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 ‘field employees’

Feature: Real Stories From The Census Bureau (Group Quarters Validation)

Friday, October 16th, 2009

As the “Group Quarters Validation” phase of the 2010 Census is well underway, we bring you another detailed account from a Census Bureau employee in New York City (Those interested in writing for us should not hesitate to send contributions…details on our contact page) whose anonymity we are protecting:

Group Quarters Validation (GQV) is the next major field operation in the 2010 Census. In GQV field employees known as listers go out to places that were pre-identified as other living quarters (OLQs) during the first phase, address canvassing. They classify these (OLQs) by conducting interviews using a 44-page questionnaire. Based on the interview they are prompted to classify these OLQs as group quarters (nursing homes, religious group living quarters, hospitals, hospices, group homes), transient (hotels, motel, single-room occupancy, campgrounds, marinas). They can also classify OLQs as nonresidential, vacant or even housing units.

The handheld computers have been ditched but the hugest obstacle in this operation is paper. I can’t imagine what it is like in places like Kansas where there is probably one census office for the entire state. But in a metropolitan city such as New York moving this much paper through the public transportation system like subway, bus or even in cars is a logistical nightmare.

You have to be a census employee to really fathom the extent of this problem but I will do my best to try to give you an idea. In Group Quarters Validation the lister’s assignment is contained in an address register. The register has the following:
address listing pages: a listing of all the housing units and OLQs in the entire assignment.
questionaires: one or more 44 page questionnaires used to conduct the interview (called survivor questionnaires)
additional labels with barcodes associated with the building (called nonsurvivor labels)
map pouch with maps of the assignment area and blocks in that assignment

The address listing pages contains the OLQs and every single housing unit on the entire block and print on single sided legal size paper. (We were told that the printers can not be defaulted to double sided printing because the Census would be in violation with contract terms they have with the supplier.) The procedural manuals say that the additional housing units are used to help the lister locate the OLQ. But in New York City the listing of each housing unit in each multi-apartment building make our address listing pages tenfold in size. Some blocks in midtown are so huge that the address listing pages have to be divided into multiple binders.

The Census Bureau doesn’t realize this but paper is a hassle. They have to spend money on paper to print it, clerks to shuffle this paper, couriers to move it into the field and back into the office and additional staff to process, check the handwritten work for quality and transcribe it into a computer.
With a hand held computer a crew leader simply transmitted an assignment to a lister and when it was complete the lister could send it back to be approved. Now we are hiring couriers to move these address registers out into the field and back into the office. We also have a team that runs a night shift to examine this paper. Any paperwork not filled in correctly is run back into the field. I can’t imagine what it is like for places in middle America where they have to drive hours. Luckily for us we can get to most places within an hour.

The questionnaire is another problem. Each questionnaire is 44 pages however the lister only asks several introductory questions and it directs him to complete one of the fifteen tabs in the questionnaire. Each interview uses approximately 5-8 pages of the questionnaire. But with a paper questionnaire the lister has to be very careful to follow the skip pattern, ask the correct questions of the respondent and mark appropriate box. He/she also has to write the correct address status codes on the address listing pages and additional labels. The crew leader checks each questionnaire, each label, and each address listing page.

When each questionnaire arrives back into the office a clerk must simply check the questionnaire’s skip pattern. However since the clerk is not trained in field procedures there is an office review checklist for each questionnaire that is four legal size pages. Each non-survivor label is put on a sheet and information written on the label by the lister is transcribed. Then another clerk uses a final office review checklist that is another four pages to check that all the survivor questionnaires and non survivor labels sheets are accounted for and that they match the address listing pages. We then mail out thousands of 44-page questionnaires and non-survivor labels sheets priority overnight Federal Express to the National Processing Center in Jeffersonville Indiana.
With a handheld computer the program would direct you to follow the correct skip pattern and answer the next question depending on how the respondent answers. Then they wouldn’t have to hire clerks to check the skip pattern of each questionnaire and transcribe non survivor labels to label pages. Simply put every piece of paper needs to be accounted for and the task can be daunting. We had staff resign because the older employees simply said that they couldn’t carry these address registers for an entire crew of listers which sometimes are up to fifty pounds. Understandable after all even the young guys in our office have to go out in pairs sometimes to pick up or deliver address registers.

Even time sheets are now paper. Each employee fills out a time sheet for each day worked. He/she gets the a carbon copy and the original goes to payroll.

So between the paper in the address listing pages, the 44 page survivor questionnaires, non-survivor label sheets for the field staff and the checklists the office staff have to run through on each questionnaire, non-survivor label pages and address register in the office you can see the decennial census not only destroys the rain forest, $14 billion can add up pretty darn quickly.