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 ‘Government Accountability Office’

Problems with the homeless census

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Before you criticize this post as coming from a partisan media outlet, TownHall.com, read its claims over for legitimacy, as it seems to be legitimate:

“”We identified concerns with … inconsistent handling of individuals who either (1) stated that they had already been counted, or (2) stated that they had an address,” the IG reported. “We observed 83 enumerations — at shelters, soup kitchens, food vans and TNSOL sites — carried out by 13 local offices. In over half of our observations, enumerators were inconsistent in deciding whether or not to recount individuals who stated that they had already been counted. We also identified inconsistent practices when respondents indicated that they had an actual residential address. In particular, some of these individuals were counted during SBE, while other individuals were told that they could not be counted because they were not homeless. The enumerators’ natural inclination to avoid duplication often contradicted the procedures in the Census GQE manual.”"

Click HERE to read the full article about potential double-counting in the homeless census.

With latest jobs report, the Census Bureau’s failures to report training hours and part-time jobs come to light

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

For most of you, this is old news by now, but I hesitated to report it because it would probably just make you more angry. It recently came out that most of America’s new jobs are temporary Census Bureau positions that will soon end, which is dismal news for the economy. As MyTwoCensus.com observed, some people on the right are outraged by what they report as false job statistics since Census Bureau employees have been hired and let go (for various reasons) and then re-hired to work for other 2010 Census operations down the road.

FoxNews published reports from Commerce Department and Bureau of Labor Statistics spokespersons:

Commerce Department spokesman Nick Kimball:

“The Census Bureau — like all other employers — reports the number of individuals on its payroll for the specific week the Labor Department uses as a point of reference for measuring the nation’s level of This is not a tally of positions filled during the past month — instead, it is the number of actual individual human beings who received paychecks that week. That number can then be compared to the reports from previous months to understand the changing jobs environment over time.”

Bureau of Labor Statistics spokeswoman Stacey Standish:

“Each month the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Current Employment Statistics (CES) program publishes the employment levels for total nonfarm and component industries. Establishments, including the Census Bureau, are asked to report the total number of workers on their payroll. That is, the establishment is asked to report the total number of employees who worked or received pay for the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. The CES program does not ask establishments to report the number of new hires or created, or the number of persons who were laid off.”

Shelly Lowe of the Census Bureau’s public information office commented on a MyTwoCensus post:

First, the Census Bureau does not hire, then fire, and then rehire anyone. Any employee who is fired is fired for cause. We train and hire temporary workers for various operations, most significantly Non-Response Follow-Up (NRFU) to complete work assignments. When the work is complete, the temporary worker goes into an inactive status. They may be re-activated if there is more work to do, or for another subsequent operation. At no time do we count a re-activation from non-working status as a ?rehire.?

The article goes on to state: “Labor doesn’t check the Census hiring figure or whether the jobs are actually new or recycled. It considers a new job to have been created if someone is hired to work at least one hour a month.

This is simply inaccurate. The Census Bureau reports to the Department of Labor and on our public website the number of people paid for work during a given week. We do not report the number of jobs. The Census Bureau reports the total number of unduplicated temporary 2010 workers that earned any pay during a specific weekly pay period. Temporary workers earning any pay during the week are counted only once. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) measures changes in employment levels — not the actual level itself — and looks only at the week which includes the 12th day of the month. It is simply not possible for Census to engage in the manipulation of data to artificially inflate the employment report of the BLS in the manner alleged by this news column.

So now we see that the number of people on the payroll each week is the number of people who are reported to the government. However, as we know from previous posts and reports by the Commerce Department Inspector General and Government Accountability Office, there are tons and tons of Census Bureau employees who are “trained” each week but never actually work. Furthermore, there are thousands of Census Bureau employees who are only working part-time. Many workers have twenty hours to work per week, tops. These  figures are not accounted for in the Census Bureau’s tally, which are further compounded by the Census Bureau’s frequent IT malfunctions making it such that Census Bureau employees who are on the clock are merely sitting around and waiting for assignments to come through.

Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post analyzes yesterday’s report from the Inspector General

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Thanks to Ed for  the following:

Frequent glitches in the computer system built to manage the 2010 Census could jeopardize its accuracy and drive up costs beyond its $15 billion price tag, according to a new watchdog report.

The findings by the Commerce Department’s inspector general come as roughly 600,000 census takers fan out nationwide to visit about 48 million addresses where nobody mailed back a census form.

The quarterly progress report found that problems persist with the agency’s paper-based operations-control system, a computer program developed to manage data collected by census takers. Several local Census Bureau offices are experiencing outages of several hours to entire days, the report said.

Those delays contributed to $1.6 million in clerical overtime costs in the first quarter, and the cost will probably rise in the next two months as census takers complete their work, the report said.

Because of computer delays, local census offices also could misplace completed paper questionnaires that are waiting to be processed.

“Questionnaires can be misplaced, for example, by storing them with questionnaires that have already been checked in,” the report said. If those forms are not processed, “the persons identified in the questionnaires may not be counted.”

The report reinforces concerns raised last week by the Government Accountability Office during a congressional hearing on census operations.

The Census Bureau developed the computer system in 2008 after scrapping plans to use handheld computers built for the agency. The decision left little time to develop the software, and officials have since said the system probably poses the most risk to census operations.

“As we have publicly disclosed to Congress, our oversight agencies and the press, the operational control system is not optimal, and remains a risk,” Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner said in an e-mail. “However we do not foresee cost overruns of the type speculated upon in this report.”

Census Director Robert M. Groves has vowed to keep census operations under budget in hopes of returning funds to the Treasury. But he acknowledged potential operational issues this week in a blog post written to his 600,000 new hires.

“Nothing as large as the decennial census can be trouble-free,” Groves said. “Despite the years of development, things will go wrong.”

Dr. Groves calls a software change from two years ago a “late change” in operations strategy. MyTwoCensus says this is nonsense.

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Earlier today, the Associated Press released a short article (below) that discusses the Census Bureau’s repeated paper-based operations control system failures. In response to Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves’ comment that, “the problems stem from a late change from a handheld device system to the paper-based system” I can simply point to a response I just received from Michael Cook, Chief of the Decennial Media Relations Branch at the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office. Cook wrote me, “The change to a paper-based NRFU operation ordered two years ago by then-Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, required us to develop PBOCS in a compressed time-frame.” Now, this makes no sense. TWO YEARS IS NOT A COMPRESSED TIME FRAME. It is a ridiculously long amount of time to use engineers to tweak and test a system to make it perfect. Once again, the Census Bureau’s IT failures are pathetic and unaccepptable in the year 2010.

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Government Accountability Office says a computer system needed to finish the 2010 census may not be up to the job.

GAO Strategic Issues Director Robert Goldenkoff said Friday before a congressional hearing in Los Angeles that the Paper Based Operations Control System hasn’t demonstrated the ability to meet peak requirements of the census as it seeks to count residents who did not return forms by mail.

Census Director Robert Groves says in a statement that the problems stem from a late change from a handheld device system to the paper-based system.

He says the system has worked well so far but that the agency is not out of the woods yet.

The GAO says the Census Bureau is otherwise well-positioned to finish the door-to-door count, which begins Saturday.

Census Bureau IT problems remain unresolved

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Finally, a source other than MyTwoCensus.com has noticed and reported on the multitude of IT failures at the Census Bureau. H/t to Edwin Mora of CNSNews.com for the following piece…but hopefully the mainstream media — not just Conservative media outlets like CNSNews — will start to address these problems:

Census Still Struggling With IT Problems That May Affect Count’s Accuracy
Friday, April 30, 2010
By Edwin Mora


Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves. (AP Photo/U of Mich.,Paul Jaronski)
(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Census Bureau is still having problems with its computer system that handles the data for households that did not return a census form. However, the Census Bureau director said the system has successfully printed out the assignments for the enumerators who will conduct in-person interviews with households that did not mail in their forms.

“We continue to struggle with the software system called the paper-based operation control system, but we passed, just amazingly, a wonderful threshold last week where we printed out assignments for all these enumerators,” said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves. “It worked.”

The Census director made the comments at a press briefing on the Census participation rate, which took place at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday.

Groves said the Bureau is not fond of its paper-based operation control system (PBOCS), which is used to manage the non-response follow-up (NRFU). The NRFU, set to begin May 1, is the Census’ largest operation and involves census workers personally interviewing millions of people nationwide who did not respond to the mailed Census questionnaire.

“Slightly more than 72 percent of U.S. households believed to be occupied mailed back their 2010 Census forms, the same rate that was achieved in 2000,” the U.S. Census Bureau announced on Apr. 28.

“Not that it is the most loved piece of software in the Census Bureau, but it’s working well enough to get the census down so far,” said Groves.

“We have assignments ready for 600,000 people who are ready to hit the streets on Saturday,” he added. “So we’re proceeding.”

According to a Mar. 25 Government Accountability Office report entitled, “Data Collection is Under Way, But Reliability of Key Information Technology Systems Remains a Risk,” the Census Bureau was experiencing problems with two IT systems, one of which is the paper-based operation control system that Groves mentioned during the press conference.

The GAO reported last February that “key IT systems — most notably an automated system used to manage field data collection known as the Paper-Based Operations Control System (PBOCS) and a personnel and payroll processing system called the Decennial Applicant Personnel and Payroll System (DAPPS) — were experiencing significant performance issues.”

On Thursday, Robert Goldenkoff, the director of strategic issues for the GAO and author of the March 25 GAO report on the IT problems affecting the Census, told CNSNews.com:  “The [paper based] operational control system used to manage the field follow-up operation was still having stability issues last week; the Census Bureau continues to work on it.”

On Mar. 25, Judith Gordon, the principal assistant inspector general for Audit and Evaluation at the Department of Commerce, which runs the Census Bureau, testified about the IT problems affecting the Census before Congress, saying that the Census’ decennial count’s accuracy was “at risk” because of IT issues.

“IT problems place the efficiency and accuracy of Non-Response Follow-Up at risk and final decennial costs remain uncertain,” Gordon told lawmakers, and as CNSNews.com reported. Gordon had testified before a subcommittee on the Census of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In the same Mar. 25 GAO report, Goldenkoff revealed that “an estimated 50 million housing units out of a mail-out universe of about 120 million” would be non-respondents and would require an in-person follow-up to count. The operating budget for the NRFU is $2.7 billion.

Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution calls for a decennial enumeration (census) of the American people to be used for allocating U.S. House seats among the states.

Notes From The Field: A Story Of Waste At The Census Bureau

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

UPDATE: Click on these documents (HERE and HERE) to view examples of just how much waste there is. We are also hoping that Census Bureau employees can send us photos and other documentation of entire warehouses full of materials being destroyed.

The following story was written exclusively for MyTwoCensus.com by an anonymous upper-level local Census Bureau official in California. Maybe Tony Soprano should have won himself a Census Bureau contract, because it seems like waste management is an extremely lucrative business. Enjoy this:

There have been many articles about bad technology and over-hiring of staff at the Census Bureau which has wasted millions of our taxpayer’s dollars. The bright side is that these jobs are providing a stimulus to our economy. However so far no one has spoken about the paper /printing waste at the Census Bureau which is the most visible part especially as a local census office employee.  From my initial estimates this waste could top at least in the millions and maybe a billion dollars.

There are many forms of waste including: single sided printers, employee manuals on high quality paper, thousands of administrative forms and full color recruiting brochures which are printed and never used. Let us also not forget the promotional posters which partnership is scrambling to get rid of because after the questionnaires go out in two weeks they play a little role except encouraging people to mail it back. First, they are the high speed printers which default to print singled sided because we were told they were set that way for map printing. However if we try to default the printers to double sided for our other print jobs we are violating the contractor’s Harris Corporation warranty agreement. Add to that managers and clerks who each feel the need to print their own copy, and make copies of copies (single sided of course) and the occasional office idiot who does not check his printer settings before printing the two thousand page report single sided and we go through entire reams of paper in a day.

Then there are the thousands of manuals and administrative forms on high quality paper we receive in our shipments. It would be a different story if the thousands of manuals were printed on 100% recycled newsprint, like the test prep books in the bookstore but they are not. Maybe I’d feel less guilty if the administrative forms we receive were being used, but they are not used. After each operation our manager receives a headquarters memo (attached) that authorizes them to throw out hundreds of boxes of administrative forms and manuals that were never used. And it doesn’t end there. The national processing center print millions upon millions of forms only to find out there is either an error or an update is needed making the previous editions garbage. We will receive a memo to destroy the old ones. Only to get another pallet of them and sometimes it’s the same version. Add to that the overestimated workloads we still have hundred of boxes of group quarters validation questionnaires and full color recruiting brochures left (and recruiting ends this month)

After address canvassing which was a computer based operation we threw away hundreds of manuals but very little administrative forms. However after group quarters validation, the first paper based operation and the first wave of recruiting ended we threw away hundreds of blank administrative forms and outdated recruiting brochures. Since our local census office was in a building that didn’t recycle we put them in the shredding bin. But the bin filled up very quickly and we were told to just bag them in black garbage bags and dispose of them since they contain no sensitive information. It took us weeks of throwing out manuals, forms everyday before we were able to rid ourselves of it.

One of the supervisors summarized it well when she said: “They treat all the employees like crap…tell everyone they are not willing to pay a cent of overtime and that they have to do their job in under 40 hours otherwise their work will be given to someone else or they will be terminated.” But then they spend your hard earned taxpayer’s dollars to print full color glossy recruiting brochures by the thousands, truck them across the country, have them sit idle in a storeroom only to throw them out a few months later.

My TwoCensus should submit a FOIA request to expose this waste because this is frankly appalling. Among the questions the watchdog group should ask is:

What is the total printing cost and amount of paper for the 2010 census broken down by: administrative forms, partnership posters, employee training manuals, census forms?

How much waste has Shred-It, the national contractor for destroying sensitive information, received from the offices and how much revenue is being generated?

Due to the overestimated workloads and overrecruiting exactly how much extra money went to printing these unused manuals, forms and promotional materials?

How much money is Harris Corporation making by contracting high speed printers and computer equipment which are running up paper, toner and employee costs?

How much money could of been saved if they printed the thousands of manuals on 100% recycled newsprint instead of high quality paper, double-sided all the printers and limited printing jobs to prevent accidental job spooling of thousand page reports?

Next week when we receive our shipment for NRFU (which is like 30 pallettes), they should take back the 10 pallettes of material we still have in our office from last October we are not using to Indiana so they can get a sense of how much waste this is. I want MyTwoCensus.com to try to get Congress and the Inspector General’s office to expose this fruitless waste of money by visiting these offices, conducting an audit or trucking this waste to a centralized location so everyone to see how much waste was produced instead of black bagging it and trying to cover it up. In the age of being green, waste reduction and take back programs not only is the census stuck in primitive paper operation but it is producing administrative forms, manuals, color brochures and posters which are just being thrown away.

McHenry: Census Bureau Failures Are Unacceptable

Monday, October 12th, 2009

WASHINGTON – Congressman Patrick McHenry (NC-10), Ranking Member on the Census Oversight Subcommittee, released the following statement in response to the troubling admission by the U.S. Census Bureau that its cost estimation models are a complete failure.  The recently concluded address canvassing operation went over budget by 25%.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) also reports that failures in the fingerprint training process led to the hiring of as many as 200 temporary census workers with criminal backgrounds.

“Republicans and Democrats alike stand ready to provide adequate funding for a successful census.  But it now seems that the Census Bureau is incapable of determining what that cost will be.

“While I appreciate Dr. Groves being forthright and understand that these problems are not of his making, corrective action must take place immediately.  The 2010 Decennial, which is already funded to the tune of $14.7 billion, is just around the corner.  The Census Bureau must fix its costs estimation model quickly and report back to Congress with an accurate figure.

“The Census Bureau will soon begin hiring hundreds of thousands of temporary workers and yet its safeguards against hiring criminals are in jeopardy.  GAO has identified insufficient training in fingerprint-taking as the cause of this failure.

“Bureaucratic incompetence that leads to the hiring of criminals as census takers threatens the integrity of 2010 Decennial.  This problem must be fixed immediately and assurances must be given to Congress and the American people that it will not happen again.”

Senate Census panel asks tough questions about 2010 count

Thursday, October 8th, 2009
H/t to Max Cacas of Federal News Radio for the following update on yesterday’s Senate meeting:

The clock continues to tick down to the April 1st start of the 2010 Census, and a Senate oversight subcommittee continues to focus on efforts for an accurate count of the nation’s population next year.

By Max Cacas
Reporter
FederalNewsRadio

With less than 6 months to go before the start of the 2010 decennial census, officials are still coping with uncertainty surrounding the next constitutionally-mandated count of the nation’s population.

On Wednesday, the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, which has oversight over the U.S. Census Bureau, conducted its latest hearing on what will likely be one of the most costly censuses in history.

One of the areas of concern says Robert Goldenkopf, director of Strategic Issues with the Government Accountability Office, is all the uncertainty that underlies the on-again, off again planning for the 2010 census. GAO named the census to its “high risk list” last year because of:

Weakness in its IT management, problems with handheld computers used to collect data, and uncertainty over the final cost of the census.

Doctor Robert Groves, the new census director, says the bureau is generally making good progress toward resolving a long list of problems related to the 2010 census, but says one thing keeping him up late at night is concern about just how many Americans will fill out their forms, and get them back in the mail as soon as possible.

The behavior of the American public in March and April of next year is a big uncertainty in regards to that. Scores of millions of dollars will be spent following up with houses that don’t return the mail questionnaire. Its important to hit that target, that estimate well.

Groves told the panel that the vacancy rate of homes due to the recession, and related home foreclosures, could complicate the effort to have as many people as possible return their census forms in the first round of the count between the first week of April and mid-May.

Director Groves also told the panel that even at this late date, the Census Bureau continues to develop software to handle the paper-based “Non-Response Followup” stage of the census. This was a part of the census that had been slated to be performed using a highly automated system in conjunction with the controversial hand-held computers. Last year, census officials decided not to use the handhelds for this portion of the census count because development of the automation system was lagging far behind other portions of the census.

Lawmakers continued to press for the use of the Internet and web-based tools to speed the count and reduce costs. But Groves told Senator John McCain (R.-Az.) that it is too late in preparations for the count to integrate web-based data gathering in the 2010 census. Groves did say that in August of next year, as the formal census count is being concluded, there is a small-scale test planned to gauge the possibility of one day using the web for the 2020 census.

Under questioning, Groves also revealed that as recently as 5 years ago, there was a proposal that a web-based census follow-up pilot program be conducted in college campus dormitories during the 2010 count to test the viability of using new technologies to improve the count, but said the idea was never formally made a part of next year’s population tally. On Wednesday, several lawmakers, including McCain, expressed support for the possibility of short-term legislation that would provide funding and support for a dorm-based pilot program for the census.

Press Release from Senator Tom Carper’s office

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

FOR RELEASE: Oct. 6, 2009

CONTACT:  Bette Phelan (202) 224-2441

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

HEARING: “2010 Census – A Status Update of Key Decennial Operations.”

WASHINGTON (Oct. 6, 2009) – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, will hold a hearing Wednesday, October 7 at 3:00 p.m. titled “2010 Census: A Status Update of Key Decennial Operations.”

With less than six months before Census Day 2010, this hearing will provide a status update of key decennial operations, estimated to cost more than $14.7 billion.

Census Director Dr. Robert Groves, in his first appearance before the committee since his confirmation, will provide updates on the Bureau’s recent completion of its address canvassing operation; the progress of the Bureau’s testing of key decennial information technology and operational systems; the use of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act spending to enhance outreach to hard-to-count communities; and the Bureau’s response to program and operational challenges identified by both GAO and the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General.

WHEN:Wednesday, October 7 at 3:00 p.m.

WHERE: 342 Dirksen Senate Office Building

WITNESSES:

The Honorable Robert M. Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce

Todd Zinser, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Commerce

Robert Goldenkoff, Director, Strategic Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office