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 ‘daily sound off’

Daily Sound Off: Census software violates federal law

Friday, June 11th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to the rules on this web site

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

Both my discipline and termination are illegal actions.

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Sound Off: No internet use on the job

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

(Every day MyTwoCensus published one submission.)

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

What fucking nonsense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Sound Off: Contender for Worst Local Census Office

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Today’s Daily Sound Off comes from Georgia:

From a contender to the title of “The Worst LCO in the Nation”

Well, it looks like the U. S. Census finally got the PBOCS software working. The solution, reduce the number of users from 10 to 2. This means it will take 5 times longer to key the volumes of returned enumerator questionnaires that have been stacked into boxes waiting for a clerk to key them.

While we are on the subject of questionnaires I would like to explain the process in our LCO (local census office), Macon Georgia.

!. Enumerators turn in their completed questionnaires to their crew leader who reviews them for completeness and then initials showing his approval. Enumerators are experiencing a large number of irate people that do not want to participate and have discovered it is easier to call the residence vacant of cannot locate than it is to try and get the information. No one likes to be chewed out and in a way I don’t blame them. A large percent of the population don’t trust the Census and wish to be left alone.

Residents are handing the Census envelopes they received in the mail to the enumerator and telling them to leave. These envelopes are not being mailed but are being thrown into boxes. At least if they were mailed, the people might be counted.

2. The crew leader brings them to the office where clerks log the receipt of “X” number of questionnaires.

3. Then they are given to clerks for review of completeness. We have about 30 clerks on three shifts doing this. Those that fail are returned to the crew leader for rework. The return rate is about 50% because Crew leaders are not reviewing, just initialing, and sometime not initialing. What company would pay for this amount of poor performance and then pay more to the same people to do the work again and even worse allow it to continue?

4.  Once the clerk begins keying another 20% of the forms are pulled out to be returned to the crew leader because the clerks did a poor job of their review. Another 20% to 30% of the questionnaires are sent to Data Collection office with incomplete information

5.  Where are the managers and supervisors? What are they doing about it? Well last month, the Area Manager took over the office but after two weeks she could not make a difference even with the assistance of three RT’s so they assigned another area manager who left two RT’s with us and one is acting LCOM (LCO manager) after firing the LCOM.  The acting LCOM can barely speak English and neither knows enough to do anything but contribute to the turmoil. They think the solution is to see how many people they can make miserable by denying them food and drink in their work area and not allowing them to leave except for a two 15 minute breaks and a 30 minute lunch. They must raise their hand when they need more work or have to go to the bathroom.  Next there is a field operations manager who has 3 office supervisors and 7 field office supervisors to help her. All are poorly trained and most are not supervisor material, The solution is to add two more Field Office Supervisors (both have less than 30 days experience) to supervise the office operations supervisors. To the Census, more is usually the solution not accountability for their actions. The same people that did poor work during Address Canvassing, and Group Quarters are still being paid to make a mess of Non Response Follow Up. These RT’s will not listen to those managers that years of supervisor experience and know how to solve the problem.  We probably will soon have a new set of RT’s and another Area Manager because nothing is improving.

6. Finally there is shipping of the questionnaires. The Census Bureau with their infinite wisdom decided to take some strain off the PBOCS by moving shipping to a DAPPS based program. This seems like a good idea but in doing so removed the checks and balance that PBOCS had which prevented questionnaires from being shipped without being checked-in. Now any questionnaire can be shipped. What a mess we are going to have.

Conclusion:

Management is the source of all problems within the Census; i.e., I should say the lack of management and it starts at the top. The U.S. Census has grown to be a management nightmare and will need serious restructure if it is to survive. All the public relations, TV commercials, nor increased spending can cure the festering sores.

I sense that these problems are common place throughout the nation. With all the problems that have come to light, we are previewing the Death of the Census because the problems will ultimately make 2020 Census impossible. How can the Secretary of Commerce keep a straight face when he presents the results to President Obama on December 31, 2010?

Daily Sound Off: The real problems with payroll

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Sound Off: The Plight of the Crew Leader

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Many readers have suggested that during these NRFU operations MyTwoCensus should provide a place strictly for workers to vent their frustrations, whatever they may be. I will start taking the best e-mail that I receive each day, publish it here, and hopefully readers will also vent a bit in the comments section. Here’s the inaugural e-mail:

In the past week, I have been told that:
1) NRFU is winding down and our CLD’s should wrap everything up by:
a) 5/26
b) 5/28
c) 6/7
d) 6/18
2) That I must complete enumerator progress reports on a daily basis [In the past week, CLs have received 5 different versions w/varying rubrics to track enumerator progress in this new paperwork about paperwork].
3) That my top priority should be:
a) completing/submitting EQ’s
b) completing/submitting binders
c) completing/submitting D-308′s
d) calling new enumerators, only to inform them I have no work for them but they can come to CLD meetings to get their min. hours each week. (I am also required to observe them in the field and then have them share a binder w/one of my regular enumerators, even though remaining EQ’s in my CLD are few and far between.)
4) That my other top priority is to complete various forms of paperwork about completing tasks listed in 3)a-d every day and submit all information to the LCO w/in 24 hours of the date completed.
5) That I am not authorized for overtime, and should delegate more work to my CLA.  Also, that my CLA is not authorized to sign anything that needs to be signed and submitted in order too accomplish task 4).

I also found out that CLs in earlier operations were making $2.00/hr more.

Although I realize that I am “guaranteed” up to 40 hours each week, I make $1.50 more than my enumerators and am expected to take on a level of agita that almost makes unemployment more attractive than a weekly paycheck.