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.

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

The Census Bureau makes follow-up calls to 10% of those who mailed in their forms

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

The Census Bureau’s follow-up system appears to invite fraud as there is no obvious way to know if you are talking to a scammer or Census Bureau employee…

Census Bureau waste found…on Twitter

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Back in December, Emily Babay added a “Twitter Feed” to the MyTwoCensus homepage. This tool has proved all too valuable in finding out intricate details of Census Bureau problems. If you want to see why/how your tax dollars are wasted, look at the below Tweet for why. Great job payroll system! (FYI the term #lml stands for “love my life.”)

New #Census report from the Inspector General…

Monday, June 14th, 2010

It’ s only four pages and the last part of the report consists of recommendations based on problems highlighted earlier. Please post your comments below. Given how critical this report is, we can only imagine how scathing the next full report from the Inspector General will be.

http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/2010/OAE-19893-01.pdf

MyTwoCensus analysis:

1. Respondents are facing additional burdens because questionnaires are not being handled properly. The report doesn’t go far enough in criticizing the Census Bureau for creating a system whereby sensitive data is just laying around for long periods of time , thereby compromising the data’s confidentiality.

2. As has been discussed in recent weeks on MyTwoCensus.com, there are no guidelines that state whether enumerators can use the Internet to determine proxy information. A memo was sent out about this a couple of weeks ago, informing field workers not to use the Internet, but it is unknown whether this memo reached everyone. Either way, it was sent way too late in the operation to be effective as most enumerators are likely already set in their ways of tracking people down.

3. That 1/3 of interviews were proxy interviews is an unacceptably high figure.

4. Enumerators should never have to give out their personal phone numbers unless they are being compensated by the government or have this written into their contract as part of their job description.

Key White House staffer admits Harris Corp. failed the American people

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Peter Orszag is the White House’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Below are excerpts of a June 8 speech delivered to the Center for American Progress, courtesy of the Federal Times.

(Please have a look through the MyTwoCensus.com archives to learn more about the Harris Corp. handheld-computer debacle that cost US taxpayers $800 million, not the $600 million that Orszag states below, because an additional $200 million was awarded to the contractors after their initial failure to create a usable product.)

Here’s what he said:

For example, the Census Bureau awarded in 2006 a $595 million contract to develop a hand-held computer for census workers to use this year. Two years and $600 million later, the project was canceled with nothing to show for it.

And census workers out there today still use pen and paper.

Clearly, we have massive room for improvement. Pursuing that improvement and closing the IT gap will help us create a government that is more efficient and less wasteful, and that is … more responsive to the American people.

In Nebraska, workers are shifted between Omaha and Lincoln at a tremendous cost to taxpayers

Friday, June 11th, 2010

The Omaha World-Herald has taken on an issue that I have written about extensively in recent weeks. How does the Census Bureau justify the costs of workers traveling large distances and putting them up at hotels while local workers get paid to sit idly or are terminated?

A waste in U.S. Census operation?

By Christopher Burbach
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

The U.S. Census Bureau has brought in more than 30 out-of-town workers to conduct door-to-door surveys in Omaha, even though some Omaha census employees say they don’t have enough to do.

The Census Bureau expects to spend $42,311 on hotel rooms and food for the workers, who are from Lincoln and other Nebraska locations, said Russ Frum, assistant regional census manager in Denver.

He said there are “about 38” such workers. The Census Bureau expects to pay for 315 hotel room nights. That would work out to about eight nights per employee. Most started June 4. They’re scheduled to leave Friday.

The workers, known as enumerators, are knocking on doors to collect census data at households that did not mail back a 2010 Census form. They’re trying to catch people at home to ask them the census questions in person, or on the telephone. It’s what the census calls “nonresponse follow-up.”

Frum and an Omaha census official, Jackie McCabe, said the expense is justified. They said data collection was behind schedule in some areas, especially northeast Omaha.

“We have brought experienced people in to finish an area that did not appear was going to be finished on time,” said McCabe, local census office manager for Douglas, Sarpy and Washington Counties.

The out-of-town workers are Nebraskans, she said. Local managers had tried to find Omaha crews to complete the surveys in the areas that were behind, she said. (more…)

Daily Sound Off: Census software violates federal law

Friday, June 11th, 2010

This Daily Sound Off comes from Bob in Elgin, Illinois:

Until Tuesday I was the AMT (Asst. Manager for Technology) for the Elgin IL census office.

Around April 1st, a change was made to DAPPS (Decennial Applicant, Personnel, and Payroll System) so that it required us to ask employees for the last 4 digits of their Social Security Number to reset their passwords. This is a direct violation of the Federal Privacy Act of 1974, and placed me personally at risk of fines and jail every time I illegally requested this information of another employee. I immediately notified IT management of this issue, and opened a trouble ticket.

Despite my complaints, this issue was never fixed. A proper disclosure could have been added to the screen to be read to the employee. Or something other than SSN could have been used to verify identity. The system even asked new users 3 security questions (hobby,favorite color, pets name) when they first logged in, but these are NEVER used anywhere. Or we could have continued to reset passwords with no further authentication, since these users were all in the office and personally known. This was not a situation where passwords were being reset from remote requests over the phone or internet where verification of identity is an issue.

On May 4th, I was ordered by my area manager, Richard Earley (Chicago RCC) to do this in violation of the law, and threatened with termination if I refused to comply. I responded that he did not have the authority to order me to violate federal law.

On May 6th, Richard Earley stopped in our Elgin office, again ordered me to violate this law, and wrote me up twice on D-282 disciplinary forms. He indicated that he would provide me with copies of those forms, and indicate exactly what rules I had violated in refusing to violate the law, but never did either of these.

In late May a new NRFU Shipping application was rolled out to replace the severely performance limited PBOCS system. The new ship app was based on DAPPS, and had the same illegal SSN request to reset passwords. I immediately logged another trouble ticket to alert management of this issue.

Tuesday afternoon, June 8th Richard Earley again came to our office with a letter written by his staff ordering my termination, that he forced our local office manager to sign under threat of termination. Richard was the only one that spoke to me, terminating me on the spot, and walking me out the door. Although a D283 is required for termination, I never saw a copy of that form.

In addition, our Chicago RCC has issued an edict that we can’t terminate anyone for performance issues, we have to demote them to a lower position. This has been done to other employees in my office, but was not done in my case.

According to the rules on this web site

http://www.osc.gov/pppwhatare.htm

Both my discipline and termination are illegal actions.

I have contacted several federal regulatory agencies, including EEO, OMB, OIG, and OSC and filed complaints as soon as I was disciplined.

In addition the census bureau owes a $1000 penalty to every employee that has been asked for an SSN to have their password reset (probably 5-10K people at a cost of $5-10M), according to the Privacy Act. And those responsible for this illegal system should be fined $5000 per the same law.

I would be more than happy to provide additional information on this issue, and would really appreciate it if you would publicize the census violations of the law.

The computer systems have so many bugs and performance issues, that I question that this census will produce a true and accurate count of our population.

Our RCC manages by intimidation and harassment. They have gone out of their way to create a hostile work environment for all involved in this operation. I don’t know if this is a local issue (IL, WI, IN) or national. In my 35 years of work history, I have NEVER seen so many illegal actions in a place of work as this one experience of working for my own government. I find it disgusting.

Australia’s modern census operations

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Check out an article HERE about how Australia is running their census operations — using the internet.

Must-Read: New York’s 2010 Census nightmare

Monday, June 7th, 2010

The following report comes from a Census Bureau official whose identity has been confirmed but will remain anonymous as she is a current Census Bureau employee:

The five boroughs of New York City and its diversified population of eight million have long eluded demographers and census employees in producing an accurate count. Having worked in three censuses now and living in New York for almost my entire adult life I notice that the socioeconomic spectrum of New Yorkers has widened, making the poor poorer and the rich richer. In the last ten years there is an influx of immigrants; some legal some illegal. It makes what was once a one family home in Queens, Brooklyn and The Bronx a two or even three family home. These people are living in converted basements or the second story of the houses some legal some illegal. On the other end of the spectrum, luxury rentals and condominiums have become even more exclusive with price tags in the millions of dollars. In both cases the immigrants and residents of these upscale housing units and their exclusive real estate management companies have ignored repeated attempts by phone or mail to allow enumeration.  Even in the face of a fine, the management companies are adamant about their policy and would willingly pay the fine rather than to allow enumerators to count their residents. The problem is the Census’ Bureau’s threat of a fine is merely used as a scare tactic. When a real estate mogul calls their bluff the actual fine like many other Census Bureau promises is empty.

As native New Yorkers we anticipated these problems. And sitting through four days of verbatim training where someone read through a book, we knew that it wasn’t as simple as the script made it to be to persuade these respondents about the importance of the census and their participation. As a group we brainstormed and created techniques through trial and error to get those who were non-responsive to fill out our questionnaires. Some of these tactics included: sending another enumerator of a different race or creed after several visits with no contact; leaving blank enumerator questionnaires under their door allowing them the privacy of completing it in their own home. One of us even went as far as sending well dressed suits or female fashion models to coerce participation. But all this takes time and money. All of which with 15 billion price tag the Census Bureau doesn’t have.

With inaccurate workload estimation models and front loading the Census Bureau overrecruited, overhired on many operations in preparation for the final major operation: non-response followup. One of the major costs was the paper based operational control system PBOCS which has been the subject of intense scrutiny by media, Congress and employees because of its inability to check out, check out and ship questionnaires and generate management reports. The managers who are monitoring productivity and costs are trained to believe if the reports don’t show it’s done then it isn’t done. With only erroneous reports to rely on, headquarters and regional offices are using a take no prisoners do whatever it takes attitude to pressure temporary employees to complete the task. PBOCS also moves assignment areas fooling LCO managers and field staff into thinking they have more or less work than they have. And ultimately this may have long term geography problems when the Census is completed and used for congressional redistricting.

Since PBOCS doesn’t work correctly and fails to handle the workload, The Census Bureau runs on a more is better attitude. The solution is hire more employees for manually counting and reviewing enumerator questionnaires when they should have slowed enumerator production. Local Census offices have gone from a simple 9am-5:30pm operation to running three shifts 24 hours a day seven days a week with triple to quadruple what their staffing authorizations originally allowed. This compounded the bottleneck, increased the backlog of questionnaires waiting to be checked in and slowed the re -interview and quality assurance phase. There is overwhelming suspicion of data falsification and false proxies but by the time this is figured out the operation will end and the enumerators already released for lack of work.

Now what was originally touted as the most accurate decennial count ever has quickly turned into a race to meet production goals and wrap up the operation as quickly as possible with procedural changes.  We have enumerators, telephone clerks in the LCO, and enumerators from other LCOs taking interviews ignoring the fact that PBOCS will only let you check it in under an enumerator and that if data falsification is happening it will be difficult to find the culprit. What were originally any six personal and telephone visits is now three visits go to a proxy. What used to be try to get the household member because he knows his own name, sex, age, DOB, Hispanic origin and race and whether he rents or owns has become going to a proxy on a first visit and sometimes writing don’t know on most if not all of those questions. Sadly this actually passes the office review portion and nothing in the enumerator procedures disallows that. If a respondent refuses and a proxy is able to give any of the information no matter how knowledgeable he/she is that doesn’t constitute marking it as a refusal, skewing the accuracy of the data.

The incentives of career census employees at RCC and headquarters are in contradiction with each enumerator who wants our city to be accurately counted. The career census employees’ evaluation of performance is purely based on numbers how many cases are completed with little regard to the demography or difficulty of enumerating the population. Their expectation is that the enumeration of traditionally undercounted minorities of Bedford Stuyvesant be just as quick as the white, upper middle class of Upper West Side of Manhattan. The very same agency whose motto has always been the leading source of data about the nation’s people and economy has become a competition between area managers and local census offices.

The leadership in the local census offices isn’t the strongest either. Those who made hiring decisions in New York RCC had every chance to hire the best managers but instead resorted to nepotism to make decisions. When it was clear these decisions were poor the career census employees terminated LCO managers’ employment to cover it up. But then found another disappointing replacement. In an attempt to bring operations up to speed the Census Bureau flew in managers from Denver into Manhattan and headquarters to Staten Island.

The goal is for enumerators to get as many cases in and clerks process work as quickly as possible doing whatever it takes to get the job done, otherwise there will be a formal written reprimand and termination of their employment. It is the chest beating, gorilla apelike attitude of the managers that will ultimately be the demise of New York City.

Lester Farthing, the Regional Director and his managers of the New York Regional Census Center have no intention of an accurate count in the five boroughs. Instead their goal is to appease headquarters, finish as quickly as possible so that the career census employees will be viewed as productive team players who are not questioning the possible inaccuracy of this count. As one of our area managers will say “it’s a hot mess.” I only hope the mayor of our great city Michael Bloomberg, city census coordinator Stacey Cumberbatch, politicians and congressmen are reading this letter and will intervene because ultimately it is the city that will suffer for the next ten years. They were quick to make public announcements touting the importance of participating in the census by returning the forms. But have yet to do anything to persuade non cooperative households and real estate management companies to allow enumerators in to complete their job. The sad reality is that it may be too little too late.

With the way the census works can any of us ever trust census data again?

The Census Bureau wastes your tax dollars by shifting workers around the country…

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Yesterday, MyTwoCensus.com reported that 2010 Census workers from Colorado have arrived in New York to assist with operations. Each of these employees is put up at a hotel and paid a per diem rate. (I’ve heard that Hilton Hotels are being used for this purpose — which isn’t surprising since Census Bureau officials are known to stay at Ritz Carleton Hotels while on government business).

Michael C. Cook of the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office wrote to me yesterday, “When we assess that a particular office is either not following procedures or has weak management we often make staffing changes, or even send in experienced managers to help improve operations and re-train the temporary staff.” So the Census Bureau is saying that nobody in New York, a city of 8 million people,  is capable of handling these procedures? (Two sources have confirmed to me that one manager clerk from Washington DC is even being put up in New York’s Battery Park in a $4,500 per month apartment on your dime.)

The federal government outlines hotel and per diem rates for New York quite clearly. This means that in addition to their salaries as Census Bureau employees, each individual is spending up to $411 per day, not including flights or other expenditures, merely to eat and sleep in New York. This isn’t the first time this has occurred. During the address canvassing stage of 2010 Census operations, the Census Bureau sent in workers from North Carolina to assist with efforts in New York. Such wasteful incidents have also occurred with workers from Georgia being sent to Florida and workers from Texas being sent to Louisiana. With unemployment hovering around 10% and the Census Bureau’s admission that it had four times as many applicants as it did positions open, can this type of spending on transportation, hotels, and per diems be justified? Absolutely not.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Fingerprinting changes are long overdue because the media failed to report on the potential problems

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

For nearly a year, MyTwoCensus.com was the only media outlet reporting about the problems that the Census Bureau faced in terms of fingerprinting the 1.4 million people who were set to work for the 2010 Census. And we continue that fight today.

In December 2009, I reported that a convicted felon in Alaska was working in a supervisory position for the Census Bureau. This was discovered only after the man killed his mother and then himself. Clearly, this incident should have made calls for improved fingerprinting procedures at the Census Bureau obvious. However, the Census Bureau maintained the status quo and did nothing — fending off my questions and ignoring my concerns.

This incident occurred two months AFTER I originally posted the flaws of the 2010 Census fingerprinting process that were written by child advocate and fingerprinting expert David Allburn, who offered solutions to the Census Bureau that were ultimately refused. Allburn wrote:

(1) The Bureau should announce that trainees are responsible for the “readability” of their own fingerprints, and that fingerprint “failure” due to un-readability (or to discovery of disqualifying criminal history), terminates the canvasser’s employment. This stops attracting ex-felons who would intentionally blur their prints, but it is manifestly unfair to honest workers whose fingerprints are blurred by the inexperienced print-takers. This is fixed by step two.

(2) The Bureau should augment its fingerprint capture by adopting part of our patented “self-capture” technique. Invented by a war veteran, the method has applicants use an extra minute or two to make their own set of “backup prints”, observed and authenticated by the print-taker. Barcoded and enclosed with the cards forwarded to the scanning center, those self-captured prints are readily available for fixing any individual print impressions found “bad.” Well tested, this gets the cards through the FBI with the same dependability as live-scanning offers, typically twenty times better than the old rubber-stamp method now in use.

Only after a handicapped woman was raped by a 2010 Census employee and a sex offender was caught going door-to-door did the Census Bureau decide to change their policies. Is that what it takes to create “change” in America?

Daily Sound Off: No internet use on the job

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

(Every day MyTwoCensus published one submission.)

My CL told us today that we may no longer use the Internet to do any digging while working as enumerators. Typing in someone’s address — “123 Main St.,” for example constitutes a breach of confidentiality, we’re told.

What fucking nonsense.

The Web has been a great help — not as a substitute for interviewing, but developing leads for interviews. Examples include:

– Looking up ownership information on city/county databases. 123 Main St. may be a rental property owned by John Smith in a neighboring town, but you have no way of learning this — or Mr. Smith’s address/phone number — without accessing government property ownership records.

– Looking up information about a resident who you have not been able to reach. Example: You know John Smith lives at 123 Main St., but you don’t know his phone number and he’s never home. You learn from Google that he works at Zyx Co. nearby. You cal Zyx, ask for Mr. Smith, and enumerate him over the phone.

– Looking up phone numbers for neighbors/proxies in reverse address lookups.

To be clear, we’re not — or shouldn’t be — using Web-sourced data as a substitute for enumeration. The form is always filled out in person or on the phone with a knowledgeable party. But in many cases the best way to develop contact information for a knowledgeable party is with Web-based tools.

Utter fucking madness. The people running the census would screw up a three-car funeral.

Census Bureau’s official response to James O’Keefe scandal

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

The following statement comes to me from Stephen Buckner of the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office:

Statement on O’Keefe Taping of Census Bureau Staff


“Census Bureau policies and training are clear and require all employees to honestly submit accurate time records. Workers are instructed to report hours they work, which would include their time traveling to and from training. This is no different than the training session that Mr. O’Keefe attended in New Jersey, and during his previous employment with the Census Bureau last year. In his video, Mr. O’Keefe, an admitted criminal, does not disclose that he previously worked for the Census Bureau for nearly 2 months in 2009 without incident, allegation or complaint. That employment with us was well before his indictment and prior to his conviction of a federal crime last week.  The Census Bureau obviously does not condone any falsifying of or tampering with timesheets by its employees. We are investigating the allegations in Mr. O’Keefe’s selectively edited video
and will take appropriate administrative action with staff as warranted. ”

Background:

· Policies, procedures and training sessions clearly instruct employees to record the hours they work, which includes payment for the actual time traveling to and from training sessions. Mr. O’Keefe clearly did not include that, or the fact that part of his raw footage also shows trainers instructing new employees that they must record their mileage accurately.

· Mr. O’Keefe implies that the tapings occurred while he was still employed by the Census Bureau.  In fact, most of his video taping took place after his Census Bureau employment ended.  The Census Bureau’s stringent background check disqualifies individuals with pending federal charges or criminal offenses.  After O’Keefe’s background check came back, he quit before any action could be taken.

· None of the other new hires or Census Bureau staff attending the training sessions that were taped were notified or granted permission to be filmed in Mr. O’Keefe’s video. Many states have laws against such surreptitious tapings.

· Mr. O’Keefe, like all census workers, took a confidentiality oath for life to protect census data — the Census Bureau cannot by law disclose any personal information about a household or respondent that could identify them. We take this very seriously at the Census Bureau.

Ed O’Keefe on James O’Keefe (no relation)

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Ed O’Keefe of the Washington Post has added some more info tot he James O’Keefe narrative from earlier today:

“Workers are instructed to report hours they work, which would include their time traveling to and from training,” said spokesman Stephen Buckner. “This is no different than the training session that Mr. O’Keefe attended in New Jersey, and during his previous employment with the Census Bureau last year. In his video, Mr. O’Keefe, an admitted criminal, does not disclose that he previously worked for the Census Bureau for nearly two months in 2009 without incident, allegation or complaint.

“That employment with us was well before his indictment and prior to his conviction of a federal crime last week. The Census Bureau obviously does not condone any falsifying of or tampering with time sheets by its employees. We are investigating the allegations in Mr. O’Keefe’s selectively edited video and will take appropriate administrative action with staff as warranted. ”

A Census Bureau official also noted that O’Keefe’s decision to videotape the training sessions appears to violate Commerce Department policies against recording conversations.

O’Keefe confirmed that he worked for the agency last summer for about a month compiling addresses as part of 2010 Census preparations. He was hired again this April and quit after two days of training before receiving further instructions in order to avoid any privacy concerns, he said in an interview.

Breaking News from Breitbart: Census waste caught on tape in undercover sting operation

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Conservative activist James O’Keefe (of ACORN fame) has produced the following video. It will be aired on Good Morning America later today:

MyTwoCensus Editorial: New York Times editorial has it both right and wrong

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Today, the New York Times published an editorial that praises Congress for initiating bi-partisan reforms of the Census Bureau as it initiated legislation that mandates the Census Bureau Director’s term to be fixed at five-years, a plan that makes it easier to work around the decennial census. However, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and the White House were at first keen on this idea, but have now stalled the plan, despite seven former Census Bureau directors asserting that this is the best way to reform the Census Bureau. Robert M. Groves, the current Census Bureau Director, also supports this plan — but apparently the egos of the others have got in the way of progress:

The Obama administration, which should be supporting the bill, is instead raising objections. It has objected to a provision that would allow the census director to report directly to the commerce secretary. It also has objected to a provision that would require the director to send Congress the bureau’s budget request at the same time it goes to the White House.

However, the editorial strays from its initial goals later on and says this:

The census was in dire straits when President Obama took office, and it took a while for the administration to get organized. The 2010 count is now on track, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Locke and Robert Groves, the bureau director — both Obama appointees.

The New York Times has it wrong. The Census Bureau and the 2010 Census are not “on track” at this point. The myriad technical failures and other problems have already hampered the accuracy of this count and will continue to do so in the immediate future mean that the 2010 Census is NOT on track.

Daily Sound Off: Instant Termination

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

On 5/28 at 8:43 PM we in the Brooklyn Central LCO 2223 received frantic calls to turn in our binders and EQs as there was no more work… how could this be when some of us had more than 20 addresses where we had not yet counted the people? How could this be when friends of ours were being hired to BEGIN their jobs with the Census bureau? We have been working tirelessly for three weeks and now this? Can someone please tell us what is going on?

Strange incident of the day: Local news crew captures homeowner’s confrontation with 2010 Census worker

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

This is from KOB.com, an NBC affiliate in New Mexico:

Daily Sound Off: The real problems with payroll

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

I work for the payroll department in my LCO.  I wanted to explain some things about how Census payroll works and why people are getting paid late.  I would appreciate if my name were left out of this, but feel free to publish some or all of the information contained below.

As you may know, in order to get paid for a day’s work a Census employee must submit a daily payroll form that we lovingly refer to as a “308.”  The 308 contains several redundancies to help catch potential errors.  For instance, the employee must mark both the date worked and the day of the week worked, and if these do not match the 308 will not be processed until the office can determine what date the employee actually worked.  The employee also must enter the number of hours worked and the times worked, and if these do not match the employee will be paid for the lesser of the two numbers.  Finally any expenses incurred must be explained and any over $5 must be accompanied by a receipt; in order to save taxpayer dollars we regularly reject claims for ridiculous things that the employee does not need to complete their assignment.

The reasons that we’re having so much delayed payroll come down to the problems with processing these time sheets.  First of all, as I mentioned before, if there are any errors with a paysheet, that sheet may be placed into a problem file to be dealt with later.  Ideally we deal with all problem 308s in their appropriate pay period, but the first three weeks of NRFU were not ideal.  You’ve heard of all the paperwork new employees have to fill out?  All of that has to be processed by the admin department *before* an employee can be paid.  Admin departments basically had to begin processing one to two thousand hiring packets plus five to ten thousand pay sheets starting at the end of the first day of training and be finished by the following Monday.  For many LCOs, that just didn’t happen.  That’s why we all put in overtime that week – to try to get as many people paid as possible.

Now, from the perspective of someone whose job it is to process paysheets, the thing about problem 308s is that some are very easy to deal with and some are very difficult, but almost none of them would exist if the employees themselves took the time to fill these things out right.  Everyone who works for the census was tested on the ability to read and count and everyone who works for the census was hired basically to enter information on forms, and filling out pay sheets does not require any skills beyond these.  And yet we continuously have problems with people who apparently cannot count to 40 – who either claim overtime with under 40 hours a week worked, or claim no overtime with more than 40 hours a week worked.  We continue having problems with people who apparently cannot glance at a calendar long enough to verify both the date and the day of the week.  So while we try to get these errors fixed, a large portion of the employees who are getting paid late are being delayed because they made mistakes on their paperwork that we cannot easily deal with.

Of course the other problem we’re facing is that we can’t process payroll that we don’t have.  I’ve heard numerous stories of FOSes and CLs who don’t submit 308s on time.  I understand from the Crew Leaders’ position that they have a lot to do, but most of our CLs get their 308s in on time.  The maybe 5% who don’t account for 90% of the phone calls we get from enumerators who have missed several days’ pay from their checks.

This is a personnel problem.  We simply don’t have a good way to motivate large numbers of temporary employees to do their jobs promptly and correctly.  Every job has its share of lazy or incompetent employees.  The Census does work to terminate these, but if we have to give each CL who brings payroll in late (or never) at least two warnings, that’s at least three weeks of delayed payroll before we can replace the person, which is why we’re getting stories from across the country of whole crews who haven’t been paid for two or three weeks of working.  Rumor around the office has it that the terminations for unsatisfactory performance are going to start coming fast and furious starting next week, although we’ve already got a decent pile going now.

Now, the admin department gets well over a hundred calls a week inquiring about missing hours or days.  In the vast, overwhelming majority of cases – including every single call I have personally handled – these hours or days are already processed and on their way to the employee on the next pay period.  I understand that it is difficult for many people, especially those whose only job is the Census, to have to wait three weeks instead of two to be paid for a particular day’s work.  Some people may be counting on being paid on time.  I think that the situation would have been helped immensely if we had issued a blanket disclaimer at training or even during the hiring process that it is normal for it to take up to four weeks to be paid for any particular day worked.  Somehow, people formed an expectation that a gigantic government bureaucracy staffed entirely by people with virtually no experience would be fast and efficient at handling paperwork, which makes me wonder if none of these employees who are calling us up or going to the media because their pay is a week late have ever tried to mail a letter or get a driver’s license.  Anyhow, we try to stay cheerful but a certain fatalism develops when all we can do is tell people, essentially, that their check is in the mail.

I can say that fortunately our department is now caught up with payroll on a weekly basis, and it is only when CLs or FOSes bring 308s in late that we process them late.  However, payroll is already on a delayed basis by design – so if I work on a Monday, that 308 gets processed by the LCO and “closed” the following Monday, which means that a direct deposit will be issued the week after that, usually on a Wednesday – a delay of up to 17 days.  So people who missed hours on their last paycheck were actually missing hours for the week of May 9-15 – which was basically the second week of actual work, and third week of employment, and at that point we had many but not all of our glitches ironed out.  By that point we had issued directives to FOSes and CLs about how and when to fill out and bring in 308s and started getting positive responses, which should be reflected in even fewer errors in next week’s checks.

However, the heart of this issue is actually in how the Census approaches the hiring process.  While the recruiting process stretches over two years, the hiring process is basically crammed into a week.  Queens LCOs had to hire 1600 – 2200 employees over the week of April 19th, for a training session that started April 26th.  This has obvious problems.  First of all, we were asking people – many of whom had taken the test months ago, in the fall or even summer – to drop everything and come in for training with a week’s (or in some cases, a day’s) notice.  This is pointless and disrespectful and also resulted in the loss of many promising candidates.  Basically, we weeded out everyone who had a job, or responsibilities, or the ability to plan, or the self-respect to demand to be treated courteously by an employer; then we hired whoever was left.  Certainly we found some people who were competent and hard-working and just down on their luck or hit by the economy, but the overall caliber of employees is lower than what it would have been if we had given people adequate notice or contacted them in a timely fashion after they took their test.

The second problem is, as I have said, the logistical difficulty of processing 2000 new hires at once.  If we had hired people on some kind of rolling basis we could have gotten their paperwork filed and their payroll started up before they had to start working.  If we had started hiring and taking care of administrative matters in, say, March or even April 1st, as most test-takers were promised, then we could have gotten people trained, processed, and into payroll before NRFU even began.  This would have eased the burden on admin, but also on NRFU and the people who had to get training sites for thousands of people all during one week.  This would also have reduced the number of people who were verbally hired but never contacted again, or who attended training but were never assigned a CL, or who were assigned a CL but never any work.

Also, there simply has to be a less resource-intensive way to handle payroll than having each employee hand a piece of paper to their CL each day, to be handed to the FOS each day, to be brought into the office each day, to then be audited by one clerk and then entered into the payroll system by another clerk and then sent to a different agency entirely for final processing.  We did payroll exactly the same way in the 2000 Census, and guess what?  We’ve had ten years and the internet since then.  We have secure banking, we have ebay, amazon, paypal (all of which, I realize, we also had in 2000).  Why can’t we have a server that the employee can log on to to enter their information; that the CL can log on to to approve the hours worked and digitally sign; that can automate the auditing process and eliminate the need for a separate data entry process?  I believe I was promised a paperless society when this whole internet thing started, so what gives?

In short, we in payroll are struggling to get everyone’s pay processed correctly and on time, but the system for doing so is incredibly inefficient, incapable of surviving the level of human error presented by barely-trained temporary Census employees, and compressed into a set of arbitrary and irrational time-frames that make actual prioritization of tasks or long-term planning impossible.  So some of us are doing the best we can, some people aren’t doing well at all, and are being fired ASAP, but ultimately I think we have to blame the planners.  There’s really nothing any of us on the ground can do to remedy the systemic problems that come from an unnecessarily paper-heavy and error-prone operation in which everything is rushed and the right hand never seems to know what the left hand is doing.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: 2010 Census work should be suspended for Memorial Day

Friday, May 28th, 2010

MyTwoCensus has received numerous tips that Census Bureau offices will be open on Memorial Day and that enumerators will be out counting households. MyTwoCensus strongly disagrees with this decision to operate on Memorial Day for many reasons. First, Memorial Day is FEDERAL HOLIDAY, and the 2010 Census is a federal government operation. Second, Memorial Day is a time to show respect to veterans, living and dead. Third, Memorial Day is a time when not many people will be at home anyway. American tradition dictates that families and friends gather at parties that can be held in private, on beaches, in parks, and other public spaces. Enumerating on this day will likely be a major waste of time and money because few people will be at  home to answer their doors. Additionally, if all other federal workers receive Monday off, why should Census Bureau employees be held to a different standard?

Daily Sound Off: The Chicago Enumerator

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

May 26, 2010

I am an enumerator/Census taker in Chicago and this is my story of working for the U.S. Census Bureau over the past month.

My CLD has never had enough address binders for each of the approximate 15 enumerators working for it.  During training, some binders were split up, while a lucky few got a whole binder, me included.  However, the majority of my addresses were in a federally subsidized Section 8 building, where office staff refused me access and would not return my crew leader’s calls. The lower income families residing in this building need to be counted the most for funding, etc., especially since their housing is federally funded, but staff has been unfortunately uncooperative thus far.  I should have moved onto a new binder after the first week of work, but my CLD received only a handful more of binders during that first week and none since.

My CLD is now in the fourth week of work and has not received any new binders, despite my crew leader promising us new binders 2.5 weeks ago, at one point even telling us the day on which we would receive them!  At a meeting 1.5 weeks ago, she told us matter-of-factly that one of the reasons we weren’t receiving more work was because we had too many old EQ forms coming back with mistakes because she had failed to review them before she submitted them!  Forms are being corrected, addresses revisited, at what point have we submitted enough work to get new work?  Why are individuals who have finished their work forced to wait for others who have not?  Why are enumerators suffering for a crew leader’s mistakes?

It sure seems like crew leaders, others in supervisory positions, and those working in offices are putting in plenty of hours dealing with the mess and confusion of the 2010 Census, wasting taxpayers’ money, but many enumerators are barely able to put it any hours, when we are the ones supposed to be collecting data that IS the Census!  The work is not filtering down to us at the bottom of the bureaucracy.  I haven’t worked in the field for a week now, every week I have worked fewer and fewer hours, never near the 20 hours per week I was told to expect during training.  The most hours I ever put in was for training, inadequate training at that!

My crew leader decided to hold an additional training session after the second week to demonstrate common mistakes we had made on our EQs, when they could have easily been corrected if she had actually reviewed them like she is supposed to!  In fact, she said she was instructed to start writing enumerators up for mistakes, when they are the result of inadequate training and crew leader oversight!  I would also like to note that my crew leader chooses to meet during meal times at a McDonalds crowded with crack heads, not the most appropriate environment.

It is apparent that my crew leader is poorly trained and cannot answer many questions posed to her about Census policies and procedures.  Another example of this: Pay.  My crew leader signed off on several pay sheets I had filled out for training where I claimed 30 miles, which is what I drove round-trip to and from work.  I subsequently received a call from my LCO informing me that I was not allowed to claim those miles.  I talked to a supervisor, who informed me that if she signed off on those miles, she could be terminated from her job.  I told her that my crew leader had seen the miles and even said I would be reimbursed for them, and the supervisor at my LCO told ME to inform HER that enumerators can only claim mileage from home to work (which it turns out is IN the Enumerator Manual) and that it would be trouble for me if the pay sheets with 30 miles were submitted!  It was extremely inappropriate and strange to be threatened with responsibility for the termination of a LCO supervisor and the implication of my termination as well!  Once again, because of my crew leader’s severe ineptitude and inadequate training, the little guy at the bottom of the hierarchy gets the stick, thanks federal government.

The supervisor at my LCO told me that my pay sheets with the mileage would have to be sent back by courier to my FOS so that I could redo them.  Of course my FOS never received them.  I called the LCO supervisor again and at first she could not find any record of what had happened to my pay sheets.  She then discovered that someone had approved the miles!  For what she previously made out to be a serious violation of procedure, she laughed about it and seemed to want to chit chat with me.  I felt like she may have been drinking that night I talked to her.  Apparently, no one knows the mileage enumerators can claim and are approving reimbursements they shouldn’t be, wasting more taxpayer dollars!

My crew leader instructed us during training not to keep the duplicate copy of our pay sheets because they would be mailed back to us.  I double-checked this, unfortunately with the same supervisor at my LCO that I mentioned previously.  She also explicitly instructed me to submit both copies together.  However, one of my family members also working as an enumerator said everyone in her CLD was keeping their pay sheet copies.  I checked the Enumerator Manual and it explains that the copy is to keep.  I called Payroll to see what they had to say about this conflicting information, and the guy I spoke to advised me to keep the copy, but that the issue was up to crew leaders’ discretion!  Clearly, no one is aware of their own policies!  Surely, I have the right to keep the copy of my original work records!  I just keep the copy now, since there is no one clear directive.  This is just one instance of several, where I have received contradictory information from my crew leader or LCO versus what is written in the Enumerator Manual.  This whole operation is either incredibly inept, corrupt, or both.

Today, in the fourth week of field work, I called my LCO to ask when/if we are getting new binders, after being promised them for at least 2.5 weeks now.  The woman I spoke to said I shouldn’t be calling the LCO and that I should ask my crew leader, meaning that I must not step out of line in the hierarchy.  I explained that my crew leader and FOS clearly do not what is going on and do not have answers to my questions, so that was why I was calling the LCO.  She said it was too bad that was my situation, but that she could do “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” for me.  I quote.  I asked if she was not allowed to give me information regarding the issuance of new binders, but that did not seem to be the case.  She just refused to give me any information and told me she had talked to my FOS earlier in the day.  Don’t step out of line if you are on the bottom, know your place, and don’t ask questions if you work for the Census!

I am stuck talking to those directly above me who also know nothing.  I called my FOS today and she said she didn’t think we would be getting new binders.  She said we could be reassigned to another FOS, but she would check to make sure and call me back.  She always sounds sleepy and bewildered, I will probably have to call her back instead and lord knows if she will be any more informative.  I have been waiting for at least 2.5 weeks now, barely getting any hours in, on the promise of new binders, only to hear that there may not be any coming, and that my only chance for more work is to be reassigned four weeks in!

Two months and 20 hours per week I wish!  I was depending on this job for extra income this summer and it has amounted to barely anything, just waiting and hoping for work, rather than actually working, and trying to keep tabs on others’ incompetence.  Thanks for paying me to be trained for a job I barely even got to do federal government! OUTRAGEOUS.  The 2010 Census is such a poor reflection on the U.S. government, can’t we do better than this?