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 ‘Freedom of Information Act’

The Census Bureau’s most up-to-date Freedom of Information Act request log…

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

MyTwoCensus requested a list of all FOIA requests received by the Census Bureau and here is a list of them as provided by the Census Bureau’s Freedom of Information Act office:

Most up-to-date FOIA log

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Let the Freedom (of information) Summer begin!

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Today, Michael C. Cook of the Census Bureau’s public information office wrote the following in the comments section of this post:

The Census Bureau publicly discloses on our website a status log of all FOIA requests to assist organizations like My Two Census and individuals to track the status of formal public records inquiries. In addition we have routinely provided My Two Census with status reports on your many requests.

On February 14, 2010 you requested records on the translation services contract with Diplomatic Language Services and we provided a response in 31 days.

On February 19 and again on the 26th you submitted a modified request for correspondence with various public officials and emails which contained your itemized list of 26 profanities. We have partially complied with this request.

On February 25, 2010, you requested travel records on all Census employee hotel stays for a 14 month period. As of today, we have not received from you the legally required fee to cover the cost of this substantial request.

On April 20, 2010, you requested all records relating to technology systems at the Census Bureau covering a three and a half year period beginning in 2006. As of today, we have not received from you the legally required fee to cover the cost of this substantial request.

On April 25, 2010, you requested copies of all emails between four Census employees during a one week period in February. As of today, we have not received from you the legally required fee to cover the cost of this request.

On June 14, 2010 you requested a log of all your requests.

Last night you requested information on an employee in our Chicago Region.

What you don’t see here is the exorbitant prices — in the range of $30,000 — that the Census Bureau tries to charge me to fill these requests. However, journalism organizations, like MyTwoCensus.com, are exempt from these fees. Nonetheless, though in 2009 the Census Bureau forced me to create appeals to claim my status as a journalism organization and then waived the fees, in 2010 the Census Bureau has not recognized MyTwoCensus.com (currently getting more daily hits than ever) as a journalism organization. Here’s what I wrote back to Mr. Cook:

How in god’s name do you expect me to pay these fees? I am working for myself and this site is no longer funded. Journalism organizations are excluded from paying fees, and I only request electronic copies as I don’t believe in wasting paper. It is an insult to have to have $30,000 on hand every time I want to make a request. What do you think?

In light of this information and the Census Bureau’s continuous effort to shield itself from damaging information being released to the public through MyTwoCensus.com, I will be starting the Freedom (of Information) Summer initiative, whereby I will make FOIA requests five times per week throughout the summer. As you already read in a previous post, the Census Bureau’s FOIA staff doesn’t get all that many requests, so I’m going to make them work a bit harder to encourage more government transparency.

My voice will not be silenced, and yours shouldn’t be either. If you would like me to request information on your behalf, please be as specific as possible (dates, terms, people, etc.) and I will do my best to file FOIAs that have legitimacy for you. Here is some more info for you to check out:

http://www.census.gov/po/www/foia/foiaweb.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_Information_Act_%28United_States%29

So the Census Bureau won’t pay for toilet paper in New York but will pay to rent out a radical mosque in Virginia?

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

UPDATE: The Census Bureau’s Public Information Office told me:

“Office leasings for the federal government are handled by the General Services Administration (GSA).  Lease payments for the Census Bureau’s Alexandria, Virginia office are made to Phillips Properties of Alexandria, Virginia.”

I’m looking for more details on this situation. I didn’t intend for the headline to appear like a mirror image of FOXNews, but if these claims are valid (the “toilet paper” in the headline is a reference to a piece I ran yesterday about New York), then FOXNews will probably soon be all over this story from AOL News:

By Chanan Tigay

(May 10) — The U.S. government is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent to a Virginia mosque that law enforcement officials have identified as “a front for Hamas operatives,” according to a new report from an Islamic terrorism watchdog.

In preparation for the 2010 census, the General Services Administration leased office space throughout the country for the Census Bureau. According to the report by the nonprofit Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), one of those spaces is in an Alexandria, Va., building owned by the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center.

Muslims fill up the driveway and pray after the mosque was full at  Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, 2006.

Alex Wong, Getty Images
Worshippers pray in the driveway of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, a Falls Church, Va.-based mosque.

The Falls Church, Va.-based mosque was once the home of radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who has been linked to both Fort Hood gunman Nidal Malik Hasan and Christmas Day “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the IPT says.

According to the report, the lease contract, initially signed in 2008, is worth $582,026 for 25 months.

The IPT bases its claims about the mosque’s terrorist links on documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Those documents state “that Dar Al-Hijrah was ‘associated with Islamic extremists’ and was ‘operating as a front for Hamas operatives in U.S.’ ” and that “the mosque ‘has been linked to numerous individuals linked to terrorism financing,’ ” the IPT says.

It further quotes from a report, also obtained under FOIA, saying Dar Al-Hijrah “has been under numerous investigations for financing and proving (sic) aid and comfort to bad orgs and members.”

AOL News left phone messages seeking comment from both the General Services Administration and the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center, but they were not immediately returned.

The IPT was founded in 1995 by Steven Emerson, a journalist and terrorism analyst who won a George Polk Award for his documentary film, “Jihad in America.” Emerson’s work has upset many Muslim groups, and the nonprofit Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has characterized it as an “unrelenting attack against Arabs and Muslims.”

MyTwoCensus files Freedom of Information Act request to better understand Census Bureau tech failures

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Dear Ms. Potter and Staff:

Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I am requesting the records of all technical and information technology glitches, failures, and errors that involved the Census Bureau and its technology systems from January 1, 2006 through the present. This includes everything from e-mail systems going down to fingerprint scanners not working properly to the recent paper-based operational control system failure. Most important to me are items pertaining to the 2010 Census. I would appreciate if you started with the most recent failures and worked your way back. These should include every piece of technology that the Census Bureau uses at field offices as well as at headquarters in Suitland.

As you probably already know, I run MyTwoCensus.com, the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 Census. My work has also appeared on MotherJones.com, governingpeople.com, and other publications.  Since this is a non-commercial request and the release of these documents will serve the public interest (because analyzing these documents is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government), I am requesting that all fees be waived.

I am also requesting expedited processing of these documents under the clause on your web page that states I can do so if this information is “urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity.” With the 2010 Census just around the corner, and recent reports by the Associated Press and other organizations that language translations have been inadequate and sub-par, this request deserves your prompt attention.

If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your withholding of information. Notify me of appeal procedures available under the law.

Sincerely,

Stephen Robert Morse

Holder to look into gov’t use of FOIA exemptions

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

H/t to MyTwoCensus.com Chief Technology Officer Evan Goldin for telling me about the following snippet that comes from the Associated Press. As many of you know, I have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to obtain information from the Census Bureau, yet many of these requests remain unfulfilled or contain significant amounts of redacted information when I receive them, demonstrating that the Obama Administration’s transparency goals have yet to be fulfilled.

By SHARON THEIMER

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder says he’s going to find out why the administration has often used a legal loophole to keep information secret even though President Barack Obama ordered more openness.

Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee he found statistics on Freedom of Information Act denials analyzed by The Associated Press “troubling.” The AP has reported that one year into its promise of greater transparency, the administration was more often citing FOIA “exceptions” to withhold records, even as requests for information decreased.

In response to questions from Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Holder said Wednesday that he doesn’t know why the use of exceptions increased, but will find out.

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Dumb Decision # 7485839: Translation Services Contract Expired August 31, 2009

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Though the mainstream media hasn’t picked up on it, Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves acknowledged at the Google Press Conference on March 24 that there have been translation errors during the 2010 Census process (see below transript).

I went so far as to have experts from Cornell and MIT prove that the Burmese translations were wrong. I also filed a FOIA request to find out about the 2010 Census translation contract with Diplomatic Language Services, a firm based in Virginia. Yesterday, the Census Bureau gave me a partial reply to my Freedom of Information Act request. In this document (click here for the full FOIA translation services response), I learned that the Census Bureau’s language translation contract ended on August 31, 2009. Now, this is extremely problematic because this did not leave time for all 2010 Census language issues to be resolved. What this document lacks is one key feature: The price tag for these (sub-par) services. The document makes it clear how much money it costs per word for translations yet in never makes mention of the total amount of money paid to Diplomatic Language Services. t I inquired today with the FOIA officials to determine what this figure is. Stay tuned for updates!

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Conclusive Evidence That Burmese Translations For 2010 Census Are Wrong!

Monday, March 8th, 2010

UPDATE: The Census Bureau conducted business in early 2009 with an outside consulting firm to evaluate the accuracy of 2010 Census forms in four languages (Chinese, Russian, Korean, and Vietnamese). Additionally, here is some further evidence of problems from an external report (available in full HERE):

Errors were discovered in the Vietnamese-language materials, including the sample
Vietnamese Census Form.  The Bureau had been inconsistent in their word choice for “census,”
using both “điều tra” and “thống kê” interchangeably.  For the Vietnamese community, “điều
tra” or “government investigation” carries a negative connotation because it is associated with
the communist regime.  While the Bureau recently fixed the online form, it is uncertain whether
the corrections will appear in the printed census forms.

In February, after being tipped off about translation errors on the Census Bureau’s foreign language forms, MyTwoCensus set out to conduct an investigation into Diplomatic Language Services, the firm that was contracted to conduct all translations for the 2010 Census. Our Freedom Of Information Act request has not yet been answered, so we started to contact leading foreign language scholars to translate forms for us and judge the quality of translations.

One minority group that will suffer terribly because of poor translations is America’s Burmese community. Though there isn’t much reliable data on the Burmese-American community, a cursory read of the group’s Wikipedia entry reveals that “According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 16,720 persons of Burmese descent resided in the United States. That number is estimated to have risen to at least 50,000 today because of the large number of Burmese people seeking political asylum.”

Regarding the Burmese translation (available HERE), Julian Wheatley, who serves as the President of the Burma Studies Foundation and works in the Department of Foreign Languages & Literature at MIT told us,  “There are some usage problems, which probably arose because the original translator stuck too close to the English. More obvious, one paragraph has been repeated. Towards the end, well into the second page, you’ll see the phrase (2010 Census) in parentheses. Above it is a small three line paragraph, and the two longer paragraphs above that — you’ll see them — are identical (one in bold, one normal). Presumably that is not as intended.”

This investigation is ongoing. If you or anyone you know has noticed poor language translations on a 2010 Census form, we encourage you to contact us with specific information.

In Focus: Freedom of Information Act Requests

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

MyTwoCensus.com is apparently not the ONLY source that files Freedom of Information Act requests with the Census Bureau. Yesterday, MyTwoCensus obtained a  list of all FOIA requests to the Census Bureau (click HERE). The report covers the period from July 6, 2009 through August 28, 2009. During that time there were 48 requests for information, so roughly one per day. Of those requests, the 16 where names are blocked out represent Census Bureau employees trying to obtain their own data or individuals searching for personal records (like birth certificates). Of the records in the report, the following results are evident:

12 of the requests could not be fulfilled due to no suitable information being available.

5 of the requests were denied because the requester could not pay the fees (Scroll down to VII on this report to read about who gets fee waivers!)

4 of the requests asked for information that was already publicly available.

2 of the requests were withdrawns.

My personal requests took 20, 24 and 30 days before I had the information I requested, and all three of my requests were only partially granted — two with quite a bit of redacted information.

MyTwoCensus Investigation: Have the Census Bureau’s language translation services been shoddy?

Monday, February 15th, 2010

After receiving some credible tips from readers, on Sunday, February 14, 2010, MyTwoCensus.com filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information about language translation services and the 2010 Census. We’ve heard too many rumors that some of the language translations have been completely sub-par. Was this yet another incident of a contractor screwing up a census contract or was this run of the mill taxpayer theft?

Here’s a copy of our request:

Dear Ms. Potter and Staff:

Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I am requesting a copy of the contract paid by the U.S. Census Bureau to Diplomatic Language Services in regard to the 2010 Census. If there are other documents that are-related to the termination of this contract or any controversies surrounding this contract, I would like to receive those documents as well. I am also requesting any memos from staff members of the Census Bureau regarding this contract and/or the quality of services rendered by Diplomatic Language Services in regards to translation activities.

As you probably already know, I run MyTwoCensus.com, the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 Census. My work has also appeared on MotherJones.com, governingpeople.com, and other publications.  Since this is a non-commercial request and the release of these documents will serve the public interest (because analyzing these documents is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government), I am requesting that all fees be waived.

I am also requesting expedited processing of these documents under the clause on your web page that states I can do so if this information is “urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity.” With the 2010 Census just around the corner, and recent reports by the Associated Press and other organizations that language translations have been inadequate and sub-par, this request deserves your prompt attention.

If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your withholding of information. Notify me of appeal procedures available under the law. If you have any questions about handling this request, you may telephone me at any time.

Sincerely,

Stephen Robert Morse

Freedom Of Information Act Request Granted? Nah, Not Really

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Without sounding preachy, if there’s one underlying goal of MyTwoCensus.com, it is to bring more transparency and knowledge about the 2010 Census to the people of the United States of America. One way that we seek to accomplish this goal is by making Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain information that is not available to the public. One such investigation that produced FOIA requests related to the $200 million 2010 Census media contract with Draftfcb, GlobalHue, and other firms involved with the 2010 Census advertising and marketing efforts. We were initially thrilled last Thursday morning when we finally received copies of the information that we requested. However, all is not hunky-dory in Censusland. Out of the 132 pages that were sent to us, 60 pages contained segments that were partially or fully redacted. Thus, our ongoing analysis of this contract will not ever be as complete as it could possibly be. All of this information has been redacted under FOIA clause (b)(4):

Exemption 4

Exemption 4 of the FOIA protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential.” (1) This exemption is intended to protect the interests of both the government and submitters of information. Its very existence encourages submitters to voluntarily furnish useful commercial or financial information to the government and it correspondingly provides the government with an assurance that such information will be reliable. The exemption also affords protection to those submitters who are required to furnish commercial or financial information to the government by safeguarding them from the competitive disadvantages that could result from disclosure. (2) The exemption covers two broad categories of information in federal agency records: (1) trade secrets; and (2) information that is (a) commercial or financial, and (b) obtained from a person, and (c) privileged or confidential.

PART1--- Outgoing Final Response 09-209 8-12-09.pdf (page 1 of 36)

We’re making progress in our effort to obtain contract information about DraftFCB, Globalhue, etc.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Outgoing Extension Response 09-209 8-5-09.pdf (1 page)

FedEx-gate: Census Bureau wastes $3 million

Monday, June 8th, 2009

We hope that the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) and Commerce Department’s Inspector General are paying close attention to this investigation. MyTwoCensus thanks our readers who alerted us to the following story. If you have received FedEx packages from the Census Bureau, we urge you to contact us immediately and share your stories as well.

The initial tip that led to this investigation came from a former Census Bureau employee who wrote to us, “On Tuesday, May 26, I received a FED EX package from the temporary East Los Angeles office of the Census marked “PRIORITY OVERNIGHT DELIVERY” containing one thing: a regular-size white envelope, with my address written on it, containing two pieces of official paperwork: (a) 1-page personnel office document stating I was hired March 30, and (b) 1-page personnel office document stating I was let go April 20 because of lack of work. I have no idea why they sent this PRIORITY OVERNIGHT DELIVERY, but at $20 or so a pop, times 140,000 workers nationwide, that’s a lot of money. ($2.8 million in fact).”

Below, please find an airbill sent last week from another local 2010 Census office in a different region. The problem, in this and thousands of other instances, is that the message inside this $20 FedEx package could have just as easily been sent using standard first class mail via the U.S. Postal Service (for a mere ¢44) to reach its non-urgent nearby location within 24 hours. MyTwoCensus is currently trying to determine just how widespread this problem has become. We certainly hope that $3 million or more has not already been wasted.

fedexairbillspokane1MyTwoCensus hopes that this wasteful spending will be stopped immediately, hopefully before the 1.4 million people who will be  hired for the 2010 headcount are also sent non-urgent messages via FedEx. As the U.S. Postal Service goes further and further into debt, one wonders why government agencies are failing to use their own counterparts.

MyTwoCensus will be filing a Freedom of Information Act request by the close of business today to ensure that these numbers become public. On Friday we asked the Public Information Office at the U.S. Census Bureau to provide us answers to our questions about the use of Fedex, and after following up throughout the day today, we still have not receieved any official comment.