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.

Posts Tagged ‘Commerce Department’

The latest from the Inspector General’s office…

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

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

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

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

2010 Census oversight team wins award

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

The Commerce Department Inspector General has been recognized for an award by the professional organization that unites the Inspector Generals of all government agencies…Here’s the brief from Ed O’Keefe:

The Commerce Department’s 2010 Census Oversight Team will be honored for “exemplary service” for a recurring series of reports on the planning, coordination, and execution of the largest decennial census in American history. (Example: Census workers who did no work were paid.)

Both the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office both did some excellent work in the past few years by shedding light on major inefficiencies related to the 2010 Census and doing their best to correct many debacles.

Freedom of Information? Hardly. Access denied!

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Some months ago, after I received credible reports that Census Bureau employees were staying at Ritz Carleton hotels while on official biz, I wanted to know the extent of such spending sprees. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request and waited many, many months to hear back about its status. Today, I was fed up. I e-mailed Grant Book, the (presumably young) Commerce Department lawyer whose job it is to keep telling me “wait longer or sue us for the information.” Now, I’m not in the business of lawsuits, so I choose to wait for the info. Today, Mr. Book told me that my “final response” was sent out on June 22. I am 100% certain that this response never reached my inbox, as I searched for it repeatedly. Either way, here’s what the response looks like. The outcome: Negative. The trend toward increased government transparency continues…not! (And I’ve never seen so many court cases cited in my life for denying a FOIA request) Here it is, in all its glory:

The Commerce Department says “No” to my request for information.

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.

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.

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.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: For the sake of employees, tell the truth about how long NRFU operations will last

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

MyTwoCensus has received confidential reports from multiple Census Bureau officials that non-response follow-up operations in many parts of the country are winding down. By law, the Census Bureau can only contact non-responders three times in person and three times by phone — even though MyTwoCensus is currently investigating whether additional illegal contacts are taking place.

Because of the Census Bureau’s computer failures, the 2010 Census may be coming in over-budget (apparently $15 billion wasn’t enough cash…). Since the Census Bureau doesn’t want to take yet another scolding from the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office, they may try to abruptly end the 2010 headcount ASAP.

With half a million workers on the streets during this large-scale operation, there is significant amounts of confusion about how long jobs will last. Lying to Census Bureau employees, who very well may lose their jobs within the next one or two weeks (by the end of May) is not the answer. Yes, these jobs are temporary, but working through the end of July meant an additional two months of security and stability for many individuals employed by the Census Bureau who may have quit lower paying jobs to take on these positions. Additionally, it seems to be that thousands of individuals went off unemployment to take their Census Bureau jobs. These people should not have been told that they would have 6-8 weeks of work if they really only have 4 weeks of work.

Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post analyzes yesterday’s report from the Inspector General

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Thanks to Ed for  the following:

Frequent glitches in the computer system built to manage the 2010 Census could jeopardize its accuracy and drive up costs beyond its $15 billion price tag, according to a new watchdog report.

The findings by the Commerce Department’s inspector general come as roughly 600,000 census takers fan out nationwide to visit about 48 million addresses where nobody mailed back a census form.

The quarterly progress report found that problems persist with the agency’s paper-based operations-control system, a computer program developed to manage data collected by census takers. Several local Census Bureau offices are experiencing outages of several hours to entire days, the report said.

Those delays contributed to $1.6 million in clerical overtime costs in the first quarter, and the cost will probably rise in the next two months as census takers complete their work, the report said.

Because of computer delays, local census offices also could misplace completed paper questionnaires that are waiting to be processed.

“Questionnaires can be misplaced, for example, by storing them with questionnaires that have already been checked in,” the report said. If those forms are not processed, “the persons identified in the questionnaires may not be counted.”

The report reinforces concerns raised last week by the Government Accountability Office during a congressional hearing on census operations.

The Census Bureau developed the computer system in 2008 after scrapping plans to use handheld computers built for the agency. The decision left little time to develop the software, and officials have since said the system probably poses the most risk to census operations.

“As we have publicly disclosed to Congress, our oversight agencies and the press, the operational control system is not optimal, and remains a risk,” Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner said in an e-mail. “However we do not foresee cost overruns of the type speculated upon in this report.”

Census Director Robert M. Groves has vowed to keep census operations under budget in hopes of returning funds to the Treasury. But he acknowledged potential operational issues this week in a blog post written to his 600,000 new hires.

“Nothing as large as the decennial census can be trouble-free,” Groves said. “Despite the years of development, things will go wrong.”

Inspector General’s report on the 2010 Census to be released later today…Here’s a sneak peak from the AP

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

The Commerce Department Inspector General’s report that will soon be publicly available may shed some light on major cost overruns at the Census Bureau. The AP obtained a copy on Wednesday, and here’s what they said about it:

WASHINGTON — A new audit questions whether the 2010 census can stick to its $15 billion budget because of computer problems that are forcing substantial overtime work.

The report from the Commerce Department inspector general’s office was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. It says glitches with the computer system used to manage the door-to-door count caused a 40-hour backlog of work over two weeks.

The report notes that the Census Bureau has already notched more than $1.6 million in overtime costs, and says continuing shutdowns could put the count’s accuracy at risk if census data can’t be put into the system immediately.

Census Bureau director Robert Groves says he believes the agency will stay within its budget.

Fact Check: Is the mail participation rate a valid tool for tracking responses? Not until the following questions are answered.

Monday, April 26th, 2010

On Friday, the Commerce Department released a statement, “U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today congratulated the nation for its strong participation in the 2010 Census to date, as the Census Bureau released the latest mail participation data showing that 72 percent of U.S. households have mailed back their 2010 Census forms so far — the same rate the nation achieved at the end of the mail-back period during the 2000 Census.”

But what validity does this have? None, until the Census Bureau answers the following essential questions:

What data are used to adjust the mail response rates?  Who in the Postal Service supplies these data? To meet what specifications?  What distinguishes between unoccupied housing and Census address list errors? At what level of geographic detail?  The Census Bureau has stated the “participation rate” is “fairer”?  How is fairness defined?   Does the Postal service guarantee data consistency between and among all postal delivery service areas of the country? Or, are there big differences in what is returned to Census as undeliverable based on the quality of the address list used by the Census Bureau in each postal service area ? How does the Postal service distinguish between a bad address from the Census Bureau and a vacant house?  How does any of this get calculated in dense urban areas…..especially given the statement from the Census Bureau about “fairness” (For example, it is well known that delivery methods in multi-unit urban dwellings differ dramatically from suburban, single family residences — how does the proclaimed Census 2010 ”fairness” doctrine adjust for this)? When will the mail return rates for 2010 be calculated and how will this process differ from 2000?

D’Vera Cohn of the Pew Research Center (who covered the 2000 Census for the Washington Post) has tried to explain this process:

For the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau will use a new real-time metric, called the “mail participation rate,” to report the share of U.S. households-by state, city, county and neighborhood-that send back their completed forms. Why is this important?

The Census Bureau hopes to count every American in the coming months, but it has a hefty financial incentive to count them quickly. Census forms arrive in most home mailboxes next week. If a household sends back its postage-paid census form, the government spends less than 50 cents in mailing costs. If the completed form does not arrive back by late April, the Census Bureau will send an enumerator to knock on the non-respondent’s door, which costs $57.

As part of its promotional campaign to encourage households to return their forms fast, the Census Bureau plans to release mail participation rates down to the neighborhood level each weekday, from March 22 to April 26. Knowing where the problems are could help the bureau and its partner organizations—such as local governments and community groups—steer their census-encouragement efforts to the areas that could benefit most.

The 2010 mail participation rates will be displayed daily on a recently launched Census Bureau mapping tool, where users already can see 2000 data for states, counties, cities and census tracts (neighborhood-level units of about 4,000 people). For the Bureau’s publicity campaign, the mail participation rate replaces the “mail response rate” used in the 2000 Census because, for reasons described below, officials believe the new measure will give a truer picture in places with large numbers of foreclosed and vacant homes.

Three Different Mailback Rates

The mail response rate, the mail participation rate and a third measure of response, the “mail return rate,” are calculated for areas where household residents are asked to mail back forms that were mailed to their homes or dropped off by a census worker. These areas include almost all of the nation’s more than 130 million households.

The mail response rate is an unrefined measure —the percent of forms sent to households in these mailback areas that are returned to the Census Bureau. It is a preliminary measure that Census officials say somewhat understates participation, though, because many forms sent out by the Bureau cannot be mailed back — for example, those sent to vacant housing units and those where census forms could not be delivered, such as non-existent or non-residential addresses. In 2000, the final national mail response rate was 67%. (The initial mail response rate, over the first few weeks, was 65%.)

The mail participation rate is a refined version of the mail response rate–the percent of forms sent to households in these mailback areas that are returned to the Census Bureau,  after removing from the denominator addresses where census forms are determined by the U.S. Postal Service to be “undeliverable as addressed.” Nationally, the final census mail participation rate was 72% in 2000.

The mail participation rate is intended to exclude vacant and foreclosed homes, which have grown in number as a result of the national economic downturn. The mail participation rate also may provide an improved real-time measure of participation for areas with large numbers of seasonal homes that are unoccupied on Census Day, April 1.

However, the new metric will not eliminate all sources of error. For example, if the owner of a vacant or seasonal home has a friend who picks up the mail, the form may not be returned as undeliverable. Some forms may be sent to home addresses whose occupants get their mail from postal boxes, and those forms may be returned by the Postal Service as undeliverable even though the home is occupied. These kinds of addresses will be on the Census Bureau’s to-do list, however, and census-takers would make sure they are properly accounted for during follow-up visits, according to Census Bureau officials.

The mail return rate, the most precise measure of census participation, is the number of households returning a questionnaire from mailback areas mail divided by the number of occupied housing units that received questionnaires in those areas. It cannot be calculated until the end of the census counting process. At that point, officials will use data from census-takers’ follow-up visits and other sources to total the number of occupied home addresses in areas where residents mail back their forms. Once addresses are excluded from the denominator—mainly for being unoccupied, non-residential or non-existent—the rate will rise. In 2000, the mail return rate was 78%.

Anonymous Census Bureau Official: Major Nation-wide IT FAILURE at the Census Bueau

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The following piece comes to us from a Census Bureau official from the Mid-West region who has requested anonymity but has had her identity verified by MyTwoCensus.com. Her discussion of a major week-long IT systems failure has effected every Census Bureau office across the country and demonstrates how disgraceful operations are being handled (and subsequently covered up, as MyTwoCensus has requested information about this failure numerous times yet has not received any responses from the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office):

I have a problem in my local census office. The problem is 493 of those offices across the nation are having the same exact problem. You see, in November and December 2009 when I first started at the Census Bureau, one of my first assignments was assisting in a system load test known as the Decennial Application Load Test (or DALT for short). DALT simulated the conditions of every census office employee logging on at the same time across the nation and what would happen. This was my first taste of our federal tax dollars hard at work. As is typical of any large scale government program the whole system went kaput; users couldn’t log-on and applications crashed.

The Bureau’s contingency plan was to limit users and ask offices to spread out their staffing. We started to run an evening shift which meant paying night differential (an additional 10% pay) to our night employees.  One application of concern was PBOCS the Paper Based Operational Control System that was unveiled in January 2010 to complete the rest of their field operations. The system was developed after the Census decided to nix the Harris Corporation as their contractor. The PBOCS system was used to check out assignments into the field, make assignments to enumerators, check work into the office after completion and check out for shipping. In February 2009 after the two big snowstorms that hit Washington DC the same thing happened. The Bureau’s contingency plan for PBOCS was to limit users to four per local census office and remove functionality they didn’t deem was mandatory.

In the last few weeks we are experiencing many more problems as we near non-response followup the most massive operation of the decennial census. Some of PBOCS problems include but are not limited to:
* individual census reports (ICRS) from group quarters enumeration that PBOCS claims are missing for shipment.
* daily progress reports that are outdated or showing the wrong numbers
* numerous system crashes where work is lost or has to be rescanned
* wrong or missing work being selected for reinterview

At the beginning when these problems started, the RCC pointed fingers at the local census offices accusing them of not using the system or processing the work properly. However when several offices reported the same issues the blame then shifted to the software.

To further complicate things is the divide that also occurs between the local census office employees and the the regional census center and headquarters staff. The headquarters and regional census center staff are mostly career employees. The local census office employees are temporary Schedule A hourly employees. Although both are referencing the same procedures in the same manuals the local census office employees are the ones who are doing the grunt work (the enlisted men per say). The RCC and headquarters staff (the commissioned officers) manage and oversee but do not realize the difficulties and nuances because they are not out there getting their hands dirty.

The LCO employees are finding that the PBOCS system actually will not update the report numbers or sometimes show the wrong numbers. The RCC and headquarters are lead to believe if the work doesn’t show in the system as completed then it is not completed. However when the reports don’t show the quotas are being met the career census employees usually get on the phone to threaten the temporary employees and even sometimes terminating their employment.

This weekend is the third weekend PBOCS has gone offline. On Wednesday April 14 it was announced PBOCS was to go down at 8pm (actually went down about 5pm) and will not be back up until Monday morning April 19th. We are somewhat relieved to hear through the grapevine that the RCC and headquarters will be more lenient and readjust their production goals for the entire nation. However I think that much of the intimidation and harassment will occur again so that the career census employees can cover their asses and recover any of the money they were probably paying in overtime for programmers to fix this crap piece of software. This is all the while they tell the temporary employees at the LCO that overtime will be strictly prohibited.

The career employees at RCC and headquarters hold the temporary LCO employees accountable for mistakes they [RCC and headquarters] made in the ten years they had to prepare since the last decennial. But who is held accountable at the highest levels when a multi-billion dollar piece of software doesn’t work and they constantly have to fix it? I hope the Inspector General and my congressmen are reading this because PBOCS is government waste at its finest. How ironic it is happening in the nearing days of the largest operation of the decennial census.

Does this lawsuit against the Census Bureau have legitimacy? Perhaps

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

H/t to former MyTwoCensus editor Emily Babay for informing me of the following lawsuit filed against the Census Bureau for its hiring practices. The Philadelphia Inquirer brings us the following:

Phila. woman at center of census lawsuit

By Jane M. Von Bergen

Paying $17.75 an hour, U.S. Census jobs, though temporary, are attractive in an economy where unemployment is stuck at 9.7 percent. But the Census Bureau’s screening policies, designed to safeguard the public, end up discriminating against minorities, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

That’s because the bureau has set up an “arbitrary barrier to employment” for any person with an arrest record, “no matter how trivial or disconnected from the requirements of the job,” the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan, says. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is named as the defendant.

The national suit, filed by Outten & Golden L.L.P. in New York and a coalition of public-interest organizations, seeks class-action status on behalf of those turned down for a job if they were arrested and not convicted, or convicted for an offense irrelevant to the job.

“The U.S. Census Bureau’s top priority is the safety of both our workforce and the American public,” Commerce Department spokesman Nicholas Kimball responded. “Americans must be confident that, if . . . a census taker must come to their door to count them, we’ve taken steps to ensure their safety.”

Kimball declined to comment on the suit.

One of the two lead plaintiffs, Evelyn Houser, 69, of North Philadelphia, thinks she is qualified to fill one of the 1.2 million census positions. That’s because Houser worked for the census before, in 1990.

“What’s the difference between then and now?” she asked in an interview Tuesday. “It’s like a slap in the face.”

The difference, said her lawyer, Sharon Dietrich with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, is the government’s cumbersome screening process.

Computers kick back any application with an arrest record, requiring more documentation, but the Census Bureau doesn’t make it clear what documentation is required, Dietrich said.

The discrimination occurs because the arrest and conviction rates of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans exceed those of whites, the suit says. Compounding the problem, it says, is that one in three arrests do not lead to prosecution or conviction, yet the bureau’s system does not readily distinguish between arrests and convictions.

“The processes are screening out any kind of criminal case, no matter what,” Dietrich said.

“If you were arrested years ago for a minor offense, you are asked to comply with the same burdensome process as if you had been released from jail last week after committing a murder,” she said,

Plaintiffs’ attorney Samuel Miller, of Outten & Golden, estimates that as many as one million applicants may have been caught up in the process, with tens of thousands unfairly deterred or excluded from employment.

In 1981, Houser was a 39-year-old mother raising four children on welfare and food stamps. Her monthly check was several days away, but she was out of food when, going outside to take out the trash, she found a check next to the Dumpster.

“I went home and told my kids, ‘God sent me a piece of paper that says we’re going to eat tonight.’ ”

Houser shouldn’t have done it, but she tried to cash the check. She was arrested. Instead of being convicted, she was placed in alternative rehabilitation program. Her record remains clean, Dietrich said.

In 1990, Houser got a job with the census. Last year, she decided to apply again and passed a qualifying test.

A month or so later, the Census Bureau sent her a letter, asking her for documentation. The way she read it, her fingerprints would suffice, so she had them taken and sent them in the next day.

The bureau rejected her because, it said, she hadn’t sent the right documentation. Dietrich called the bureau’s communications confusing.

Since then, Houser has been involved in a long appeals process, which culminated in the filing of the suit.

Houser, who lives in subsidized housing, estimated that 25 percent of her working-age neighbors are unemployed. They are “just existing,” she said. “It’s just survival.”

She’s helping her neighbors find a path to employment, Houser said. “I’m a little gray-haired old lady and I’m trying to lead them in a better way.”

Holder to look into gov’t use of FOIA exemptions

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

H/t to MyTwoCensus.com Chief Technology Officer Evan Goldin for telling me about the following snippet that comes from the Associated Press. As many of you know, I have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain information from the Census Bureau, yet many of these requests remain unfulfilled or contain significant amounts of redacted information when I receive them, demonstrating that the Obama Administration’s transparency goals have yet to be fulfilled.

By SHARON THEIMER

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder says he’s going to find out why the administration has often used a legal loophole to keep information secret even though President Barack Obama ordered more openness.

Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee he found statistics on Freedom of Information Act denials analyzed by The Associated Press “troubling.” The AP has reported that one year into its promise of greater transparency, the administration was more often citing FOIA “exceptions” to withhold records, even as requests for information decreased.

In response to questions from Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Holder said Wednesday that he doesn’t know why the use of exceptions increased, but will find out.

CNN Conservative Commentator To Whip Out His Shotgun On Enumerators?

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

H/t to Media Matters for America:

Huffington Post: “Erickson Shotgun-Census Remark: Commerce Dept. Pushes Back”

April 05, 2010 6:10 pm ET by Media Matters Staff

From an April 5 article by Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein:

The Commerce Department is pushing back against census critics, subtly reminding conservative blogger and CNN contributor Erick Erickson that the workers whom he’s threatened to pull a shotgun on are simply doing required, temporary and important work.

In a statement provided to the Huffington Post, Nicholas Kimball, a spokesman for the Commerce Department — which oversees the 2010 census counting — said that precautions are being made to “protect the safety of both census workers and the public.”

Going through the logistics of the process, Kimball noted that the census workers dispatched to help collect raw data (in the form of a ten-point questionnaire) are usually fellow locals. Taking a small dig at Erickson, without naming names, he added:

So, that means someone knocking on a door in, for example, Macon, Georgia, is likely to be from that community or neighborhood. They’re just someone looking for a little extra work during these difficult economic times – and looking to help fulfill the mission of our Founding Fathers.

Another Census Oversight Issue…

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

FOR PLANNING PURPOSES: Mar. 23, 2010

CONTACT:

Emily Spain, Carper, 202-224-2441

Jon Houston, Maloney, 202-225-7944

Gregg Bortz, Dent, 610-861-9734

Sens. Carper, Coburn & Reps. Maloney, Dent to introduce bipartisan Census reform bill

WASHINGTON (Mar. 23, 2010) – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) will hold a press conference Thursday, March 25 at the House Triangle by the U.S. Capitol (rain room TBA) at 11:30 a.m. to announce introduction of the “Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act.”

This bipartisan bill is crafted to improve Census management challenges which arise from the fact the Census operates on a constitutionally mandated ten-year cycle while Presidential administrations which oversee management of the Census operate on a four-year cycle. The bill strengthens Congressional oversight of the Census to help prevent operational problems that have emerged on the eve of the censuses in 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010, in part from a lack of steady leadership and management due to changes in Presidential administrations.

The bill is timed for consideration just as the country is in the midst of returning their current census forms– drawing attention to the fact that just over two years ago, there were serious last-minute census design changes which threatened a successful, cost-efficient 2010 Census, in part from a lack of steady leadership and management due to changes in Presidential administrations.

WHAT:

Introduction of the Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act

WHO:

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) Chair, Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security Subcommittee

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Chair, Joint Economic Committee

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA)

Also attending, two former Census Bureau Directors under both D and R Administrations:

Vincent P. Barabba, (Ford, 1973-1976; Carter, 1979-1981)

Martha Farnsworth Riche, (pronounced “Rich-y”) (Clinton, 1994-1998)

WHEN:

Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 11:30 AM.

WHERE:

Outdoors at the House Triangle by the U.S. Capitol (Rain Room TBA)

Census News Round-Up: Call Center Hiring, Census Forms Being Distributed, Groves Testifies In Washington About 2010 Census Jobs, New York Undercount?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

1. From the Atanta Journal-Constitution: Ryla is hiring 1,400 people in Georgia to work at call centers from April-August, presumably for the Census Bureau’s non-response follow-up operations.

2. From the Terry Haute, Indiana Tribune Star: 2010 Census materials are already being distributed in hard-to-count areas of Indiana.

3. From Ed O’Keefe at The Washington Post:

A majority of the roughly 1.2 million temporary jobs created by the U.S. Census Bureau this year will be created in the late spring, agency Director Robert Groves said Tuesday.

Groves told a Senate subcommittee that 600,000 to 700,000 census takers will be hired from May through early July to visit individual households that fail to return census forms. Some workers currently employed in temporary positions are expected to reapply for new positions and get hired, he said.

“We over-recruited, clearly underestimating the labor market,” Groves said, acknowledging that the nation’s employment situation provided the Census Bureau with a wealth of eager applicants who, according to an agency statement, showed up for training at a much higher rate than they did during the 2000 Census.

4. The venerable New York Times reports that, “The city and the Census Bureau hope to avoid a repeat of the 1990 census, when the city challenged the count and the bureau acknowledged that it missed more than 240,000 New Yorkers.”

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Heads Should Fly…NOW!!!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

UPDATE: The Inspector General’s report is available HERE.

Though we are yet to obtain a hard copy of the Inspector General’s report that will be released within the next two hours that details how the Census Bureau went massively over budget during the address canvassing phase of the decennial census, we believe that Census Bureau employees should be held accountable. Without making false accusations,  here is a list of names of people who, according to the positions they hold at the Census Bureau , should be held accountable and punishedmeaning demoted or fired – for this waste (in order of culpability from worst offenders to more moderate offenders…):

1. ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR DECENNIAL CENSUS – ARNOLD A. JACKSON

2. ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR ACS AND DECENNIAL CENSUS – DANIEL H. WEINBERG

3. COMPTROLLER -  ANDREW H. MOXAM

4. ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR FIELD OPERATIONS – MARILIA A. MATOS

5.  HUMAN RESOURCES CHIEF -  TYRA DENT SMITH

6. TECHNOLOGIES MANAGEMENT OFFICE CHIEF – BARBARA M. LOPRESTI

7. FIELD CHIEF – BRIAN MONAGHAN

And while these deputies and senior Census Bureau employees are responsible for their actions, they answer directly to three men: Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer Thomas Mesenbourg, and Associate Director For Communications Steve Jost, who are in that order, the three top dogs so to speak at the Census Bureau. Perhaps the man who is most to blame for the widespread failures is Mr. Mesenbourg, who served as Acting Director of the Census Bureau for more than a year before Dr. Groves was installed in office. Mesenbourg continues to oversee an agency filled with miserable and inexcusable performance results, yet he has done little to enact change. Nonetheless, neither Dr. Groves nor Steve Jost should be let slide for these actions. While both of them consistently discuss looking toward the future, they can’t seem to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess that was present at the Census Bureau when they arrived. To play on Shakespeare’s words, “There’s Something Rotten In Suitland!”

Senate Hearing: Countdown to Census Day

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

NOTE: THIS MEETING IS NOW POSTPONED DUE TO WEATHER!

FOR RELEASE: Feb. 10, 2010

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

HEARING: “Countdown to Census Day: Progress Report on the Census Bureau’s Preparedness for the Enumeration”

WASHINGTON (Feb. 10, 2010) – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, will hold a hearing TOMORROW, Thursday, Feb. 11, at 2:30 p.m. titled “Countdown to Census Day: Progress Report on the Census Bureau’s Preparedness for the Enumeration.”

With less than two months until Census Day 2010, Dr. Robert Groves and other officials will give the committee a progress report.

WHAT:

“Countdown to Census Day: Progress Report on the Census Bureau’s Preparedness for the Enumeration”

WHEN:

Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 at 2:30 p.m.

WHERE:

342 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Also scheduled to live broadcast at http://hsgac.senate.gov.

WITNESSES:

- The Honorable Robert M. Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce

- The Honorable Todd J. Zinser, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Commerce

- Robert N. Goldenkoff, Director, Strategic Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office

###

Census trash will benefit baby feds

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

H/t to Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post for the following:

What will the government do with the millions of 2010 Census questionnaires once it’s done counting them next year? Shred them, sell the recyclable scraps and then give the money to federal childcare facilities, according to Census Director Robert Groves.

Groves shared the details during an interview broadcast Monday on Federal News Radio.

The National Processing Center in Indiana shreds and bales the paper once Census Bureau computers have scanned the data on the paper questionnaires, according to the agency. The General Services Administration then sells the bales of paper to contractors. The proceeds go back to the Commerce Department, which by law must use the money for environmental or employee wellness programs, including its child care facilities.

Incidentally, the Government Printing Office prints the 600 million questionnaires on 30 percent recycled paper. The Census Bureau has already printed roughly 425 million questionnaires for mailing next Spring.

Interview with Robert Goldenkoff of the Government Accountability Office

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

On Friday, October 9, 2009 I interviewed Robert Goldenkoff, who has worked for more than 20 years at the Government Accountability Office and currently serves as the GAO’s Director of Strategic Issues. One of his many areas of focus is the 2010 Census, which the GAO defined as a high risk operation in a March 2008 report. On Thursday October 8, Mr. Goldenkoff faced questions at a Senate hearing investigating the 2010 Census. In the following interview he discusses the recent fingerprinting problems that he shared with Congress and many other long-term issues with the decennial census.

SRM: What led to the discovery that there could have been criminals hired by the Census Bureau?

RG: We’re looking at all aspects of the Census Bureau’s readiness for the 2010 Census. The decennial census is so huge that we’re focusing a lot of our work on areas where the Census Bureau doesn’t have a lot of experience, where they haven’t done that particular operation before. One of those areas is fingerprinting. In the past, at least for the 2000 Census, they relied only on a name background check. That was why we included fingerprinting as part of our review, because it was a new operation. They’ve been doing the census pretty much the same way  – obviously technology changes – but, the fundamental approach to the 2010 Census is very similar to say the 1970 Census. So if there’s going to be an issue, it’s more likely in something that they’ve never done before.

SRM: Why is your office investigating this rather than the Commerce Department Inspector General’s office? Or were you working together on this?

RG: We are two independent agencies, two different reporting authorities. We do work together, collaborate and coordinate our work just so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Sometimes we work in the same areas and other times we work in different areas, depending on facts and circumstances.

SRM: Where did you get the figure that you reported to Congress that 200 criminals could have been hired by the 2010 Census? And can you clarify what “could have been hired” means?

RG: It’s strictly based on the percentages. There were 162,000 people in total hired for address canvassing. 1,800 passed the name background check but their fingerprints revealed that they had criminal records. Of those, 750 were disqualified for census employment, because their criminal records were such that they were ineligible for census employment. All we did was project those same ratios for the 35,700 people who went through the name background check but whose fingerprints could not be read. So it’s strictly a projection. It’s unfortunate that the reporting of this was not always accurate or perhaps sensationalized it. We’re not saying that 200 criminals did work on the census, but we’re saying that based on that projection it’s possible.

SRM: During the summer, I was contacted by a man named David Allburn who runs a company called National Fingerprints, LLC, which can be found at NationalFingerprints.com. His firm placed a bid with the Census Bureau to receive a contract to handle the fingerprinting of employees, because right now prospective employees are fingerprinted by other Census Bureau employees who are not well trained in fingerprinting. David informed me that someone who is an experienced criminal would know that it’s very simple to smudge your fingerprints and make them unreadable by simply pressing your hand too hard on the paper when your fingers are being rolled in the ink. The Census Bureau chose not to use David’s company but rather to conduct the operation on their own without outside help. Of course part of the reason David called me originally because he was upset that his company wasn’t chosen for the contract, but he was also concerned that the 2010 Census operations would be infiltrated by criminals. At first I figured David could be overexaggerating this scenario, but now I know that he was absolutely right. So I’m wondering, do you have any idea why David’s method was rejected?

RG: No idea.

SRM: I’ve also heard from many sources that after people have been hired by the Census Bureau and started to work, their criminal background check reports came in later, and only then, after they already had access to a significant amount of data, were they fired. Why did this happen?

RG: I don’t know. Our point to all of this was not to scare people or anything like that. Our point was to make it clear to the Bureau that they need to have a better policy, or at least have a better policy for those people whose fingerprints can’t be read. With so many people working on the census, even if only a small percentage of fingerprints are flawed, you’re still talking about a substantial number of people.

SRM: Has the Census Bureau done anything to try to fix this flawed system?

RG: It is important to point out though that the Bureau has acknowledged that they have a problem with this and they are taking steps, improving training for example, to improve how the fingerprints are actually captured. Moisture is an issue with the quality of prints. The remaining issue is what to do about people whose fingerprints can’t be read.

SRM: I’m also wondering, can social security numbers be used as an element of background checks? Having sat for the employment exams for the 2010 Census, I know that it is mandatory to provide your social security number at that early stage.

RG: That already might be used, but I’m not sure. But people can change their social security numbers or use fraudulent social security numbers. That’s why it’s not as reliable. As we saw, just  the name background check can’t be the only tool used as criminals can get past that system.

SRM: Who do you hold accountable for these errors?

RG: This is something that the Census Bureau had no experience with. It’s clearly something that the Census Bureau and its parent agency, the Commerce Department, need to deal with. We’re not out to get anyone or point fingers. We want to see a successful census. I think the Census Bureau has acknowledged there’s a problem and they are going to work on it – and we are going to keep tabs on them. There are some smaller field operations coming up, but the big one is non-response follow up in the spring, to follow up with non-respondents. That’s going to be around 600,000 people hired. So we’re going to watch the Bureau’s progress in improving fingerprinting abilities.

SRM: On a related issue, I wrote about how the Census Bureau’s three Data Capture Centers may have similar human resources issues. Because, for example, in Baltimore, the Data Capture Center is run by contractor Lockheed Martin, who subcontracted the hiring efforts to Computer Sciences Corporation, I am wondering if the same rigid hiring standards that Census Bureau employees are subject to apply in these cases? I was told by Stephen Buckner, spokesman for the Census Bureau, that these employees are subject to the same standards, but a couple of loopholes that I noticed are that employees at these centers are not subject to drug tests or that because of time lags, people who undergo background investigations now might not start work for six months, meaning that they could potentially develop criminal records in the interim period. Can you address these issues?

RG: I’m not familiar with the specifics when contractors are involved.

SRM: What are the greatest challenges for the 2010 Census from your perspective?

RG: I’m glad you asked that because what we’ve been reporting on is much bigger than fingerprints. That’s certainly an issue, but the Bureau has other things they need to be concerned about as well. Speaking positively, the GAO has a high risk list, and we put the Census Bureau on this list in March 2008 because of weaknesses in the Census Bureau’s IT management, problems with the handheld computers, the difficulties they were having in coming up with the total cost of the decennial census, the fact that they did not conduct a full dress rehearsal, and on top of all that time was running out. And we put the decennial census on our high risk list because it’s a critical statistical program for the nation. Using March 2008 as an anchor point, we have seen that the Bureau has made a lot of progress in terms of risk mitigation. There is certainly a lot more work to be done but we are also encouraged by a lot of the improvements that we’ve been seeing. Certainly it was important to have a president appointed and senate confirmed Director (Robert M. Groves), so it’s certainly important that the top leadership is now firmly in place. We’re encouraged by some of the advisors that Dr. Groves has brought in who have experience from the 2000 Census. And we’re also encouraged by the fact that the Census Bureau acknowledges that they have a problem. The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one. But some of the areas that still concern us: IT management, requirements and testing plans have not been finalized, it’s difficult to track progress because of vague metrics, and some of the IT systems face tight implementation time-frames. Of all the IT systems, the one that we’re most concerned about is the paper-based operational control system (PBOCS).

SRM: Can you elaborate on that?

RG: That was the program that was put in place when they abandoned the handheld computers for non-response follow-up. So PBOCS basically controls the office workflow. There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of nailing down requirements and testing in the short time remaining. Basically, they have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it before it needs to go live.

SRM: There was a Census employee named Bill Sparkman who was murdered about a month ago. Is your office involved in that investigation?

RG: No, not at all.

SRM: Do you have any comments on the recent decision for the Census Bureau to sever its ties with ACORN?

RG: The Bureau just needs to make sure that it has adequate guidance so that it can make a determination as to who they should partner with and who the shouldn’t.