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 ‘FOS’

Daily Sound Off: Census Bureau refuses to protect employees

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off…However, I will say that in my personal dealings with Mr. Le, he has been cordial, respectful, and helpful. I am not sure if it is is his responsibility as a media specialist or the responsibility others in management positions to deal  with these issues:

I am a crew leader in Oakland CA.
To date, crimes have been committed against two of my employees, including assault with a deadly weapon and criminal threats.

As a crew leader, I have had to fight with the Oakland Police Department to ensure that the officers take reports on these crimes and report them to the District Attorney’s Office.

I reported the previous assault to my FOS and to management. To date, no one at the LCO has assisted in helping the harmed enumerator. I also reported the assault that occurred earlier tonight, but I don’t expect the LCO to help me.

This evening, I attempted to reach out to Sonny Le, the regional media specialist for the U.S. Census.  I explained that my enumerators were unsafe and that I needed his assistance in spreading the word to the community that residents must cooperate with the census and refrain from threatening enumerators.

Mr. Le was abrupt, rude, disrespectful and condescending.  He said he “doesn’t answer to me” and, in essence, threatened me with retaliation for daring to speak to him about what is happening to my crew.

Now I understand why the residents of Oakland think it’s OK to physically threaten the enumerators.  The LCO and the Regional Census staff have, through inaction, allowed this conduct to continue.

Here’s Mr. Le’s profile:
http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2010/news/1004/gallery.census_workers/3.html

Did this happen in your office?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

This comes from an anonymous tip:

Hi, the FOS told all the CL’s, CLA’s, and enumerators to bring EVERYTHING in this morning.  EVERYTHING.  Even eq’s / binders still in progress.  He said (talking about the LCO managers) “They said turn it all in this morning, they’ll finish the eq’s at the office.”

How are they going to “finish” the eq’s at the office?   They’re going to make stuff up, just like they did last year during mapping.   Fabricate the data, in order to meet the deadlines and make the LCOM and admins “look good”.

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.

Feature: Real Stories From The Census Bureau

Monday, October 5th, 2009

It’s been a while since we’ve received contributions from real Census Bureau field workers (who obviously need to have their anonymity kept in tact), but as the “Group Quarters Validation” phase of the 2010 Census started last week, our inbox has been overflowing. Those interested in writing for us should not hesitate to send us contributions (details on our contact page). So, here we bring you an account from a Census Bureau employee in New York City:

I worked in the New York City area as a lister during address canvassing and was disappointed with how the operation was conducted. One of my colleagues pointed me to this website some time ago and I felt compelled to share my story. We had alot of the technology glitches in the hand held computers that are widely know by now which included:

* software issues such the program freezes

* transmission problems such as the Sprint cellular network being down and missing assignments and map spots

* hardware issues such as the fingerprint swipe not working

But New York City has its own problems and is a completely different beast in itself. New York City is the most densely populated city in the United States and each neighborhood has its own unique character. The Census Bureau tries to monitor productivity but the very nature of the city makes it very hard to monitor. Since all the units of multi unit apartment buildings are listed separately a lister has to key in every entry. Comparing someone who has an assignment with high rise apartment buildings versus someone who has single family homes is like comparing apples with oranges.

During address canvassing we were instructed to find someone who was knowledgeable about where people live or could live. But locating a knowledgeable respondent was easier said than done. There are small tenement buildings in Chinatown and Harlem brownstones; where there are illegal subdivisions. It is very difficult to gain entry or make contact even if you speak the language. There are also a lot of abandoned construction sites where developers tried to take advantage of the real estate boom after September 11th but found themselves out of money in the current recession.

Luckily for the Census Bureau, the current recession produced a talented pool of very intelligent and highly educated workers. My crew leader was knowledgable and a great leader. From the very beginning he was committed to doing things right. He said that he was continuously told a proper address canvassing operation would be the cornerstone of a successful enumeration. He was thorough and all the work was quality checked by one of the other listers or his assistant. When we couldn’t gain access to a building, he encouraged us to try again and gave us additional work to keep us productive. In the end we had all these partially complete assignments where we had one or buildings we either couldn’t get into or make contact with anyone. However the office was less than empathetic to our thoroughness. Our crew leader told us that Assistant Manager of Field Operations,field operations supervisors (FOS) and crew leaders in other districts would belittle those who were behind. They would constantly say things like ”John’s district is 40% complete why aren’t you 40% complete?” We were told that if we couldn’t gain access to a building after two visits we had to accept what was in the HHC as correct. Many of us were tempted to falsify work and accept what was in the HHC as correct but my crew leader and FOS were adamant about not doing that. One of the other listers found an entire building with over 200 single illegally divided rooms. The HHC had less than 10 units listed in it. If they accepted was in the HHC as true they would of missed over 200 housing units.

At the beginning of the fouth week, my crew leader and several others were written up for being unproductive because they weren’t working fast enough to complete their assignments. They asked the Field Operations Supervisor to approve the writeups. One of the Field Operations Supervisors refused to sign the writeups and they wrote him up also for being insubordinate.

During address canvassing we were to document any additions, or deletes to the address list on an INFO-COMM which is a carbon copy paper. They said that they were hiring clerks to reconcile INFO-COMMs between the production and quality control. The sheer volume of having to go through 2000 pieces of paper is mind boggling. Originally, the plan was to use the INFO-COMMs to help the quality control listers, but they wanted to keep the operation independent so quality control wrote an additional INFO-COMM. All told we wrote out over 2000 INFO-COMMs.

The handheld computer also had glitches. They switched crew leaders in districts that weren’t working fast enough and sometimes just reassigned work. When listers saw their timesheets weren’t approved they submitted additional timesheets electronically. The new crew leader approved it and then they accused these listers of intentionally trying to milk the government clock. They accused half of an entire crew of listers of clocking overtime.

Nonetheless with all the problems most of the listers worked quickly and breezed through their assignments. By the end of the first week we were about 25% done but they decided to train another 100 listers, by the end of the second week we were halfway done and some crews were almost done but they trained another group of listers. Some of these listers were trained and received no field work because there was none. All told we trained over 100 listers who received less days of work than the four and half days worth of training they received.

The thing to realize is that this was a poorly planned operation from the very beginning. The Census Bureau will waste money for government contracts on hand held computers that are shoddy and unreliable and training staff for which there is no work. But they will try to cut corners when it comes to their mission of counting each person accurately. In order to try to save money and finish ahead of other regions they used intimidation and the threatening of employees. I’m glad that Field Operations Supervisor stood up to the higher ups because like my crew leader said to me…they’re just of bullies.

When the address canvassing operation finished up it was alleged that some of the crew leaders and field operations supervisors told their listers since there was no regard to quality that they could skip making contact even going as far as not conducting field work and enter the units at home. There is no way that listers who were reassigned work magically gained access to buildings people couldn’t access for weeks unless they accepted what was in the HHC as true. The crew leaders and field supervisors who finished first were rewarded with additional work. Those who finished last were sometimes “written up” as unproductive and the office terminated their employment.

Luckily this story has a happy ending. My crew leader didn’t fire any of us for clocking overtime. What they found was that the payroll system was mistakenly rewarding people overtime if they worked over eight hours during a work day even though they were below forty hours in a week. Someone was able to view the timesheet submissions in the office and prove all these listers weren’t clocking overtime. It was rumored that someone who discovered this was the same FOS who refused to sign the writeups.

As for thousands of INFO-COMMs they are sitting in the office file cabinets gathering dust maybe someday someone will go through them. I highly doubt it given the sheer magnitude. I think my crew leader was incredible. And from what I heard from some of the listers that met him their Field Operations Supervisor was even better. I never got the chance to see him but I am honored to have worked with someone who is willing to jeopardize his job for what was morally right. I am surprised I received a phone call the other day to work in the next operation Group Quarters Validation. But I’m pretty sure that my crew leader or FOS won’t be returning anytime soon.