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 Waste’

Employee Blasts Census Bureau Deficiencies

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

With permission from the author  (who has requested anonymity), we are posting the following analysis of the multitude of problems facing the 2010 Census:

2010 Census = Government Waste

For years, as a student and grant writer I have worked with United States Census data. Despite its shortcomings, I had always considered the U.S. Census one of the good actions of American government. For all of the corruption and oppression America commits at home and abroad, the U.S. Census has been one of the things I have had a fair amount of faith in. That is until I got involved on the data collection end of things. The experience I had is enough to turn you into a Republican.

Due to my familiarity with and interest in the U.S. Census I decided to answer the call for temporary Census workers. I replied to an ad, took a test, and got a job. Though not without shortcomings, this process went smooth enough. Once I entered the four-day training “designed” to teach me how to conduct address canvassing operations I realized that the U.S. Census is truly an example of government waste. People toss around the notion that government waste happens all of the time without any real first hand information. It’s just one of those uninformed, folk things people do. In the case of the U.S. Census, though, I can state confidently that it is unorganized at best, and I am being kind when I use a qualifier by saying that it ‘teeters on being corrupt.’

Ineptitude and Government Waste at its Finest

A big part of the problem with the execution of the on-the-ground phases of the U.S. Census is that the people hired to conduct them have no real interest in or knowledge of things like surveys, statistics, geography, urban planning, and related areas. 2010 U.S. Census corruptionTemporary workers are recruited on the basis of a job that provides good pay and is somewhat more interesting than working in retail. All sorts of people apply, but it is hardly the case that the people doing the hiring are looking for individuals with relevant experience or knowledge. The folks who conduct training and run things may have never heard of the Census prior to seeing an ad for a position with the Census Bureau.

The point of the address canvassing that is presently underway is to literally record each and every structure in the United States where people live or could live. The intent is to record every mailing address and every structure where someone might live to ensure that all households in the United States receive a Census form in 2010. Of course, this is an impossible task and the government is rightly criticized for even trying to do this every ten years (as opposed to merely drawing a sample), but that’s another story for another hub. Training is supposed to teach how this is done by defining terms (i.e., what is a housing unit?) and detailing protocol. The problem is that so much is left to an individual’s judgement. The process is portrayed as an objective one, yet it is clear that it has never been empirically tested and if it has its shortcomings were roundly ignored.

So many questions came up and were basically put up to debate. “Crew leaders” debated amongst one another as to what the proper answer was or how to handle a specific situation. The instructions that followed could not have been more subjective and surely varied widely from location to location. A case in point involved how to tell the difference between single-family and multi-family units. The area I worked in is the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. This is probably one of the most heavily populated places in the country. We were told that if we came upon a building and the units were ‘stacked’ we would automatically classify it as ‘multi-unit.’ There are several grave problems with this.

First, how do you know if you are unable to gain access to a residence or talk to an occupant if a unit is stacked or side-by-side? You don’t. And since we were repeatedly told to “figure it out” without requiring further assistance, we made judgement calls on the ground. Those calls are surely being made still as canvassing is ongoing.

Second, duplexes are common in Hollywood. Many are located in affluent neighborhoods. If a two-unit building has dwellings situated side-by-side, each unit is considered as separate single-family units according to the way my crew went about things. But if they were stacked, they would be considered multi-unit. This is absurd and inaccurate to anyone who has been in urban planning 101. But the real impact is that in some affluent Hollywood neighborhoods multi-unit buildings are being over-counted. This could impact how crucial funding is allocated to cities and neighborhoods as communities with more multi-unit buildings are generally considered needier than those with a greater number of single-family units.

The Worst is Yet to Come

I can come up with other issues similar to the one above. At the end of the day, I guess they are up for debate. But what follows is government corruption at its absolute worst.

Each address canvasser in the area my crew worked was given several census blocks to canvass. We needed, initially, to meet a quota of 160 addresses canvassed in an eight-hour day. It became clear early on that this was way too easy. Budget money was allocated for two months worth of work and with the high number of large apartment buildings being worked in Hollywood- and the general high density of the area- 160 addresses could be completed in less than half a day’s work. This posed a problem. At that rate we were on pace to finish the work much sooner than planned, thus leaving money on the table. The solution? Here is where the corruption comes in.

We were told to drop that number down to 120, but we were told to continue working an eight hour day. Wink, wink… nudge, nudge. Essentially we were being told… say you worked eight hours, complete 120 addresses so that we can use up all of the money budgeted to our crew for wages. Most of us worked an hour or two, maybe three… said we worked eight while most of the day we were hardly conducting Census business. I could not believe we were being instructed to do this. I have no reason to believe that this practice was not being duplicated throughout Los Angeles. And I am somewhat confident that it is probably happening across the country. This means that thousands- and likely millions- of taxpayer dollars are literally being wasted. It stings even more considering the economic times we are living through.

This might have made for a dry hub. I am not sure that anyone will even care, but I had to share. I think this ought to be of major national concern. President Obama… are you listening?

In a future hub, I will discuss the Census — and its other inherent problems — further.

Note: This article does not represent the opinions of MyTwoCensus.com, Stephen Robert Morse or Evan Goldin. The views expressed are those of the author. That said, MyTwoCensus welcomes written, video, photographic, and multimedia contributions from any individual with a 2010 Census-related story to tell.