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 ‘fail’

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.