was likely that one Congress member’s gain would harm countless colleagues. Creating Congressional districts is a lot like a Rubik’s cube: Each change reshapes the entire puzzle. The Democrats’ plan was to deliver synchronized testimony that would herd the commission toward the desired outcomes. If it worked perfectly, the commissioners might not even know they had been influenced.

Over the summer, Marks sent out more than 100 emails about redistricting, according to multiple recipients of the messages. According to House records, Marks earned $112,537 in 2010 in her post as deputy director of the California Democratic delegation. That makes her a federal employee. But although many of the messages were sent during the work day, a spokesman insisted Marks did so in her after-hours role as a political staffer for Democrats. They were sent from a Gmail account. Lofgren’s office did not make Marks available for comment, citing policy that staffers do not speak on the record. Instead, they pointed to Rep. Lofgren’s statement.

Federal employees are not allowed to do campaign work on government time, or use government resources, according to House ethics rules.

The emails alerted staff and legislators when the commission was scheduled to discuss their districts and they encouraged them to have allies testify to “community of interest” lines that supported their maps.

Marks told members they would be asked to raise money for a legal challenge if things didn’t work out. The delegation, she said, was working with Marc Elias, who heads an organization called the National Democratic Redistricting Trust. (The trust shares a website with The Foundation for The Future.)

Last year the trust persuaded the Federal Election Commission to allow members to raise money for redistricting lawsuits without disclosing how the money was spent, how much was raised, and who had given it.

The commission blinds itself

Back in California, the commission was getting organized. Its first task was to pick commissioners. The ballot initiative excluded virtually anyone who had any previous political experience. Run for office? Worked as a staffer or consultant to a political campaign? Given more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year? “Cohabitated” for more than 30 days in the past year with anyone in the previous categories? You’re barred.

More than 36,000 people applied. The state auditor’s office winnowed the applicants to a group of 60 finalists. Each party was allowed to strike 12 applicants without explanation. Then, the state used Bingo-style bouncing balls in a cage to pick eight commissioners 2014 three Republicans, three Democrats and two people whose registration read “decline to state” (California-speak for independent). The randomly selected commissioners then chose six from the remaining finalists to complete the panel.

The result was a commission that included, among others, a farmer, a homemaker, a sports doctor and an architect. Previous redistrictings had been executed by political pros with intimate knowledge of California’s sprawling political geography. The commissioners had little of that expertise 2014 and one of their first acts was to deprive themselves of the data that might have helped them spot partisan manipulation.

The law creating the commission barred it from considering incumbents’ addresses, and instructed it not to draw districts for partisan reasons.

The commissioners decided to go further, agreeing not to even look at data that would tell them how prospective maps affected the fortunes of Democrats or Republicans. This left the commissioners effectively blind to the sort of influence the Democrats were planning.

One of the mapping consultants working for the commission warned that it would be difficult to competently draft district lines without party data. She was overruled.

The lack of political data was “liberating,” said Forbes, the commissioner. “We had no one to please except ourselves, based on our best judgment.”

“I think,” he said, “we did a pretty good job.”

The commission’s judgments on how to draw lines, Forbes and others said, was based on the testimony from citizens about communities of interest.

“We were provided quite a number of maps from various organizations,” said another commissioner, attorney Jodie Filkins-Webber. If the groups were basing their maps on political data to favor one party, “they certainly did not tell us that.”

“Districts could have been drawn based on voter registration,” Filkins-Webber said, “but we would never have known it.”

The commission received a torrent of advice 2014 a total of 30,000 separate pieces of testimony and documents. Records suggest the commission never developed an effective method for organizing it all. The testimony was kept in a jumble of handwritten notes and computer files. The commissioners were often left to recall testimony by memory.

The difficulties in digesting and weighing the reams of often-conflicting testimony enhanced the value of people or groups who came bearing draft maps.

“Other people offered testimony; we offered solutions,” said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a powerful business group outside Los Angeles that persuaded the commission to adopt its Congressional map for the San Fernando Valley.

How Democrats locked down Northern California

Redistricting is a chess game for people with superb spatial perception. Sometimes, anchoring a single line on a map can make everything fall into place.

According to an internal memo, Democrats recognized early on that they could protect nearly every incumbent in Northern California if they won a few key battles. First, they had to make sure no district crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.Then, they had to draw a new seat that pulled sufficient numbers of Democrats from Contra Costa County into a district that included Republicans from the San Joaquin Valley.

The man with the most to lose was Rep. Jerry McNerney, who represented an octopus-shaped district that had scooped in Democrats from the areas east of San Francisco. McNerney’s prospects seemed particularly dismal. Early in the year, he made The Washington Post’s national list of top 10 likely redistricting victims.

Republicans moved first, attempting to create a district that would keep San Joaquin County whole and pick up conservative territory to the south. But then a previously unknown group calling itself OneSanJoaquin entered the fray.

OneSanJoaquin described itself as a nonprofit, but records show it is not registered as such in any state. It has no identifiable leadership but it does have a Facebook page, called OneSanJoaquin, created by the Google account OneSanJoaquin.

The page was posted in early April, just as the commission began taking testimony. Its entries urged county residents to download maps and deliver pre-packaged testimony.

On the surface, the OneSanJoaquin page seemed to be serving Republicans’ interests. But Democrats were one move ahead and understood that a united valley would inevitably lead to a Democratic-leaning district. (Republicans apparently did not understand that federal voting rights requirements ruled out their proposed district, since it would have interfered with the Latino district to the south. That misconception was encouraged by the maps on the OneSanJoaquin page, which were drawn to make this look possible.)

In fact, the only way to make a district with “one San Joaquin” was to pull in the Democrats in eastern Contra Costa 2014 the far reaches of San Francisco’s Bay-area liberals.

The author of OneSanJoaquin’s maps was not identified on the Facebook page, but ProPublica has learned it was Paul Mitchell, a redistricting consultant hired by McNerney.

Transcripts show that more than a dozen people delivered or sent the canned testimony to the commission, which accepted it without question. There’s no sign that commissioners were aware some of the letters had been downloaded from the mysterious OneSanJoaquin page.

After the commission finished, McNerney announced he was moving to the newly created San Joaquin district to run for re-election. It was a huge improvement for him. In 2010, he barely won his district, beating his opponent by just one point. If the 2010 election were re-run in his new district, he would have won by seven points, according to the Democrats’ internal analysis. (McNerney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

Summing up the story, an internal Democratic memo said the GOP had been decisively out-maneuvered “Their hope was to create a Republican Congressional seat,” the memo said. “Their plan backfired.”

“McNerney ends up with safer district than before,” Mitchell’s firm tweeted, after McNerney announced his candidacy in his new district. “Wow! How did he do that?”

An under-funded commission

While players attempting to influence the process were well funded, the commission struggled with a lack of time and money. They responded, in part, by reducing citizens’ opportunities for input.

The budget for the whole map drawing undertaking was just over $1 million. At first, the commission had its public hearings transcribed 2014 then the money ran out and they stopped.

The commissioners received $300 per day as compensation and were eligible for reimbursement of travel and out of pocket expenses. Most kept their day jobs at the same time they tried to juggle their roles as commissioners.

It was a grueling schedule, with 35 public hearings taking place over just three months. “I had three days off between” April and August, said Commissioner Filkins-Webber, who maintained her legal practice while serving. “I was working basically on average18 hours a day.”

The commissioners also had to deal with public anger. The Tea Party in California decided to use the hearings as a forum to protest the Voting Rights Act, for instance, and at one hearing got so rowdy that police intervened.

Experts hired by the commission to actually draw the maps were also overworked and underpaid. Half a dozen times the meeting transcripts contain references to map drawers working overnight to prepare maps.

Overwhelmed by the task at hand, the commission decided to essentially shut down public participation halfway through the process. After the first round of drafts, which were widely criticized and abandoned, the commission stopped releasing formal drafts. More importantly, commissioners stopped holding hearings, which meant the next draft was prepared without public input.

The commission moved its meetings to Sacramento, not far from where party bosses had once gathered in secret to set the lines. The commission’s meetings were webcast to the public. But only those with the resources and time could participate.

“You have to ask yourself, who has the money to send people up to Sacramento like that,” said Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which was active in organizing grassroots participation in the redistricting process.

“We didn’t have the money to do that. No way.”

The commission released no further drafts. In July, it made public a “draft final.” Voters had two weeks to submit comments before it became final. Most of those comments came from insiders who had been closely watching the Sacramento meetings.

Southern California Democrats also win

For those who could stay engaged, the Sacramento phase of the commission’s work proved rewarding. One politician who benefited was Southern California Congresswoman Judy Chu.

When it appeared that Chu would get an unfavorable district late in the game, a group with ties to the congresswoman went before the commission in Sacramento and convinced the commissioners to draw a favorable map that included her political stronghold, a town called Rosemead. Chu enjoyed broad support in Rosemead, where she was first elected to the school board in 1992 and later served in the state assembly.

The group, which called itself the Asian American Education Institute, worked with Paul Mitchell, the same consultant who helped engineer the triumph of Northern California Democrats.

Records show that crucial last-minute testimony in favor of Chu’s district was delivered by Jennifer Wada, who told commissioners she was representing the institute and the overall Asian-American community. Wada did not mention that she lives and works as a registered lobbyist in Sacramento, 400 miles from the district, or that she grew up in rural Idaho, where most of her family still lives. Wada says she was hired by the institute to “convey their concerns about Asian and Pacific Islander representation” to the commission.

The second witness was Chris Chaffee, who said he was a consultant for the institute and an employee of Redistricting Partners, Mitchell’s firm.

Commissioners accepted this map without asking a basic question: Who, exactly, was the Asian American Education Institute representing?

The group’s tax records show it had no full-time employees. Its website is barebones, and clicking on the “get active” button on the home page leads nowhere, simply returning users to the home page.

There’s another interesting feature of the Web site: the domain name is registered to a man named Bill Wong, a political consultant who has worked on multiple Chu campaigns, as well as her husband’s successful bid for Judy Chu’s old state assembly seat. Chu paid Wong $5,725 for consulting work in 2010, FEC records show. Her husband, Mike Eng, donated $4,500 to the Asian American Education Institute in 2010 and 2011.

The institute, said Wong, “argued to keep communities of interest together. Since Rep. Chu has been a strong advocate for Asian communities, it would make sense for her to represent them.” Wong added that he “discussed redistricting with a number of Asian-American legislators.”

An email obtained by ProPublica shows Amelia Wang, Chu’s chief of staff, telling Chu and Bill Wong about testimony submitted by another Asian group, Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting, which also intervened at the last minute to offer similar maps. In case that didn’t do the trick, Mitchell himself went before the commission, urging the commissioners to accept the maps submitted by the institute (his employer) and the coalition.

And that’s what the commission did, incorporating proposed lines for both groups and drawing a map that included Rosemead in Chu’s new district.

Wang told ProPublica that Chu’s office and the institute “did communicate about keeping communities of interest together, including Rosemead. However, Rep. Chu did not hire Bill Wong for redistricting or to testify on her behalf before the commission.”

“Rep. Chu has represented a united Rosemead city since 2001,” said Wang, “it would have been a tragic mistake to divide it.”

Though the process turned out well for Chu, it didn’t work out so well for the town of South El Monte.

To make room for Rosemead in Chu’s district, South El Monte 2014 85 percent Latino 2014 got bumped into another district across the mountains that is much less Latino, and much more affluent.

The town’s mayor, Luis Aguinaga, say the new lines “don’t make sense.” South El Monte is now split off from sister communities in the San Gabriel Valley 2014 including North El Monte and El Monte.

“We’re always on the same side, always fighting for the same issues,” Aguinaga said. “On this side of the San Gabriel Valley we have a voice. If we’re apart it will be much harder to be heard.”

Other communities lost, too.

Outside Los Angeles, residents of what’s known as Little Saigon begged the commission to undo what they saw as decades of discrimination and put the U.S.’s largest Vietnamese community together in one district. Instead, the community was split in two 2014 a result of testimony by supporters of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, including a former staffer and one of her wedding guests, to get her a safe district. A large section of Little Saigon ended up in a district with Long Beach, a town that is 1 percent Vietnamese.

“Residents who live in Little Saigon share the same needs, but if they’re in two different districts they may not be represented,” said Tri Ta, a City Council member from the area.

“This district is characterized by the Port of Long Beach,” the commission writes in its final report, “one of the world’s busiest seaports and the area’s largest employer.”

“It does not make sense to put the area known as Little Saigon in a district with Long Beach,” Ta said. “The two areas are distinctively different.”

“Congresswoman Sanchez believed strongly throughout the redistricting process that the population growth of the Latino community should be accurately reflected in the newly drawn congressional districts,” said Adrienne Elrod, Sanchez’s Chief of Staff, in a statement, “She’s glad that members of the Orange County community shared her views, and as a result, was pleased to see them take an active role.”

Paul Mitchell, the consultant whose work had such a large impact on the commission’s decisions, said voters benefited from the work done by him and others deeply involved in the process. The commissioners, he said, “knew some of the testimony was being fabricated by outside groups. But what were they to do? They couldn’t create a screen of all testimony and ferret out all the biases.”

The work he did on behalf of his diverse group of clients, he said, “created better maps 2014 regardless of if they came with the additional benefit of helping some local city, union, or incumbent that was the client,” Mitchell said.

“My only regret is that we didn’t do more.”

Corrections: This story originally stated that the Asian population of Long Beach was less than 1 percent. It has been corrected to say that the Vietnamese population of Long Beach is 1 percent. The story also previously stated that Rep. Judy Chu previously served as a state senator. In fact, she served in the state assembly. This story originally stated the commission worked for free, with a small stipend for expenses. It has been corrected to say, the commissioners received $300 per day as compensation and were eligible for reimbursement of travel and out of pocket expenses.

 

An open letter to Occupy London protesters: Demand limited bonuses for state-funded bankers

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Hey there Occupy London protesters. This is an open letter to you:

When I went past your encampment in Finsbury Square earlier today (just meters from the Bloomberg LP headquarters!) I noticed that your tents were empty and the only folks around were a kooky street preacher and a handful of his disciples. I understand, you were probably a few blocks away occupying those vacant UBS buildings, but I wanted to let you know that you’ve got the wrong guys. You should be going after RBS not UBS.

I know you’re part of a “leaderless movement” (let’s see how long that lasts!), but you’d better start listening to Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and your very own former Prime Minister Benjamin D’Israeli. It’s unclear who said it first, but the gist of the quotation that all of these men are reputed to have coined is “The only two certainties in life are death and taxes.” Let’s focus on the latter.

What I’m saying is that you should encourage UK taxpayers to join in on your protest en masse. However, you should go beyond squatting in some old UBS offices: You should demand that Members of Parliament (MPs for you American readers) create legislation that limits the bonuses of state-funded bankers. Since 2008, there have been many state-funded bankers in the UK. Right now, it’s looking like the Christmas Party of the Royal Bank of Scotland will be quite the affair after some £500 million gets divied up among that regal 1%.  (And this goes for the folks over at Lloyd’s too!) The taxpayers are creating millionaire bankers while the social infrastructure of the UK goes down the toilet. It’s as pure example of the increasing income gap as one can possibly dream of.

(Oh yeah, and why haven’t you marched on Buckhingham Palace yet when your royal family further eats away a your tax payments?)

Yes, a small group of Britons who belong to the group UK Uncut have tried to protest against the payment of taxes toward funding the big banks, but their efforts have thus far been futile and unproductive. Why don’t you protesters use your power (derived from the inordinate amount of media attention that you have been receiving for a bunch of people who don’t have much of a mission or clear-cut goals) to take up the anti-taxpayer-funded-banker-bonus cause?

Outline your demands for your government, and force each of your MPs to sign a statement that state-funded bankers will receive no more than 40% of their salaries in bonuses this year (rather than the 300+% that most bankers are accustomed to). One cannot blame the bankers for accepting the bonuses that are given to them because regulators and politicians have failed to prevent this exchange from taking place. 

Sincerely,

Stephen Robert Morse

 

 

Revival, Revival: MyTwoCensus.com is coming back to life in a new form

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

I have decided to revive MyTwoCensus.com as an opinion blog. Originally born out of frustration with the 2010 US Census and the lack of media coverage about this important issue, I feel that society is being failed by our most popular and widely-read cultural commentators.

The journalism “crisis” of the Internet era is partly to blame, but I feel that herd mentality among news organizations and their employees who set the media agenda is preventing more substantial dialogues from taking place. One need only look to the Twittersphere: Rather than offering individual commentaries, the simple act of pressing the Re-Tweet button presents one view over and over again…and news organizations who derive income from per-hit advertising continue to live only when their Tweets spread like wildfire.

My targets for criticism will include politicians, media, society, pop culture, and more, in both the US and abroad. Having been based primarily in Europe since 2009, I have the unique ability to look at both America and Europe as from insider and outsider perspectives. Guest contributions and critiques of my writing are welcomed with open arms.

With Christopher Hitchens making his last hurrah, and Thomas Friedman’s words falling short when it comes to turning them into public policy, a new generation of thinkers – dare I say “public intellectuals” – must have their voices heard. Any topic is fair game, and I welcome your suggestions as to topics to cover.

Detroit News: Bribery probe targets former U.S. Census official (Dwight Dean)

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Since June 1, 2010, I have reported about problems in the Detroit office of the US Census Bureau involving Dwight Dean, who was booted from his once-stable perch in the Census Bureau hierarchy in August 2010. Today, I give a hearty thank you to Robert Snell and the Detroit News who have reported that the “former top-ranking U.S. Census Bureau official in Michigan and two other states is being investigated for allegedly accepting bribes and awarding an $857,000 no-bid contract.” MyTwoCensus.com urges federal, state, and local investigators to also investigate the many other Dwight Dean cronies who were very likely conspirators in his activities. Furthermore, as other MyTwoCensus.com pieces demonstrate, at the Detroit office of the Census Bureau, it oftentimes appeared like the inmates were running the asylum.

(Click here for a list of MyTwoCensus pieces involving the Detroit office that name many of the individuals I am referring to.)

Here’s the Detroit News piece (in full HERE):

A search warrant affidavit unsealed Monday in federal court indicates that in November 2010 a grand jury was investigating Plymouth resident Dwight Dean. He was the highest-ranking Census official in Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia until he was abruptly, and inexplicably, replaced in August 2010. No criminal charges have been filed.

This investigation involves a federal official in Detroit, which has been the focus of several ongoing corruption investigations involving City Hall and two Detroit pension funds.

Federal investigators did not put a value on the alleged bribes, which involve dinners at expensive restaurants and what appear to be free tickets to the North American International Auto Show charity preview.

The Detroit businessman named in the search warrant, who admitted giving Dean auto show tickets and paying for dinners, denied doing anything wrong.

“That’s not bribery,” Motor City International President Louis James told The News. “That’s a business meeting.”

Dean had served as Census regional director since 1987 and oversaw a crucial headcount last year that ended with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing vowing to appeal figures that showed a steep population drop. The census is used to determine the amount of federal funding cities receive.

Dean, 64, did not return phone messages seeking comment Wednesday.

The search warrants were executed a year ago and the current status of the investigation was unclear Wednesday.

There is no indication the allegations affected the 2010 census count.

“Over 39,000 people hired locally in the Detroit region worked on the 2010 census. At all times, we conducted extensive quality assessments of operations and census results,” Census Bureau spokesman Michael Cook said.”The assessments of the Detroit region are consistent and within the norms of what we found nationally.”

Federal agents raided Dean’s offices in Detroit one year ago, searching for evidence he accepted gifts, loans or money between August 2008 and August 2010, according to the search warrant affidavit unsealed Monday.

 

Updates from Censusland

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

It’s been a while. But a Tweet from a former 2010 Census employee made me nostalgic for this project, so I figured that I’d provide some 2010 Census news for the MyTwoCensus Faithful. In the past month, the Census Bureau has released some interesting information about national home ownership rates, America’s population growth by race (highlighting the growth of Hispanic and black populations), and estimates of the number of same-sex married couples. To the readers out there: Do you have any lingering questions about the 2010 Census? If so, I’m happy to put in some time to answer them.

I would like to think that MyTwoCensus.com had some role in initiating these reforms…

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

After two years of reporting on waste at the US Census Bureau, I was very happy to receive the following public relations announcement from the Census Bureau today. However, I do hope that the federal government will find new employment for those people who lose their jobs as a result of this organizational shakeup:

As a valued stakeholder to the Census Bureau, we want to inform you about
some key changes we are making in order to be a prudent steward of the taxpayers’
money and fulfill our mission to provide the country important statistical information.
Today, we are announcing a realignment of our national field office structure and
management reforms designed to keep pace with modern survey collection methods
worldwide and reduce costs by an estimated $15 – $18 million annually beginning in
2014.

Over the next 18 months we will transition to a new supervisory structure to
manage some almost 7,000 professional interviewers. The changes will result in
permanently closing six of our 12 Regional Offices and a reduction of the national field
workforce of about 115-130 positions. Most of the reductions will happen through
attrition, early retirements, or transfers to vacant jobs at Census headquarters or
elsewhere.

The six Regional Offices that will close are Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit,
Kansas City and Seattle. The six Regional Offices that will remain open are Atlanta,
Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.

Advances in technology have allowed survey organizations to provide better
tools to their field interviewers and move to a leaner management structure. More
“virtualization” of supervision using more timely management information can yield both
cost and quality advantages. We want to keep pace with these innovations.

Our professional field interviewers are the front line of producing the nation’s vital
statistics about our economy, our communities, and our households. We owe it to the
nation to constantly improve our processes and become more efficient.

More than 20 percent of the interview workload involves conducting surveys for
other federal statistical agencies. Our customers are confronting tighter fiscal budgets
as well, and have challenged us to improve our systems. Indeed, the nation depends
upon us to slow the cost inflation in our survey work if we are to maintain the highest
quality statistics.

As we go through this transition over the next 18 months, our Regional Office
employees who are affected by this realignment are our first priority.

The closing of six Regional Offices was a difficult decision and one that will
produce disruption and pain in the lives of our colleagues in those offices. We are
committed to employ all methods legally possible to reduce the negative impact of this
change on our affected employees.

2010 Census news roundup…

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Hi everyone, it’s been a long time. Unfortunately, life has made it such that MyTwoCensus.com isn’t my #1 priority at this moment, but that doesn’t mean that the impact of the 2010 Census is any less pertinent. In fact, there has been tons of news lately about the 2010 Census. Some key stories that I’ve been following:

1.  As I would have predicted, specifically in the case of New York, where I identified myriad problems with 2010 Census operations, the city is disputing its 2010 Census numbers as it will likely be missing out on a ton of federal funding ($3,000 per resident not counted per year). Here’s some info.

2. Despite its inflated advertising budget (don’t forget that bomb of a Super Bowl ad), the Census Bureau’s 2010 Census ad campaign is winning awards…but again, these are industry awards created by the industry, for the industry, so don’t take them too seriously. When you compare the amount of ad dollars spent in 2000 vs. 2010 to the participation rates, it is clear that 2000 was a better performance proportionally.

3. This shouldn’t be a major shock, but America’s demographics are  CHANGING. While the surge of Hispanics was expected, people didn’t expect the number of Asians in America to be growing so quickly. Here’s some info.

4. Minorities are moving to the suburbs and whites are moving to the cities, reversing trends that started in the post-war era. This is very interesting.

5. The GOP’s (Republican Party) success in the 2010 Elections may translate to redistricting success. Here’s a look at how the GOP won big in the 2010 Census.

On a more positive note, I have become quite interested in genealogy in recent months and I can tell you that US Census records have been invaluable in tracing my family’s history. In this sense, I am quite happy and proud that my family participated in the 2010 Census, because maybe, long after I’m gone, a future generation will be able to access information and learn about life in the year 2010.

Sorry for the radio silence…we’re back.

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

An inside source tells us the people named in this MyTwoCensus piece are still employed by the Census Bureau! (A check on Census.gov confirmed this.)

The latest from the Inspector General’s office…

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

We failed to post a piece from the Inspector General about the Census Bureau’s “partnership” programs that MyTwoCensus criticized heavily for its lax spending procedures. Check out the November 18, 2010 report HERE.

And if you turn to page 20 of this Inspector General’s office document that was released on December 20, 2010,  you will find an update on recommendations being made for the 2020 Census.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Sens. Carper, Coburn Hail Senate Passage of Bipartisan Census Reform Bill

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

FOR RELEASE: Dec. 9, 2010

WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), chairman of the Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over the census, hailed the unanimous Senate passage of legislation that brings much needed stability of leadership and organizational reform to the Census Bureau, the nation’s largest general-purpose statistical agency. The Census Oversight and Management Act of 2010, co-authored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), is crafted to improve Census management challenges which arise from the fact the Census operates on a constitutionally mandated ten-year cycle while Presidential administrations which oversee management of the Census operate on a four-year cycle. The bill strengthens Congressional oversight of the Census to help prevent operational problems that have emerged on the eve of the censuses in 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010, in part from a lack of steady leadership and management due to changes in Presidential administrations.

The Census Oversight, Efficiency and Management Reform Act would ensure that the Census Bureau enjoys the independence of governance that will best enable it to perform its essential function in the following ways:

o   Makes the Director of the Census Bureau a presidential term appointment of five years, with the 10-year decennial cycle split into two, five-year phases – planning and operational, creating continuity across administrations.

o   Gives the Director the independence to report directly to the Secretary of Commerce without being required to report through any other official at the Commerce Department.

o   Requires the Director to submit to Congress a comprehensive annual report on the next decennial census, with a description of the Bureau’s performance standards and a risk-assessment of each significant decennial operation.

o   Requires the Bureau to test, develop, and implement an option for internet response to the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey.

“This bill is an important step forward in our effort to modernize and improve the Census process,” said Sen. Carper. “By working with our colleagues across the aisle, we were able to enact several common sense reforms that will strengthen the Census Bureau and enhance our ability to conduct a thorough, cost effective, and accurate Census.  I’d like to thank my colleagues for passing this bill and look forward to seeing a stronger, improved Census in 2020 and beyond.”

“In an age where the internet has become a primary form of communication and administration, getting the Census online by 2020 is a top priority. Although this is only the first step, it helps lay the groundwork for conducting cost-effective oversight that will give Congress and the Census Director the ability to better manage this Constitutional responsibility,” said Sen. Coburn, M.D.

###

Help a reporter out…Are you unemployed after working for the 2010 Census?

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

I know that many of the readers of MyTwoCensus.com are former 2010 Census employees who are now out of work. Please send an e-mail to morse (at) mytwocensus.com with your contact information if you are still looking for work and willing to speak to a reporter for a national newspaper about this.

Thanks!

Stephen

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

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
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.

BS Alert: PBOCS system creators claim that the 2010 Census operations were successful…Lies, lies, and more lies!

Monday, October 25th, 2010

To any investors out there, this is as much of a bull-shit alert as I can possibly give you. As MyTwoCensus has repeatedly noted, and the Census Bureau has repeatedly acknowledged, the PBOCS systems used during 2010 Census operations were complete failures that created problems resulting in severely delayed operations (thousands of workers sat around waiting for assignments) and mismanaged data (2010 Census forms had to be manually imported at a snail’s pace, and who knows how many of these never made it into the system at all…). But the PR teams below state otherwise:

Rally helps ICS deliver mandated requirements 50% faster using 1/3 staff of previous efforts and demonstrates best practices for improving U.S. government’s outsourced IT operations

WASHINGTON and BOULDER, Colo., Oct. 20 /PRNewswire/ — Rally®, the leader in Agile application lifecycle management (ALM), and ICS, a proven 8(a) information technology contractor, today announced that Rally’s Agile ALM platform played a central role in the success of ICS’s work in support of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 decennial census.

Rally Unlimited Edition enabled the 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team to deliver the Census Bureau’s paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) software over 50% faster than delivery times of the 2000 or the 1990 census software, with just 1/3 of the staff. By tracking its software development process with Rally, ICS not only delivered software requirements and met immovable deadlines, but exceeded expectations by delivering an additional software module.

“The efficiencies we realized with Rally are a perfect example of the change being driven within the government to improve the performance of IT operations across the board,” said Khurram Shah, ICS founding partner and chief strategy officer. “The velocity and productivity gains Rally brought to the 2010 Census Agile ICS development team enabled us to deliver applications that processed more data at a much faster rate than during previous Census operations.”

About the United States Census

The United States Census is a decennial census mandated by the United States Constitution to gather statistics on the U.S. population. The data collected helps determine the number of seats states have in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the 2010 Census, this data also helps communities receive more than $400 billion in federal funds each year.

“Because Census deadlines are mandated by the Constitution, there’s no question that the execution, performance and timing of our software development operation was critical,” said Erika Peace, technical project manager at ICS. “Rally provided the right tools at the right time so we could cost-effectively deliver technology more accurately aligned with our client’s business objectives.”

Challenges

Software development requirements are defined by the mandate that decennial U.S. Census figures are based on actual counts of every person dwelling in U.S. residential structures. Delivery dates are immovable, as the Census Bureau is required by law to report the nation’s population and the allotment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state by the end of December. The 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team also had to adapt to changing requirements and unique circumstances, such as the challenges around accurately counting “group quarters,” like college students living in dormitories.

Solution and Results

The 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team brought in Agile development practices to deliver 12 key requirements for the Census Bureau’s paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) software. By implementing Rally Unlimited Edition to provide the real-time status, progress and quality of the Census Bureau’s software development processes, the Agile ICS team over-delivered ahead of schedule – completing all requirements in just 18 months with just 1/3 of the staff.

“By taking advantage of Rally’s Agile ALM platform, the 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team was able to help the Census Bureau improve the speed and accuracy of the 2010 census-taking process in response to the ever-increasing population of the United States,” said Ryan Martens, Rally’s founder and CTO. “Demonstrating that Agile practices meet federal schedule performance index requirements allows Rally’s Agile ALM platform to align with government projects.”

In order to achieve critical requirements within the allotted timeframe, every incremental build resulted in shippable, working software. The 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team used Rally to meet changing requirements, build incrementally and turn deliverables around quickly. Requirements, acceptance tests and source code changes were tracked in Rally’s Agile ALM platform, giving the team rapid feedback on the status and quality of each build.

Rally’s powerful reporting capabilities were critical for providing data analysis, progress reports and status updates to government officials on a daily basis. Providing real-time visibility to senior government officials was vital for making informed decisions, assessing scope change and tracking team progress to delivery.

While addressing the National Press Club, Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert Groves summed up the importance of the PBOCS software delivered by ICS and how well it was performing when he said, “This software system, called the Paper-Based Operation Control System (PBOCS), performs various functions that are really crucial for the non-response follow-up phase…we’re processing at rates that we never imagined we could process.” (1)

Government Agile Success Tour

Rally is hosting a special edition of its Agile Success Tour on October 21, 2010 in Bedford, MA for those working in Federal contracting environments. This free, interactive half-day seminar is intended for anyone who is adopting or considering adopting Agile development practices for government software projects. Northrop Grumman and Rally Software will discuss real-life Agile implementation stories from the Department of Defense, civilian agencies, and state and local governments.

About ICS

ICS is a certified 8(a), Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB), Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) founded in 2003 by seasoned technology professionals.  ICS has proven an innovative designing experience that is client-focused, developing quality solutions in mission critical environments in the public and private sector.

ICS is comprised of experienced management and technically agile professionals with diverse competencies, creating a collaborative program and project management environment for clients. The size of the organization, coupled with the focused range of services performed, enables the company to rapidly source and retain thoroughly trained, certified professionals with tested, measurable performance and proven experience.

About Rally

Rally is the recognized leader in Agile application lifecycle management (ALM). We are dedicated to helping organizations embrace Agile and Lean development practices that increase the pace of innovation and improve product quality. According to a study by QSM Associates, software-driven companies that rely on Rally’s Agile ALM products and services are 50% faster to market and 25% more productive than industry averages. The company’s experienced services group, including training through Agile University, guides companies through the organizational change required to become innovative, Agile businesses. Rally’s products, including AgileZen, currently support more than 3,000 corporate customers, 76,000 projects and 138,000 users in 60 countries. For more information, visit www.rallydev.com.

(1) Dr. Groves briefing at the National Press Club on June 2nd, 2010; transcript available here.

Rally, the Rally logo, Rally Software Development, and AgileZen are trademarks of Rally Software Development Corp. Third-party trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Update to photo contest: The $500 photo of 2010 Census WASTE is here!

Friday, October 8th, 2010

The following photo of 2010 Census waste comes from a local census office in a major city. To protect the employee involved, I will not say which region until that person grants me permission to do so. Feel free to write your captions for this photo in the comments section below. Be aware, there is no Title 13 or PII-protected information in this photo. We are also curiously wondering why some leftover items have been donated to schools while others headed straight to the dump, depending on which office was responsible. MyTwoCensus is awaiting the Census Bureau’s response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that was filed a couple of months back that further examines the 2010 Census waste disposal contracts. Remember, a picture’s worth a thousand words:

Note to potential whistleblowers in Detroit

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

To any whistleblowers in the Detroit region:

I am not sure why, but someone has told you to direct your complaints to Thomas Hugh Chodzko, the Detroit region’s Assistant Regional Census Manager. It has been verified from multiple sources that Mr. Chodzko is in cahoots with Dwight Dean, the corrupt long-time head of the Detroit office who is currently under investigation for his activities. (As we recently noted, Mr. Dean “retired” as of September 1.) It appears that if you contact Mr. Chodzko, your complaints will never reach the appropriate authorities in Washington. Instead, please contact the Commerce Department Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office. The letter below shows that Mr. Chodzko is writing (and signing letters — look at the signature closely) on Mr. Dean’s behalf:

Transcript from latest Census Bureau press conference

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Unfortunately, I was unable to be in Washington for last Wednesday’s press conference. However, the transcript is available HERE.

Las Vegas money well spent…hardly

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Update: To clarify, Michael Cook of the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office has noted in the comments section that the below event differs from the $100,000 trip to the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas that CBS recently investigated.

Thanks to the reader who alerted us to this YouTube video that was uploaded in August. Dozens (perhaps hundreds) of people watch a woman sing a mediocre a cappella rendition “I Love Rock & Roll” and this supports the 2010 Census in what way?

The price tag of 2010 Census managers go to Vegas baby, Vegas…

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

MyTwoCensus.com 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.