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 ‘Congress’

On the Closing of the Be Counted and Questionnaire Assistance Centers . . . and Beyond

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The following press release represents the opinions of the Latino Census Network, not MyTwoCensus.com:
by the Latino Census Network (April 21, 2010)

The Latino Census Network has received a number of inquiries about the closing of the Census Bureau’s Be Counted and Questionnaire Assistance Centers. Members of the New York City Council have written to the Census Directors asking that these centers be kept open for an additional 30 days. Other have expressed surprise that these centers have closed.

The Census Bureau informs us that these centers had been scheduled to close on April 19th from the start. Because these were established through contracts with community-based organizations and other institutions through contracts, it would be difficult to extend these agreements at this point.

The Census Bureau’s focus now is on their Non-Response Follow-up (NRFU). Door-to-door census taking occurs starting May 1nd through June and early July 2010. Local census takers will visit households that did not mail back a census form. All census takers carry an official badge and a shoulder bag – both with the Department of Commerce seal – and a binder. During a visit, census takers will show ID and hand respondents an information sheet explaining that their answers are confidential. The census taker will complete the questionnaire, which should take about 10 minutes. If no one is home, a “notice of visit” will be left at the door inviting the resident to call the census taker to complete the form over the phone.

With the mail-in participation so close now to the 2000 Census rates at the national level, the Census Bureau no doubt sees this mail-in part of the process a success. It is expected that in the next week or so, additional Census forms will come in, making it possible that the 2000 participation rate will be matched. Given all of the factors that make this 2010 Census more challenging than the last (9/11, greater anti-immigrant sentiment, etc.), this level of mail-in participation is considered a success, at least at the national level.

Title 13, U.S. Code, requires that the apportionment population counts for each state be delivered to the President within nine months of the census date, by December 31. 2010. According to Title 2, U.S. Code, within one week of the opening of the next session of the Congress, the President must report to the Clerk of the House of Representatives the apportionment population counts for each state and the number of Representatives to which each state is entitled. Also according to Title 2, U.S. Code, within 15 days, the Clerk of the House must inform each state governor of the number of representatives to which each state is entitled.

The legislatures in each state are responsible for geographically defining the boundaries of their congressional and other election districts–a process known as redistricting–and more detailed census results are used for these purposes. Public Law 94-171, enacted by Congress in December 1975, requires the Census Bureau to provide state legislatures with the small area census population tabulations necessary for legislative redistricting. The Census Bureau must transmit the total population tabulations to the states by April 1, 2011.

New York Times Editorial Criticizes Census Bureau Hiring

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

The following New York Times editorial concerns the class action lawsuit that we reported on last week. For many months now, MyTwoCensus.com has criticized 2010 Census hiring practices. Here’s the editorial:

The Census Bureau is hiring a million or more people to assist with the 2010 count. It is temporary work, but it pays well. With national unemployment at nearly 10 percent, it looks like an excellent opportunity. That is unless you are one of the nearly 50 million Americans with any arrest or conviction on record.

A new class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of applicants who say they were unfairly turned down for census jobs based on an opaque screening policy that relies on F.B.I. checks for any criminal histories. Those checks are notoriously unreliable. A 2006 federal report found that half of them were inaccurate or out of date.

The Census Bureau is vague about what makes someone ineligible. In Congressional testimony, it suggested that it is excluding people who have been convicted of crimes involving violence and dishonesty. The bureau’s Web site seems to say that applicants whose background checks turn up any arrest — no matter how trivial, distant in time, irrelevant to the job — receive a letter advising them that they can remain eligible only if they produce “official court documentation” bearing on the case within 30 days. Incredibly, the letter does not identify the alleged criminal activity. Applicants must prove eligibility, even if they don’t know why they were flagged.

Official court records are often unobtainable for the millions of people whose convictions have been sealed or expunged or for people who have been arrested and released because of lack of evidence or mistaken arrest. This problem falls heaviest on black and Hispanic communities where stop-and-frisk policies and indiscriminate arrests are common.

The hiring problem is not limited to the Census Bureau. After 9/11, Congress required port workers to undergo F.B.I. background checks to keep their jobs. Last year, a study by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for workers, found that the government had mistakenly denied credentials to tens of thousands of those workers.

States and cities are wisely revising employment policies. The federal government needs to develop a fair and transparent screening system for job applicants and a more effective appeals process. Congress must also require the F.B.I. to verify the criminal records — and find missing data before issuing background checks.

In Focus: How your $timulus package money is being $pent by the Cen$u$ Bureau

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

H/t to Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporting outlet Pro Publica for sharing the following data with us. Here are some screen captures that depict how your taxpayer dollars are being spent (…interestingly, Census Bureau Communications Director Steve Jost’s former boss Carolyn Maloney represents New York City and the areas where $125,000,000 in stimulus money is headed in communications contracts!). The amount of money being spent on partnership support is particularly disturbing as I have received multiple reports of partnership materials being DISCARDED by the palette!

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.

MyTwoCensus Investigation: How many politicians got jobs for their kids or other relatives with the Census Bureau?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

I know that I, along with millions of other people who applied for 2010 Census jobs (Full disclosure: I did this to investigate the hiring process for this blog) never received so much as a call to come in for an interview. Yet, I have now received three tips via e-mail that relatives of politicians (two Democrats and one Republican) have been hired/are employed by the Census Bureau. This is an official call to action for the Inspector General’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office to launch investigations into whether nepotism or other illegal forms of hiring took place during any phase of 2010 Census operations or at the Census Bureau in general:

MyTwoCensus have been tipped off about the following:

1. Austin Esposito, son of Democratic Senator from Missouri Claire McCaskill. Check out some screenshots from his FACEBOOK page. (Come on dude, you should know to up your privacy settings by now. You’re the son of a Senator! I’m surprised little old non-partisan me is the first person to post these rather than GOP operatives or right-wing bloggers!)

Editor’s Note: I am most concerned about the McCaskill/Esposito connection because there have been so many complaints about a lack of 2010 Census jobs in Missouri.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: A Rare Spell Of Bipartisanship Spells Good News For The 2010 Census

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Since Members of  the House of Representatives face re-election every two years, they are constantly campaigning, and always on the lookout for legislation that may be used to attack them. I suspect the fears of populist discontent and anti-Washington sentiment (perhaps combined with just a tinge of moral values) are what led all but two Republican members of the House of Representatives to support legislation that makes March 2010 “2010 Census Awareness Month.” This show of bipartisanship was unexpected yet welcome.

Even former 2010 Census critic Michele Bachmann (R-MN) jumped on board this movement. This is an excellent first step to combatting anti-census sentiment that has swept the nation in the past few months, coinciding with the growth of the Tea Party movement.

The level of GOP discontent with Michael Steele and the Republican National Committee should not be ignored: Yesterday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee unanimously passed a bill, with full GOP support (and even co-sponsored by Republicans Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz) to stop the RNC from sending mailers that misuse the word census.  MyTwoCensus has reported on this issue for months, and we are glad to see GOP officials acknowledging their party leader’s mistakes and holding the RNC accountable for their unethical fundraising methods.

House Resolution 1046 Final Version: Census Awareness Month, March 2010

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

To read the final bipartisan resolution that was passed with overwhelming support in the House of Representatives a few hours ago, click here: HR1046

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Get the $800 million back from Harris Corp.

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Taxpayers and government officials alike are either unaware of ignorant of one major debacle: The failure of the Harris Corp. to get their job done in creating and implementing functional mobile technology for the Census Bureau. Though this contract, signed in 2006, was originally valued at $600 million, it swelled to $800 million. (Reward insufficient and terrible work with more money…sounds like a solid government plan!!!)

If taxpayers have ever been swindled, this is the company that did it. (Harris Corp. was supposed to save the government $1 billion by implementing technology successfully, but in reality cost taxpayers $800 million for nothing!!! )  Unfortunately, higher-ups at the Census Bureau, initially during the Bush Administration, and currently during the Obama Administration, have done very little to recoup these losses. Legal action should be taken against this company for not performing the services that it was assigned to do. A large portion of this money should be returned to the United States Treasury — or at the very least, used to pay individuals working on the NRFU operations that will have to use a pen and pencil rather than a handheld computer.

In the year 2010, this is nothing short of pathetic. The government’s decision to choose the Harris Corporation for this contract was ludicrous. It’s decision to keep fueling the fires with $200 million of additional cash is shady at best.

MyTwoCensus intends to A. File an FOIA request to find out as much information about this contract as possible and B. Bring down Harris Corp. so they are forced to give this taxpayer money back.

MyTwoCensus urges Congress to pass legislation that prevents this company from obtaining more government contracts until the money for the 2010 Census contract is returned. Immediate government divestment from a corporation that robbed taxpayers is the only way to send the right message.

Additionally, MyTwoCensus calls on the government to immediately terminate  the Census Bureau’s 5-year contract with the Harris Corporation, as it is currently in its 5th year, and that means that there is still a chance to withhold 20% of the cash, or roughly $160 million.

On a more cheeky note, if Tea Party activists want to think of a site to hold their next protest, the Melbourne, Florida headquarters of this sleezy corporation would be one of the best and most symbolic places to do it!

“The 2010 Census Communications Contract: The Media Plan in Hard to Count Areas”

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

On Wednesday, February 24, 2010, the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled: “The 2010 Census Communications Contract: The Media Plan in Hard to Count Areas.” The hearing will take place in room 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.

The witnesses scheduled to testify include:

Panel I

Dr. Robert Groves
Director
United States Census Bureau

Mr. Jeff Tarakajian
Executive Vice President
DRAFTFCB

Ms. Robbyn Ennis
Senior Associate Media Director
GlobalHue

Mr. Nelson Garcia
Senior Vice President/ Media Director
GlobalHue Latino

Panel II

Ms. Karen Narasaki
Executive Director
Asian American Justice Center

Mr. Arturo Vargas
Executive Director
National Association of Latino Elected Officials

Mr. Marc Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League

Ms. Helen Hatab Samhan
Executive Director
Arab American Institute Foundation

Panel III

Mr. Marcelo Gaete-Tapia
Vice President
Entravision Communication Corporation

Mr. James L. Winston
Executive Director
National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters

Ms. Sandy Close
Executive Director
New America Media

Mr. Danny Bakewell
Chairman
National Newspaper Publishers Association

Ms. Linda Smith
Executive Director
National Association of American Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

Documents and Links


Opening statement of Subcommittee Chairman Wm. Lacy Clay

Prepared testimony of Dr. Robert Groves

Prepared testimony of Mr. Jeff Tarakajian

Prepared testimony of Ms. Robbyn Ennis

Prepared testimony of Mr. Nelson Garcia

Prepared testimony of Ms. Karen Narasaki

Prepared testimony of Mr. Arturo Vargas

Prepared testimony of Ms. Helen Hatab Samhan

Prepared testimony of Mr. Marcelo Gaete-Tapia

Prepared testimony of Mr. James Winston

Prepared testimony of Ms. Sandy Close

Prepared testimony of Mr. Danny Bakewell

Prepared testimony of Ms. Linda Smith

Witness List

Looks like Census hearing is delayed due to Toyota hearings…

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

“The 2010 Census Communications Contract: The Media Plan In Hard To Count Areas” (2:00 PM)

Stay tuned…this should be an interesting hearing.

Watch the live video stream HERE!

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Tell us the truth!

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Yesterday, we reported a major discrepancy over 2010 Census jobs: For months, New York Senator Charles Schumer (D) and dozens of other elected officials have reported that 2010 Census jobs last from six weeks to eight months. However, in reality, many of these jobs last only for one to three weeks. For the millions of unemployed Americans in need of jobs, 2010 Census employment will only offer a false glimmer of hope.  The Census Bureau must stop recruiting workers under the false premise that these jobs will last for a lengthy period of time. Not only is this false advertising, but it could have undesirable effects on individuals’ decisions to take other lower-paying jobs that will likely last for longer than relatively high-paying census jobs, not to mention applicants’ mental health. MyTwoCensus calls on Members of Congress to immediately pass a bill that will force the Census Bureau to advertise using less deceptive measures which explicitly state how long workers will be working at the time they are recruited.

Census 2010: Counting Soldiers

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

From BryantCountyNews.net (of Georgia):

Denise Etheridge
Posted: Nov. 17, 2009  4:04 p.m.
Updated: Nov. 18, 2009 1 a.m.

Local officials hope to change the way the national government will count deployed soldiers in the upcoming 2010 Census.

Soldiers are counted as residents of their “state of record” rather than counted as residents of the local area in which they are living at the time they deploy, confirmed Lauren Lewis, Partnership Specialist. Therefore, an estimated 14,000 soldiers assigned to Fort Stewart and who live in Hinesville and surrounding communities will not now be counted as part of the local population when they deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is how it is done nationwide,” Lewis explained. She said military personnel who will be serving overseas when the Census is taken will be added to their home states’ population figures.

Lewis oversees a 10-county area that includes Bryan, Liberty, Effingham, Tattnall, Glynn, Evans, Chatham, Long, McIntosh and Toombs counties.

Officials from Liberty County, Hinesville and other local cities have signed and sent a letter to U.S. Rep.

Jack Kingston and U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson requesting their support in changing the way the Census currently counts active duty service members. Community leaders continue to stress the impact population has in determining the amount of money the federal government distributes to states, and states, in turn, apportions to counties and cities.

Jeff Ricketson, director of the Fort Stewart Growth Management Partnership, said a dialogue began last week at a partnership meeting about the Census and how deployed military members are counted. Ricketson said local leaders are concerned their cities and counties – particularly Hinesville and Liberty County – will be financially penalized over a 10-year period based on the Census count.

The letter, he said, was sent to Georgia’s Congressional Delegation. The partnership includes the counties of Liberty, Bryan, Long and Tattnall, and the cities located in these counties.

Congress Not Pleased With Cost Overruns

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Check out the letter from Rep. Patrick McHenry, ranking member on the subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives that was sent to the Census Bureau on Monday: Cost Overrun Letter 10/19/09

A quick note from the editor…

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Personally, I believe that the debate in Congress about the 2010 Census being altered to require that only citizens are counted is nonsense. This movement only has traction from elected officials who feel their seats are threatened by immigrants. It will not go far. I am surprised that the media is giving it so much hype. There must not be anything else to discuss. Good job as usual mainstream media by blowing things out of proportion!

NYT Editorial: How to Waste Money and Ruin the Census

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

The following comes from the venerable New York Times:

Published: October 19, 2009

With the start of the 2010 census just a few months away, Senator David Vitter, a Republican of Louisiana, wants to cut off financing for the count unless the survey includes a question asking if the respondent is a United States citizen. Aides say he plans to submit an amendment to the census appropriation bill soon.

As required by law, the Census Bureau gave Congress the exact wording of the survey’s 10 questions in early April 2008 — more than 18 months ago. Changing it now to meet Mr. Vitter’s demand would delay the count, could skew the results and would certainly make it even harder to persuade minorities to participate.

It would also be hugely expensive. The Commerce Department says that redoing the survey would cost hundreds of millions of dollars: to rewrite and reprint hundreds of millions of census forms, to revise instructional and promotional material and to reprogram software and scanners.

During debates in the Senate, Mr. Vitter said that his aim is to exclude noncitizens from population totals that are used to determine the number of Congressional representatives from each state. He is ignoring the fact that it is a settled matter of law that the Constitution requires the census to count everyone in the country, without regard to citizenship, and that those totals are used to determine the number of representatives.

(The Census Bureau already tracks the number of citizens and noncitizens through a separate survey.)

Adding a new question about citizenship would further ratchet up suspicions that the census is being used to target undocumented immigrants. That would discourage participation not only among people who are here illegally but also their families and friends who may be citizens and legal residents. That leads to an inaccurate count.

And since census numbers are also used to allocate federal aid, undercounting minorities shortchanges the cities and states where they live.

Advocates for the census say that Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican of Utah, has also raised the idea of another bad, last-minute change. Under current practice, the only people living abroad included in the census are military personnel and federal civilian employees, and the families of both, stationed overseas. Mr. Hatch, these officials say, wants to include certain other Americans living abroad temporarily, a definition that would be tailored to include — you guessed it — Mormon missionaries.

There seems little doubt that the goal would be to increase population numbers for Utah — to try to garner another Congressional seat. As of Monday, Senator Hatch’s office would not say whether he plans to pursue the idea. He shouldn’t.

Both of these changes would be discriminatory and ridiculously expensive. If Mr. Vitter and Mr. Hatch wanted to argue their cases, they should have done it 18 months ago — or wait until after this count.

Changing the survey now would be a disaster for the census and for American taxpayers. The Senate should defeat any and all attempts to alter or delay the 2010 count.

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.

Congressional Testimony: The Groves Plan

Friday, September 25th, 2009

In what I can best describe as a State of the Census Address, Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves presented a detailed outline of his future plans before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives on 9/22/09. I have named the speech  “The Groves Plan.” (Click the link for an 11 page transcript of the testimony). The plan is insightful and definitely worth reading.

MyTwoCensus.com Plays Significant Role In Decision To Dump ACORN

Friday, September 11th, 2009

Just hours after the below letter was circulated to members of Congress, Census Director Robert M. Groves decided to drop ACORN from its role as a partner organization with the 2010 Census:

Spot Check: ACORN

Dear Colleague:

I would like to direct your attention to the following post by Stephen Robert Morse on MyTwoCensus.com, an independent watchdog blog on the 2010 Decennial Census.

Mr. Morse was attempting to determine whether ACORN is recruiting census workers.  The Census Bureau has assured the Subcommittee on the Census that it instructed ACORN over the telephone not to recruit enumerators.  However, I am concerned that this message has not been thoroughly transmitted to the entire organization.

We will be requesting documentation that the Census Bureau has sufficiently notified ACORN of its approved responsibilities as a 2010 Decennial Census partner.  Simple written instruction from the Bureau to ACORN would help allay public fears about their involvement in the census.

The majority of recruitment of temporary census workers will not begin until the end of the calendar year.  I and my colleagues on the Subcommittee will continue to stay vigilant regarding ACORN’s involvement in the 2010 Census and work with the Census Bureau to ensure an apolitical and accurate decennial count.

Sincerely,


PATRICK T. McHENRY

Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Information Policy,
Census, and National Archives

Uh-Oh, Bad News: New Reports From In The Inspector General

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

MyTwoCensus obtained the following reports from the Commerce Department Inspector General’s Office last Friday, but we thought we’d give the powers that be a long weekend of relaxation before they start to fret…and we must add, they will be fretting. Throughout this week we will be providing commentary and analyses, but for now here are the three reports that you should take a look at:

Census 2010: Problems Encountered in the Large Block Operation Underscore the Need for Better Contingency Plans (OIG-19171-02)

http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/2009/Final%20Census%20Large%20Block%20Flash%20Report.pdf

2010 Census: First Quarterly Report to Congress Report (OIG‐19791‐1)

http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/2009/QTR-1%20First%20Quarterly%20%20Report%20to%20Congress%20080609.pdf

Recommendations from 2010 Census: First Quarterly Report to Congress, August 2009 (OIG-19791-l)

http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/correspondence/QTR-1%20FINAL%20Report%20Recommendations.pdf

Spot Check: ACORN

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

So, the Census Bureau has assured members of Congress that ACORN is NOT involved in the recruiting process for candidates hoping to be among the 1.4 million Americans who will work for the 2010 Census. I decided to contact a bunch of ACORN offices throughout the country and ask them if they could help get me a job to see if this was true. Here’s what I found:

Note: More than half of the ACORN offices I called had phone lines that were no longer active. Some of the e-mail addresses I contacted were also no longer working and bounced back to me. (Hmmm…Do you think that ACORN’s bad publicity during the past yer could have caused the organization to lose just a little bit of non-profit funding? It certainly looks that way to me.)

When I called each office, I said, “Hi, I heard that you could help me get a job with the 2010 Census. What do I have to do?”

Washington DC ACORN – “We have no idea. You have to take a test with the Census. Do you know how to go to that site? We have nothing with the Census Bureau. You have to go on the web site then go to www.ACORN.org…”

Pittsburgh ACORN – “We don’t have that contract.  I don’t know who has it. You know the Hill House? They have a new employment center. Those people should know who’s hiring for the 2010 Census.”

Philadelphia ACORN – “I don’t know too much about the census. We are one of a couple of thousand partnership organizations. We haven’t had any information yet, but you should try back in a couple of weeks.”

Atlanta ACORN – “Go online to ACORN.org and that’s where you’d have to put the application in. That’s where you would put your application in.”

At this point, her phone line went down and she kindly called me back from her cell phone. She had me send her an e-mail with my request as her land-line phone was experiencing problems. I sent her an e-mail but it bounced back to me.

Among the ACORN offices I e-mailed, I received only one response, and it came from the Southern regional office:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am currently out of work, and I heard that ACORN was hiring for the Census. Can you please let me know how I can work for the Census in our area?

Thank you very much,

Stephen Robert Morse

The e-mail responses:

Dear Mr. Morse:

Thank you for contacting ACORN.

Unfortunately, no one we know of at ACORN has any idea where this notion came from.  We have no census work, never heard of any and don’t expect to hear of any census work.

Please contact the U.S. Census bureau or your local congressperson for information regarding working with the census.

Best regards,

G. Brown

CONCLUSION: At this time, it doesn’t appear that ACORN is recruiting on a national level to attract candidates to work for the 2010 Census, but that’s today, September 2. Local offices, such as the one in Atlanta, were quite quick to help me out.  The major recruiting efforts for the 2010 Census don’t take place until later this fall, so we’ll just have to wait and see what involvement ACORN has in this process.