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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More Americans with college degrees than ever before

Monday, February 27th, 2012

As GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum tries to appeal to voters by claiming that President Obama is a snob for proposing that all Americans should get a college education, he is apparently hitting home with the 70% of Americans who lack such a degree. Nonetheless, with more than 30% of Americans over the age of 25 now have a college degree, which is the highest percentage in American history. CNN explains it all right here.

Click here for the Census Bureau’s report on educational attainment in the United States.

2010 Census data now available…

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Have a field day folks!

And the big winner is Texas. Ohio and New York are the biggest losers…Are the many critiques from MyTwoCensus of the counting process in NYC now being proven valid?

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.

Another 2010 Census employee attacked…

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Though there haven’t been media reports of attacks on 2010 Census employees for a couple of months now, so let’s hope that this recent incident in Kentucky is an isolated one:

http://www.wkyt.com/home/headlines/101074709.html

Update: Our tech problems are fixed

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Google and other web browsers may take a day or two to update their systems. A big thanks to Evan Goldin for working tirelessly to fix these problems.

Best,

SRM

Technical problems on MyTwoCensus.com

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Thanks to those who informed us that you were having trouble accessing MyTwoCensus. We are aware of the problems. Please be assured that there is no security threat by accessing this site. We have contacts at Google working on this issue and hope that it will be resolved ASAP.

In the comments section, please let us know what browser you are using and if the site is now operating smoothly for you.

Thanks!

Stephen and Evan

The most stupid job with the 2010 Census: Regional Technician

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

The 2010 Census has been marked by management goals that monitoring production standards. Every job from payroll keying, to hours and miles driven per case, is monitored. But imagine a job though where you are held to no production standard. Your job is simply to make sure other people are doing their jobs. You can stand over, hover and watch to make sure people are doing it, threaten or intimidate but you don’t have to know anything about procedures. You are reimbursed for mileage, travel costs and are paid anywhere from GS-07 to GS-12 per year, well above the salaries of clerks, crew leaders, office supervisors and sometimes even the AMFO and LCOM.

The sad part is actually there is a job like this at the Census and it is the job of the Regional Technician.

Before we begin dissing on Regional Technicians let’s take some comments that I have compiled from posts on MyTwoCensus that come from around the nation about them:

Former AMFO Says:
May 18th, 2010 at 9:53 am

The biggest waste of money spent in the 2010 Census are the Regional Technicians. They are supposed to support the LCO’s and provide whatever guidance and resources necessary to complete the task. They are really clueless on how the operations should be run. Our RT would come in and find the smallest thing wrong and and run right to the Area Manager. She would completely bypass the Local Manager. It didn’t matter that the LCO far exceeded all goals in every operation if one thing was out of line we were a bunch of failures. This person loved to talk down the neighboring offices as well as ours. The Census pays the RT’s for both their time and mileage. Added up the are paid quite handsomely for not knowing much. My RT told me that I was a Manager and wasn’t supposed to think. Try that in the Private sector. Anyone else out there have the same experience ?

Anonymous NE Says:
May 18th, 2010 at 4:23 pm

As for FORMER AMFO….I couldn’t agree more with regard to the RT’s. They actually ship these morons from other states, put them up in high priced apartments and houses and pay them well….and they know ZIP. As you say , they are quick to condemn the staff at the LCO’s, and operate with ZERO accountability.

Ex-IT Says:
May 18th, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Former AMFO’s RT sounds just like ours. Several managers and OOS’s found out the hard way that the RT sort of functioned like a Political Commissar. Everything the Area Manager knew about the LCO was through the RT’s filter. When anyone complained that the RT’s directives were contrary to Census manuals and rules, they were soon demoted or fired.

Anonymous NE Says:
May 18th, 2010 at 10:58 pm

EX-IT…..you are also correct about the RT’s. Here in NY, the Area Managers do NOTHING..the poor excuse is that they be in all places at all times, so therefore they dispatch the, and I quote…’eyes and ears of the Area Manager” to the LCO’s….the RT’s come with an agenda, and may I say their own “prejudices” to inflame, instigate, undercut etc the LCOM’s. There are RT’s here in the NY area that preach EEO and by the book, yet have been subjects of EEo complaints themselves, and sexual misconduct…..hmmmmm, the eyes and ears????? Interesting

Senseless Says:
May 18th, 2010 at 11:56 pm

RT’s are such a waste of time and money. They come in and try to change things and just make a bigger mess. Some of the RT’s do have experience but most have no clue. We had an RT that started out as a clerk and is now an RT. He was barely making it as a clerk.

The Regional Technician job is not well defined, and this is a major cause of problems. RTs have no supervisory rights but sometimes exercise them. They usually can’t be trusted because they are simply tattle tellers running straight to the area managers and telling them who should be fired. They are usually the ones who are ready to step in an take the helm of the assistant manager but sometimes add to the chaos because they don’t know anything. The Regional Technician is also next in line to succeed the Area Manager in case he/she should be incapacitated. Some regional technicians are career census employees. This makes the entire Census Bureau look bad because if they are like this during the decennial it shows you the incompetency that is running this agency the other eight years.

The regional technician job in summary is another bad decision on the part of the census. For the 2020 Census they should define a better role for the regional technician because frankly paying someone to do nothing and not firing them because they do nothing is simply unacceptable.

If anyone wants to vent please feel free to tell us your “best” Regional Technician (and I say this with all sarcasm) stories along with some names and locations.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Brooklyn scandal is just the tip of the iceberg

Monday, July 12th, 2010

What happened last month at the Brooklyn LCO was indeed unfortunate. But let us not be naive: Data collection inaccuracies and falsifications are happening throughout the entire New York Regional Area and possibly the entire nation, though perhaps on a smaller scale than in Brooklyn.

There are many luxury rental and condominum buildings where real estate management companies have a strict “no enumerator” policy, as well as tenement buildings  and brownstones where it is impossible to gain access. There are also one or two family houses where it is unclear how many people live there and a knowledgeable proxy could not be located.

For these units, some enumerators went to public search records on the Internet or merely wrote the names off the mailboxes. The mid and upper level census managers encouraged field staff to use techniques to “guesstimate,” creating major operational ambiguity for the once in a decade headcount.

What was acceptable inside the questionnaire was another problem. Most enumerators tried to get all the information but those who went to a proxy who gave them little, no, or inaccurate information, finished their areas quickly. These same field staff were rewarded with more work and allowed to clean up districts that were lagging behind.

These cases are the same ones where quality assurance suspects poor data collection practices or data falsification. However, in some cases re-interview staff are unable to locate the respondent to verify whether the interview was actually conducted and prove it definitively. Many other quality assurance managers are told to “just pass it” or are afraid to accuse enumerators of poor quality work, fearing that they will be stepping on people’s toes.

For two years municipalities and city officials preached about the beauty of the census through media and print advertising. They encouraged people to send back their census forms saying it was the only way to ensure that their residents were counted and for their community to receive the federal funding it was entitled to.

But these city officials did little in the way in forcing real estate management companies and reluctant respondents to cooperate when their participation was required. The fact that the Census Bureau and Department of Commerce made empty threats to fine people for not cooperating and then did not follow through on it shows how poorly 2010 Census data has been managed.

The offices in the five boroughs of New York will be the last in the nation to finish NRFU, whereas most areas were done weeks ago. The few career census employees who valued a fair and accurate count and finished last can not be proud of their work. Those responsible for promoting the individuals won’t let them be proud. When it comes time for their annual performance reviews, the fact they finished last will be reflected poorly and jeopardize their careers.

What happened in Brooklyn should not come as a surprise. In retrospect the Census did what it usually does. It set hard line production goals, held managers and field staff accountable and fired them if they failed to meet these goals with little constructive technical support. Those who work quickly are rewarded with more work with little regard to accuracy.

I dedicate this post to the many crew leaders, field operations supervisors and LCO manager who lost their jobs because they valued a fair and accurate count.

Census Countdown Brings Fear of Exclusion

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal continues to highlight concerns that the 2010 Census is not getting an accurate count of all US residents.

“HIDALGO, Texas—As census takers wrap up door-to-door counting, community organizers in hard-to-count areas are worried that some of their residents will be missed, again.

Interest in the 2010 population count—used to distribute federal funds and assign House seats during redistricting—has surged across the U.S., with some 250,000 community groups signing up to help in hopes of a more accurate count than in previous decades.

But even with their input, leaders in many communities remain doubtful about the census results.

“I’m just not confident that we’re going to have a 100% accurate count,” said Judge Rene Ramirez, Hidalgo county’s top administrator.”

These concerns are not trivial and an undercount will have very real financial consequences for rural areas that have already been hit hard by the recent recession.  Data from the 2010 census is used to allocate federal funding and Hidalgo county officials point to the results of an undercount in the 2000 census.

“Hidalgo has already lived through the consequences of an undercount. The 2000 Census underestimated its population by 1.8% or 13,902 inhabitants, resulting in a loss of $51.6 million in government funds including Medicaid, foster care and vocational education, according to a study commissioned by a board created by Congress.”

Mytwocensus.com has documented other instances where the 2010 Census has failed to get an accurate count of residents.  One case was in West Texas, the other instance was in New York City.  These concerns have not been addressed in a satisfactory manner by Census officials and we feel this is unacceptable.

Census Bureau Press Conference in 2 hrs…

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Though the Census Bureau is holding a press conference today, they never bothered to send an e-mail out about it. It’s a great way to dodge tough questions by not having reporters at a press conference…

What:
As the 2010 Census reaches another milestone, U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves will brief the media on the status of operations. Groves will announce America’s progress as the door-to-door follow-up phase concludes and discuss the next steps in field operations. The briefing will include a media question-and-answer session.

When:
Wednesday, July 7, 1 p.m. (EDT)

Who:
Robert M. Groves, director, U.S. Census Bureau

Where:
National Press Club, 13th floor
Holeman Lounge
529 14th St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20045

Members of the media may also participate by telephone. (Please dial-in early to allow time for the operator to place you in the call.)

Dial-in number: 888-603-8938
Passcode: 2010 CENSUS

Online Press Kit:
Event materials will be posted online shortly after the event begins and can be accessed by clicking on the 2010 Census Operational Press briefing at <http://2010.census.gov/news/press-kits/operational-press-briefing/>.

Webcast:
There will be a live webcast of the briefing, accessible at <http://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=69687> noon (EDT) on event day.

Strange News Of The Day: Western Colorado Census Office Raided By Feds

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Very interesting story here from the Grand Junction Sentinel:

Feds checking for violations of safety laws at census office

By Gary Harmon
Sunday, June 27, 2010

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened an investigation into the U.S. Census Bureau office in Grand Junction, which earlier this year was inundated by fumes from a marijuana-growing operation in the same building.

A person who worked in the building at 573 W. Crete Circle, meanwhile, said as many as a dozen claims might be filed by census employees affected by pesticide fumes from the nearby operation, which shared a ventilation system with the census office.

The inspection is intended to determine if there were violations of federal workplace-safety laws as a result of the fumes flowing into the offices, Herb Gibson, area director for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Friday.

The agency’s inspection “is open, and I would say it will stay open for a few more weeks,” Gibson said.

Inspectors have visited the census office, where Gibson said officials are in the process of making modifications to the ventilation system.

A Mesa County grand jury last week declined to indict the three people who owned the marijuana operation.

Still, a former office employee, who asked not to be identified, said some people who worked there, including the employee, have suffered ill effects from the fumes, which were those of pesticides used to protect the marijuana plants, census officials said.

Even though officials point to the pesticides, other odors were unmistakable, the employee said.

“You walk in the front door, and you feel like you’re at a Bob Marley concert,” the employee said.

Even after leaving the office, the employee said pain and coughing developed to the point that the employee had to be hospitalized for several days.

“I was screaming in pain” and forced to double over by the coughing, the employee said. “It felt like it was burning me from the inside.”

The employee has been in contact with other people from the office who have been hospitalized. Some are preparing or have prepared workers’ compensation claims as a result of their exposures in the office, the employee said. (more…)

Daily Sound Off: A multitude of problems in Arizona

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Enjoy the following:

Subject: payroll/wages and hours/overtime; proxies, etc./data integrity v. pr-driven deadlines

Message Body:
Denials of overtime claims similar to those reported in Houston (Monday’s
post) – coupled with demands to actually work as long as necessary to meet
artificial deadlines and the resultant spillover of hours into the next pay period -
have occurred in  the Phoenix area.  Other responses to the deadlines, some
potentially affecting data reliability, have included directives to change field
procedures (e.g.: seek a proxy on first unsuccessful visit; complete interviews on
the basis of very limited data from proxies; etc.).  The pressures for sudden wrap
up of Census tasks – usually at the eleventh hour – have coincided with pending
local office visits from the regional office, and have increased in intensity as
close-out (and visit) dates neared, resulting in multiple, contradictory directives
from day-to-day and even within a single day.  As a result, both all or most
non-response followup interview and re-interview (“quality” assurance) closure
deadlines have been met ahead of their original schedules.  The question of data
reliability, however, remains open but usually unasked.  It sure as hell has felt like
pressure from the top downwards to finish by or ahead of deadlines and under
budget, presumably to deflect increasing public scrutiny of past delays, computer
problems, mapping errors, etc.).  Whatever the cause, it has not been pretty.

And more from the same person:

Well, four new reinterview (“RI”) enumerators have joined our QA (aka “RI”) crew for a total of 16 – or 15 (see below) -, reputedly because,
having been trained (and paid for going through 40 hours of training), they MUST be utilized.  The rub is that our original 12-person team
has not had enough cases referred to us over the past 2-and-a-half weeks in the field to satisfy each of our minimum 20-hour work week
“requirement.”  Reputedly (this is what the mid-level echelon tells us), the new crew members were trained in anticipation of enumerator attrition that has not occurred.  Nonetheless, apparently, the new enumerators must be employed now, despite the fact that the reason they were hired and trained (at taxpayer expense) has not materialized, and despite the further fact that there isn’t sufficient work even for those of us who were trained three weeks ago.  Also, reputedly (we’re ALL mushrooms in this cellar!), training of new RI enumerators is STILL ongoing, and we can expect more new crew members next week.

I should add that one of our enumerators has been promoted to “crew leader assistant” status; so, we now have a ratio of 1 leader or
assistant leader to every 5 enumerators.  Thus, our enumerator crew actually is 15, formerly 12: 12 -1 + 4 = 15.

What does a crew leader or crew leader assistant do?  Mostly sit in fast food and storefront restaurants 5 hours per day and fill out
paperwork or, lacking that (something NONE of us often lack) just shoot the shit, so that we all can log our minimum 20-hours per week (just
by attending meaningless meetings!) while the actual casework dribbles out at a slower rate than BP’s rate of contained oil per day.

Oh, yah, and some of us use meeting time to (still) “project” our hours and mileage at essentially mid-day each weekday workday, so
that our CL and CLA’s can get the daily pay logs into Payroll early enough to keep them happy.  They appear to be the only OVER-worked
Census workers in Central Arizona these days!  Meanwhile, the trainees keep on comin’.  The casework does not.  Meanwhile, I still wonder,
when does “projection” become falsification?  But, sadly, I’m caring less these days.  I know that I will not – ULTIMATELY – claim unworked hours; but I also KNOW that shit rolls downhill.

I hasten to add that I respect our CL totally.  But, like us all, that person’s caught in what increasingly appears like a shabbily jerry-rigged
system.

As far as an “actual count”???

So, why is there no work? Reputedly (mushroom factor again) because the outsourced PBOX or PBACHS or Whatever computer system
server can’t support the volume of LOC logins per day nationwide.  So, if that’s true, the problem is nationwide and worthy of a Proxmire Golden Fleece Award, for those of us old enough to remember.

But, hey, I’m just a happy mushroom in these economically troubled times.  Pity the Gulf of Mexico’s nesting birds!  Pity the U.S. taxpayers!
Technically, we are a crew, now, of 15 enumerators and 3 administrators (crew leader and 2 crew leader assistants).  We have no cases to work
and the food at Denny’s sucks but, in the afternoon, we meet someplace with bagels, bean dip or baklava!

Another look at James O’Keefe

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Yesterday I was accused of a Conservative bias simply for publishing the James O’Keefe video. Well, here’s the response from Media Matters for a left-wing perspective on the issue:

Surprise! O’Keefe edits out inconvenient footage from new BigGovernment video

June 01, 2010 12:02 pm ET — 59 Comments

In a video posted on BigGovernment.com, conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe claims that he has uncovered census supervisors in a New Jersey office “systematically encouraging employees to falsify information on their time sheets.” Following his pattern of selectively editing videos, O’Keefe excluded a clip — which was subsequently aired by ABC — of a census leader telling workers that they must carefully and accurately report on their time sheets the number of miles they drive when they are doing their enumeration work.

O’Keefe removes relevant information from video posted on BigGovernment.com

ABC airs additional clip showing census crew leader stressing need for accuracy in time sheet reporting. On June 1, ABC’s Good Morning America interviewed O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart. From the June 1 edition of ABC’s Good Morning America:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (host): But this was the training program. And you concede that in the actual Census program, they were holding workers to much stricter standards. We have some video tape of that as well.

CREW LEADER (video clip): This is not a big issue here, but when you start doing this enumeration thing, you want to make sure you are watching your miles, OK? Set the odometer and every day record it. Don’t estimate it, don’t guess it. That’s part of their ability to audit you, would be to look at your miles, take a look at the places you went to, if it didn’t add up, you know, they’ll go crazy.

BigGovernment video omits this relevant clip in claiming that “Census supervisors” were “systemically encouraging employees to falsify information on their time sheets.” In the ten-minute video posted on Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com, O’Keefe stated that he had been hired as a Census worker and attended two days of training. He said, “What I found were Census supervisors systematically encouraging employees to falsify information on their time sheets.” The video includes clips of census leaders, who according to O’Keefe, “didn’t seem to have a problem with the discrepancy” of the hours recorded on his time sheet versus the hours he claimed to have worked. O’Keefe omitted the clip aired by ABC, which shows a census leader emphasizing the importance of accurately reporting on miles driven by census enumerators.

More shadiness and wastes of money in 2010 Census advertising campaign (this time by the City of Chicago)

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Update: After speaking with the Census Bureau’s public information office, I want to clarify that this is not federal money but Chicago’s money that has allegedly been spent improperly.

I’m not sure how I missed this piece from the Huffington Post when it originally came out on 5/19, but I am now investigating the claims laid out here:

The cronyism, corruption and shady contracts continue to emanate from the Todd Stroger administration, as a new and yet all-too-familiar scandal involving US Census contracts is emerging Wednesday.

With a few hundred thousand dollars of federal grants left to publicize the census, Stroger’s spokesman Eugene Mullins told the Chicago Tribune that he and deputy chief of staff Carla Oglesby awarded contracts to eight publicity firms to spread the word. So far, so good.

But all of the firms — like Oglesby’s own PR firm, which is now under investigation — were awarded contracts of $24,995, five dollars less than the amount that would require County Board approval.

And, of course, as a little digging from FOX Chicago revealed, it gets worse. (Scroll down for video of the FOX investigation.)

Nearly all of the companies receiving contracts were incorporated just days before the contracts were issued.

One business was run by a convicted felon, and listed a vacant lot as its business address. One business appears to be a modeling agency. Two of the contractors submitted nearly identical invoices, and gave the same unlisted phone number.

The contracts were all paid up-front, before any services were rendered.
Story continues below

And, the Tribune writes, “leaders of the Cook County Complete Count Committee, appointed by Stroger to conduct census outreach, said they were unaware of the contracts.”

How did Mullins respond?

When asked about the contracts on camera by FOX, Mullins was silent. Anchor Jeff Goldblatt said on air that “he called me late tonight, a profanity-laced phone call” in which he “basically threatened to sue” for “defamation of character.”

Mullins gave an on-the-record quote to the Tribune: “Either we can spend the money the best we can or it goes back to Washington,” Mullins said.

Both Mullins and Oglesby, who signed off on all the census contracts, are themselves involved in other Stroger administration scandals.

After Stroger’s defeat in the February primary, the lame-ducked Cook County Board President gave Mullins a $10,300 raise — despite a pay freeze that had been on the books for months.

And Oglesby is only recently back at work after a five-day suspension for steering a similar $24,995 contract to her privately-owned public relations firm, CGC Communications.

According to Finance Committee chairman John Daley, “All of this is under review by the inspector general.”

Here’s the video from Fox:

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.

Photo of the Day: Waste on the streets of New York

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

UPDATE: I have word that the New York regional office is up in arms over this photo. Please note that I received it from a college friend who does NOT work for the Census Bureau. I don’t want anyone to be falsely accused/needlessly fired over something that they didn’t do…

423 West 127 Street, New York, New York

Multiply this by the 494 local census offices around the country…and know that this happens on a daily/weekly basis.

Despite social media directive, blogs survive…

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Despite the Census Bureau’s directive that Census Bureau employees keep their traps shut, some Census Bureau critics survive, albeit few. If you know of other blogs out there beyond these, let us know:

http://crewleader-handholder.blogspot.com/

http://loosefemme.wordpress.com/

Some tips for identifying a Census worker

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Concerns about identifying Census enumerators aren’t new on MyTwoCensus, and we’ve even posted news of a tragic incident that might have been prevented if certain information had been more widespread. Fortunately, the Daily River Front Times had a Q&A session with the Census Bureau on just that subject:

1.Q. How to identify an official Census taker?

1.A. An official Census taker will have an official ID badge with their name, expiration date and the U.S. Department of Commerce logo on it. They will have a “Your Answers Are Confidential Information Sheet” (Form D-1 (F); may be carrying a black canvass bag with the U.S. Department of Commerce logo; and they will provide their supervisor’s contact information or the number to the Local Census Office for verification, if asked. Census takers will also have a Language ID Flashcard with 35 languages.

2. Q. Will a census taker ask to come inside someone’s home?

2. A. No.

3.Q. Will a Census taker ask for my Social Security number or bank information?

3.A. No, a Census taker will not ask for Social Security numbers or for bank information.

4.Q. If a resident sent in their Census questionnaire, can they still receive a visit from a Census taker or a phone call from the U.S. Census Bureau?

4.A. Yes, if a resident’s questionnaire was received by the Census Bureau after the deadline for Complete Count Door-to-Door Follow Up, they will likely be visited by a Census taker during Door-to-Door Enumeration. The Census Bureau also conducts quality control as a part of the 2010 Census so a resident could be contacted during quality control operations. The Census Bureau asks for the public’s cooperation during these operations.

5.Q. What does a Census taker do if there is no one at home?

5.A. A Census taker will leave a Notice of Visit (Form D-26), with their name and phone number or the phone number to the Local Census Office. This way the resident can contact the census taker or the Local Census Office to arrange a convenient time to be interviewed.

6.Q. How many times will a Census taker visit a house?

6.A. A Census taker will make at least three visits at different times of the day in an effort to interview a resident of the home.

7.Q. What does a Census taker do if he or she cannot speak to someone at the home after several attempts?

7.A. A Census taker will try to locate a person with knowledge about the house and its occupants such as a neighbor, a landlord or a property manager in order to get as much information as possible to complete the Census questionnaire.

So the Census Bureau won’t pay for toilet paper in New York but will pay to rent out a radical mosque in Virginia?

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

UPDATE: The Census Bureau’s Public Information Office told me:

“Office leasings for the federal government are handled by the General Services Administration (GSA).  Lease payments for the Census Bureau’s Alexandria, Virginia office are made to Phillips Properties of Alexandria, Virginia.”

I’m looking for more details on this situation. I didn’t intend for the headline to appear like a mirror image of FOXNews, but if these claims are valid (the “toilet paper” in the headline is a reference to a piece I ran yesterday about New York), then FOXNews will probably soon be all over this story from AOL News:

By Chanan Tigay

(May 10) — The U.S. government is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent to a Virginia mosque that law enforcement officials have identified as “a front for Hamas operatives,” according to a new report from an Islamic terrorism watchdog.

In preparation for the 2010 census, the General Services Administration leased office space throughout the country for the Census Bureau. According to the report by the nonprofit Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), one of those spaces is in an Alexandria, Va., building owned by the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center.

Muslims fill up the driveway and pray after the mosque was full at  Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, 2006.

Alex Wong, Getty Images
Worshippers pray in the driveway of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, a Falls Church, Va.-based mosque.

The Falls Church, Va.-based mosque was once the home of radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been linked to both Fort Hood gunman Nidal Malik Hasan and Christmas Day “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the IPT says.

According to the report, the lease contract, initially signed in 2008, is worth $582,026 for 25 months.

The IPT bases its claims about the mosque’s terrorist links on documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Those documents state “that Dar Al-Hijrah was ‘associated with Islamic extremists’ and was ‘operating as a front for Hamas operatives in U.S.’ ” and that “the mosque ‘has been linked to numerous individuals linked to terrorism financing,’ ” the IPT says.

It further quotes from a report, also obtained under FOIA, saying Dar Al-Hijrah “has been under numerous investigations for financing and proving (sic) aid and comfort to bad orgs and members.”

AOL News left phone messages seeking comment from both the General Services Administration and the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center, but they were not immediately returned.

The IPT was founded in 1995 by Steven Emerson, a journalist and terrorism analyst who won a George Polk Award for his documentary film, “Jihad in America.” Emerson’s work has upset many Muslim groups, and the nonprofit Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has characterized it as an “unrelenting attack against Arabs and Muslims.”

MyTwoCensus Editorial: The Census Bureau PR Machine is at it again…Return rates for 2010 are not better than return rates for 2000, and here’s why

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

In mid and late March, the return rate for the 2010 Census wasn’t looking good. In fact, it appeared that return rates from the 2000 Census (that lacked this year’s multimillion-dollar ad campaign) would exceed the 2010 Census rates. In a comment posted on this blog on March 25, 2010, Steve Jost, the Census Bureau’s Associate Director of Communications wrote “It is tricky business comparing 2010 to 2000 for lots of reasons…2000 had a Long Form and a Short Form. 2010 is a Short Form only Census.” This is an excellent and true point. (The long and short forms for the 2000 Census can be found HERE.)

In 2000, some 16% of decennial census questionnaires were “long form” versions of the census with more than 100 questions — many of which take a significant amount of time to answer. This year, the census is the shortest ever, with only 10 questions. However, since the public was informed that 72% of American households mailed back there 2010 Census forms, the Census Bureau has had no problem comparing apples to oranges as it praises this year’s participation rates over those from 2000. My point is clear: In the 2000 Census, approximately 20 million households received the long form.  Any statistician or communications expert will tell you that it is infinitely more difficult to convince someone to complete a 100+ question form than a 10 question form.

So when the Census Bureau claims that it has exceeded its 2000 return rates, let’s not kid ourselves: In 2010 it’s like every household has to learn first grade math, whereas in 2000, some 20 million households had to learn calculus.

Here are some screenshots from the official Census Bureau analysis of the 2000 Census Mail Return Rates to illustrate my point:

The chart above illustrates that those people receiving the long form in 2000 participated in the census at significantly lower levels than those people who received the short form.