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 ‘Harris’

Rumor: Change in DAPPS Payroll Software?

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Anyone have any knowledge about the following tip:

Subject: DAPPS payroll software change
Message Body:
It appears that the following occurred on either 6/27 or 6/28. A change to D-308 timesheet editing rules in DAPPS was implemented which no longer permits timesheets to include entries for which one entry ends at the same time as the next begins. Such entries have been accepted up until now, and are *necessary* to properly record work across the midnight boundary. Rumor has it that the change was made to stop somebody from getting extra pay by exploiting a bug in the system.

It is not clear what the details are, for example how multiple task codes affect the results, but it is known for certain that work across the midnight boundary is affected, and that the new edit rules can cause errors between timesheets and batches. Washington I.T. support apparently is telling people they have to shift their time 1/4 hour away from midnight (trivially, falsifying their timesheets). My LCO discovered that payroll batches which had been entered without errors for the previous week, if re-opened and re-saved for any reason, generated NEW errors. It also appears that a key diagnostic report regarding overlapping time is now, sometimes, “broken” in a way that masks existing errors.

If my understanding of DAPPS is correct, it is *possible* that MANY LCOs experienced errors when payroll was transmitted 6/29.

The change was made the day before payroll had to be wrapped up and transmitted, and there was NOT SO MUCH AS AN E-MAIL NOTIFICATION. We can’t be the only ones who got burned; HQ I.T. support confirmed the situation and provided the workaround.

I would love to know how much of a problem this has caused, and/or whether the change had to be backed out of the code. As of Tuesday afternoon 6/29 the change was still in place.

Key White House staffer admits Harris Corp. failed the American people

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Peter Orszag is the White House’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Below are excerpts of a June 8 speech delivered to the Center for American Progress, courtesy of the Federal Times.

(Please have a look through the MyTwoCensus.com archives to learn more about the Harris Corp. handheld-computer debacle that cost US taxpayers $800 million, not the $600 million that Orszag states below, because an additional $200 million was awarded to the contractors after their initial failure to create a usable product.)

Here’s what he said:

For example, the Census Bureau awarded in 2006 a $595 million contract to develop a hand-held computer for census workers to use this year. Two years and $600 million later, the project was canceled with nothing to show for it.

And census workers out there today still use pen and paper.

Clearly, we have massive room for improvement. Pursuing that improvement and closing the IT gap will help us create a government that is more efficient and less wasteful, and that is … more responsive to the American people.

Census Director Robert M. Groves Lies: The Census Bureau’s software, IT, and computer problems are NOT fixed

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Earlier this week, Dr. Robert M. Groves told NextGov that the Census Bureau’s infamous computer problems with the paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) software were fixed. He even went so far as to have a memo, obtained by MyTwoCensus, sent by his underlings to Census Bureau officials throughout the country, relaying this information:

Attention: Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, Assistant Regional Census Manager for IT, and Lead Support Coordinators/Representatives.

Update: The technical team is ready to implement the fix for performance issues.  In order to do so, the system will be brought down at 6:45 PM ET.  All users need to log off prior to this time and remain out of the system until further notice.  This process should take approximately two hour and once the system is available, there will be a staggered log-in.  DOTS will send out another message regarding when PBOCS will be available and the staggered log-in schedule.


From:

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support 2010/BOC

To:

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support 2010/BOC@BOC

Cc:

Alan J Berlinger/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Annetta Clark Smith/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Arnold A Jackson/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Barbara M LoPresti/TMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Brian E McGrath/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Bridgette M Hendricks/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Chad G Nelson/TMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Curtis L Broadway/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, dcurtner@harris.com, Decennial IT Support List, Dennis W Stoudt/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, dmays@harris.com, Dsouzav@GAO.GOV, DSPO PBO MGMT List, Ellen W Cafarella/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, fdca_pbams@ics-nett.com, FLD 2010 Regional Offices List, FLD Deputy Regional Directors List, FLD Regional Directors, Gail A Leithauser/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Hilda S Dimmock/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Jacque M Biles/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Janet R Cummings/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, jlawrenc@harris.com, K Evan Moffett/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Karen C Field/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Louis R Avenilla/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Lucia J Chavez/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Marilia A Matos/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Maryann M Chapin/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Michael T Thieme/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, mtrocki@OIG.DOC.GOV, Pamela D Mosley/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Robert M Groves/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, SJackson@OIG.DOC.GOV, Tammi Michelle Archer/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, TicehurstJ@gao.gov, TMO DOTS 2010 Staff List, Viola L Lewis Willis/AMSD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Wayne Dustin/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC

Date:

05/13/2010 05:10 PM

Subject:

UPDATE INFORMATION – PBOCS Performance Issues, 5:00 PM ET, 5/13

Sent by:

Rebecca St Martin

Attention: Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, Assistant Regional Census Manager for IT, and Lead Support Coordinators/Representatives.

Update: The technical team is still testing the fix for the performance issues.  They hope to have the system available sometime tonight however at this point we do not have a more specific time frame.  DOTS will send out another update at 7:00 PM ET.

If you have any questions/concerns regarding this message, please respond to only DOTS 2010.  Please do not reply to all.

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support (DOTS) 2010
Phone: 301-763-2010


From:

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support 2010

To:

Decennial IT Support List, FLD Regional Directors, FLD Deputy Regional Directors List

Cc:

TMO DOTS 2010 Staff List, FLD 2010 Regional Offices List, Barbara M LoPresti/TMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Gail A Leithauser/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Janet R Cummings/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Karen C Field/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Louis R Avenilla/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Viola L Lewis Willis/AMSD/HQ/BOC@BOC, DSPO PBO MGMT List, fdca_pbams@ics-nett.com, Hilda S Dimmock/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, SJackson@OIG.DOC.GOV, Pamela D Mosley/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Michael T Thieme/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Wayne Dustin/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Curtis L Broadway/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Dennis W Stoudt/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Maryann M Chapin/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Alan J Berlinger/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, dmays@harris.com, dcurtner@harris.com, jlawrenc@harris.com, TicehurstJ@gao.gov, K Evan Moffett/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, mtrocki@OIG.DOC.GOV, Dsouzav@GAO.GOV, Lucia J Chavez/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Marilia A Matos/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Ellen W Cafarella/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Annetta Clark Smith/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Bridgette M Hendricks/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Tammi Michelle Archer/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Jacque M Biles/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Brian E McGrath/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Arnold A Jackson/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Robert M Groves/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC

Date:

05/13/2010 04:01 PM

Subject:

UPDATE: INFORMATION – PBOCS Performance Issues, 4:00 PM ET, 5/13

Sent by:

Chad G Nelson

Attention: Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, Assistant Regional Census Manager for IT, and Lead Support Coordinators/Representatives.

Information: The fix for the performance issues currently be experienced is still being tested.  We remain with 6 regions on the system and 6 blocked.  DOTS will send out another update at 5:00 PM ET.

If you have any questions/concerns regarding this message, please respond to only DOTS 2010.  Please do not reply to all.

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support (DOTS) 2010
Phone: 301-763-2010

To: Decennial IT Support List, FLD Regional Directors, FLD Deputy Regional Directors List
From: TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support 2010
Sent by: Chad G Nelson/TMO/HQ/BOC
Date: 05/13/2010 02:15PM
cc: TMO DOTS 2010 Staff List, FLD 2010 Regional Offices List, Barbara M LoPresti/TMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Gail A Leithauser/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Janet R Cummings/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Karen C Field/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Louis R Avenilla/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Viola L Lewis Willis/AMSD/HQ/BOC@BOC, DSPO PBO MGMT List, fdca_pbams@ics-nett.com, Hilda S Dimmock/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, SJackson@OIG.DOC.GOV, Pamela D Mosley/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Michael T Thieme/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Wayne Dustin/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Curtis L Broadway/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Dennis W Stoudt/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Maryann M Chapin/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Alan J Berlinger/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, dmays@harris.com, dcurtner@harris.com, jlawrenc@harris.com, TicehurstJ@gao.gov, K Evan Moffett/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, mtrocki@OIG.DOC.GOV, Dsouzav@GAO.GOV, Lucia J Chavez/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Marilia A Matos/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Ellen W Cafarella/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Annetta Clark Smith/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Bridgette M Hendricks/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Tammi Michelle Archer/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Jacque M Biles/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Brian E McGrath/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Arnold A Jackson/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Robert M Groves/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC
Subject: UPDATE INFORMATION – PBOCS Staggered Log-in. Currently Suspended.


Attention:
Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, Assistant Regional Census Manager for IT, and Lead Support Coordinators/Representatives.


Information:
Due to log-in issues caused by the number of users trying to come onto the system right now, the staggered log-ins have been suspended.  The six remaining RCCs will not be allowed to log-in until the current backlog has declined.  DOTS will send out a message when the remaining RCCs can log-in.

The remaining RCCs are:

2499 = Detroit

2599 = Chicago

2699 = KC

3199 = Denver

2799 = Seattle

3299 = Los Angeles

If you have any questions/concerns regarding this message, please respond to only DOTS 2010.  Please do not reply to all.

(more…)

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.”

Contractors still robbing America’s tax dollars: Harris Corp. reports huge earnings as 2010 systems fail miserably

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Yup, it’s true. We hate the Harris Corporation. These people stole $800 million from United States taxpayers, and I hope that their stock drops considerably when people and the media get wind of this. Hopefully members of Congress stop kowtowing to this horrible corporation and start blacklisting them from receiving government contracts because of their tumultuous history of poor performance. (To the multitude of Harris Corp. employees who, according to Google Analytics, regularly read this blog, maybe your company should take some action to correct its mistakes now before the feds do it for you!)  Here’s a press release about their latest earnings:

Harris Corporation Reports Strong Third Quarter Orders, Revenue and Earnings

Increases Fiscal 2010 Guidance; Expects Higher Revenue and Earnings in Fiscal 2011

MELBOURNE, Fla., April 28, 2010 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Harris Corporation /quotes/comstock/13*!hrs/quotes/nls/hrs (HRS 51.97, +2.18, +4.38%) reported GAAP income from continuing operations for the third quarter of fiscal 2010 of $166 million, or $1.27 per diluted share, compared with $136 million, or $1.02 per diluted share, in the prior-year quarter. Excluding acquisition-related costs, non-GAAP income from continuing operations in the third quarter of fiscal 2010 was $170 million, or $1.30 per diluted share, compared with $136 million, or $1.02 per diluted share, in the prior-year quarter. Revenue for the third quarter of fiscal 2010 was $1.33 billion, compared with $1.21 billion for the third quarter of fiscal 2009. Orders in the third quarter were $1.45 billion, compared with $1.03 billion in the prior-year quarter. A reconciliation of GAAP to non-GAAP financial measures is provided in Tables 5 through 7, along with the accompanying notes.

“Earnings in the third quarter increased 25 percent, reflecting continued excellent operating performance in RF Communications and Government Communications Systems,” said Howard L. Lance, chairman, president and chief executive officer. “Revenue increased 10 percent for the company, and higher orders across all of our segments should continue to drive double-digit revenue growth in the fourth quarter. Our strategy of investing in new technology and applications to solve our customers’ complex, mission-critical, and quickly evolving communications and information technology needs is working. Higher orders, strong backlog and a robust opportunity pipeline should position Harris for achieving another year of higher revenue and earnings in fiscal 2011.”

Increased Earnings Guidance

The company has increased its guidance for non-GAAP income from continuing operations for fiscal 2010 to a range of $4.35 to $4.45 per diluted share ($4.23 to $4.33 per diluted share on a GAAP basis). This increase compares with a previous range of $4.25 to $4.35 per diluted share ($4.13 to $4.23 per diluted share on a GAAP basis). Fiscal 2010 non-GAAP earnings guidance excludes acquisition-related costs. Revenue in fiscal 2010 is still expected to be in a range of $5.2 to $5.3 billion.

Guidance for fiscal 2011 earnings is being initiated in a range of $4.55 to $4.65 per diluted share, representing a year-over-year increase of 3 to 6 percent, compared with the mid-point of fiscal 2010 non-GAAP guidance. Fiscal 2011 revenue is expected to be in a range of $5.5 to $5.6 billion, representing a year-over-year increase of 5 to 7 percent compared with the mid-point of fiscal 2010 guidance.

RF Communications

Third quarter orders for the RF Communications segment totaled $656 million, including $488 million in the Tactical Radio Communications business and $168 million in the Public Safety and Professional Communications business. At the end of the third quarter, total backlog in RF Communications was $1.50 billion, including $1.01 billion in the Tactical Radio Communications business and $489 million in the Public Safety and Professional Communications business.

Revenue for RF Communications in the third quarter was $551 million, compared with $439 million in the prior-year quarter. Revenue included $429 million in Tactical Radio Communications, driven primarily by deliveries to the U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Air Force. Revenue in Public Safety and Professional Communications was $122 million.

Operating income for RF Communications was $205 million in the third quarter, compared with $151 million in the prior-year quarter. Non-GAAP operating income, which excludes acquisition-related costs, was $208 million. Non-GAAP operating margin was very strong at 37.8 percent due to favorable product mix, cost-reduction actions implemented in the second half of fiscal 2009, and operational efficiencies.

New orders for tactical radio communication systems in the quarter were driven by:

accelerating customer adoption of the company’s next-generation Falcon III(R) radios in U.S. and international markets;

equipping the military’s 6,644 M-ATVs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles); and

strengthening international demand.

Demand has increased for the company’s JTRS-approved, Falcon III family of ground tactical radios. At the end of the third quarter year-to-date Falcon III orders totaled $620 million. The field-proven radios are providing warfighters with unprecedented situational awareness, bringing new applications such as streaming video for the first time to the tactical edge of the battlefield.

Major Falcon III radio wins in the third quarter included a $73 million order from the U.S. Marines for Falcon III AN/PRC-117G multiband manpack radio systems to provide high-speed networking applications such as streaming video and a $12 million order from the U.S. Marines to upgrade existing Falcon III AN/VRC-110 multiband, multimode vehicular tactical radio systems from 20-watt to 50-watt systems to improve communications over longer distances and enhance reliability in rough terrain. Harris also received a $74 million order for Falcon III AN/PRC-152(C) multiband handheld radio systems in vehicular adapters to equip the military’s new 6,644 M-ATVs. Following the close of the quarter, Harris received a $20 million order from a Department of Defense customer for Falcon III AN/PRC-117G multiband manpack radio systems.

Other significant U.S. orders in the third quarter included a $78 million order for Falcon II(R) AN/VRC-104 high-frequency (HF) tactical radio systems also to equip the military’s 6,644 M-ATVs. Following the close of the quarter, Harris received a $101 million order for Falcon II AN/PRC-117F multiband vehicular radios to equip the next phase of M-ATV purchases and to retrofit other existing MRAP vehicles.

International tactical radio wins in the third quarter included a $112 million order from the Australian Department of Defence that was predominantly Falcon III AN/PRC-152(C) multiband handheld radios to provide next-generation battlefield networking capabilities. Other major international orders included a $44 million order for Falcon II RF-5800H HF radio systems from a country in Asia, and a $10 million order for Falcon II RF-5800H HF radio systems from the Iraq Ministry of Interior.

In the Public Safety and Professional Communications business, Harris was awarded orders totaling $100 million to upgrade the Miami-Dade County public communications infrastructure to a modern, P25 standards-based digital radio system. The flexible system platform will serve more than 80 agencies and 32,000 users, increasing functionality and improving interoperability among first responders and other radio system users. Also, a $13 million order was received in the quarter for our OpenSky(R) system to connect employees at a Texas-based public utility serving 50 counties.

Following the close of the quarter, Harris received an order from the New York State Police for 1,100 Unity(TM) XG-100P multiband radios. The Unity radios will provide interoperability between the state police and local, metro and county law enforcement organizations. In a single radio, the state police will be able to communicate with local systems that are conventional or digital, and that operate on the various VHF, UHF, 700 MHz or 800 MHz bands.

Government Communications Systems

Third quarter revenue for the Government Communications Systems segment was $666 million, compared with $649 million in the prior-year quarter. Operating income was $90 million in the third quarter, compared with $74 million in the prior-year quarter. Operating margin was strong at 13.6 percent and reflected continued excellent program performance and award fees.

Revenue increased for the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-Series R Ground Segment (GOES-R GS) weather program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Modernization of Enterprise Terminals (MET) program for the U. S. Army, the IT services relocation program for the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) and several classified programs for national intelligence customers. Revenue also benefited from several small, recent acquisitions related primarily to the new growth initiatives of Cyber Integrated Solutions and Healthcare Solutions. Revenue from the Field Data Collection Automation (FDCA) program for the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 census declined as the program nears completion.

Brazil’s Census is way more technologically advanced than ours. This is pathetic.

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

It is a pretty pathetic and sad story when a developing nation’s ability to integrate technology with governance far exceeds our own. Brazil’s strategy saves massive amounts of both time and money. Yet, this is something that I’ve discussed for quite some time with regard to other nations, like Australia. Here’s some news from Brazil which makes you wonder why more people who made decisions about the 2010 Census in the mid 2000s weren’t fired on the spot:

The Harvard Business Review‘s Daily Stat for Tuesday, April 6, 2010, highlighted a disruptive innovation in, of all things, census-taking. According to the publication:

    It’s a national census of hundreds of millions of people across 8 million square kilometers, using a workforce of 230,000 and budget of $1.4 billion. The 2010 U.S. Census? No, it’s Brazil’s 2010 census. The current U.S. headcount, by contrast, requires 3.8 million workers and $14 billion. Census takers in Brazil use PDAs and laptops; those in the U.S. still rely mainly on paper. – Source: Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatístic

While the United States tends to be seen as the technology innovation capital of the world, it seems we’re falling down in “government services innovation.” Doesn’t the US Census fall under the administration’s social innovation program? What other program is intended to have an impact on every single citizen of the US, if not this one?

On any corner of a typical US city, one can buy GPS-enabled, off-the-shelf, 3G-powered mobile devices, with local storage for data collection and Web-enabled connections to the back office. In short, the perfect mobile device for census collections is almost a commodity.

But it seems the US Census Bureau made the classic Innovator’s Dilemma mistake of choosing the slow, safe (and expensive) player, while the consumer mobile world blew by.

The supplier in question is Harris Corp. (NYSE: HRS), which started work on the mobile census project in 2006. It turns out that four years is an eternity in the modern mobile world, and Harris simply couldn’t match the speed of the market with its own proprietary, custom-built devices.

In contrast to the US approach to having custom devices built, Brazil partnered with LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) , as noted in TechTicker: “Brazil will start taking its population census in the second half of this year and to ensure a smooth and efficient counting, the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica (IBGE) has roped in LG to supply 150,000 GM750 phones.”

The GM750 is ruggedized and comes with its own application; but otherwise, the core phone itself is a device anyone with $100 or less could buy at the corner mobile store.

You may be thinking, who really cares? Perhaps we all should. According to CNN, Hermann Habermann, a former deputy director of the Census Bureau, thinks that without handheld data collection via mobile phone, the government is missing out on a chance to get information more quickly and cheaply than through the mail.

The technology would also help to better identify which Census tract a home is in, which determines an area’s representation in Congress and the distribution of more than $435 billion in federal funds every year. With GPS, according to CNN, the Census Bureau’s Daniel Weinberg, assistant director for the decennial census, anticipated placing residences within a 0.5 percent error rate into the correct tract. Without GPS, the Census Bureau places approximately 5 percent of residences in the wrong tract.

Unfortunately, with the fallback to paper, the error rate is likely to remain, as is the (inadvertent) mis-distribution of funds. While a 4.5 percent error differential may not seem like much, when you’re distributing billions of dollars each percentage point is quite significant in its effect on the local and state economies.

Lessons learned? Pay attention to the trends happening in parallel to your “normal” business and technology world — or you may find that your technological innovation has been disrupted by the fast movers you couldn’t be bothered to notice.

Whether in private, public, government, or other spaces, look around, and you’ll see disruption creeping up on you. Be aware of the technology environment and evolve! Or suffer the costs.

— Dan Keldsen is a Principal and Strategic Advisor at Information Architected.

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

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.

The Washington Post Had Better Be Joking With This One…Except They’re Not…

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Well, Dr. Groves and Mr. Jost must be pretty jealous that their deputy Daniel Weinberg was profiled by The Washington Post. Inside sources informed us that Mr. Weinberg hardly has the stellar job performance record that this article insinuates…(we don’t forget so easily about a certain $800 million Harris Corp. handheld computer debacle…)

Managing the 2010 Census and planning for 2020

 

Daniel Weinberg

Daniel Weinberg (Sam Kittner/Kittner.com)

Meet the Federal Player of the Week, Daniel Weinberg.

Position: Assistant Director for American Community Survey and Decennial Census, U.S. Census Bureau
Age: 60
Residence: Fairfax County, Va.
Education: Ph.D. in economics, Yale University; B.S. in mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Awards:Department of Commerce Bronze and Silver Medals; two Vice President¿s Reinventing Government (Hammer) Awards; Fellow of the American Statistical Association Roger Herriot Award for Innovation in Federal Statistics; 2002 Service to America Citizen Services Medal
Hobbies: Tennis, photography, bridge

The 2010 decennial census is just getting underway, but Daniel Weinberg is already thinking about 2020 and how the Internet might be used to collect the nation’s population data.

Weinberg, the assistant director for the Decennial Census and American Community Survey, spends his time in two primary areas: helping make sure everything is in order for the 2010 census and coming up with ways to improve the massive undertaking 10 years from now.

The census is a count of everyone living in the United States, collecting basic information on age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, household relationships and whether a home is owned or rented. By law, both citizens and noncitizens must be counted every 10 years. Census data are used to reapportion congressional seats to states and directly affect how more than $400 billion per year in federal funding is distributed to state, local and tribal governments.

“Each census is a 10-year cycle of planning and testing and research,” Weinberg said. “We set a very high bar to automate as much as the process as possible for 2010, and we didn’t succeed as much as we would have liked. We need to carry that over to 2020.”

Weinberg is in charge of the management, geography and statistical divisions of the Census Bureau, helping chart long and short term strategy, troubleshoot, and keeping the huge,complex process moving. He keeps tab of what is going on, seeks to resolve problems as they arise and provides support where needed.

Pshhhhht…If resolving problems as they arise means paying an incompetent company an ADDITIONAL $200 million to create terrible products and software that aren’t even being used for the 2010 Census, then Dr. Weinberg is the best fixer on earth…

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.

Errrr…Sprint provides great coverage for the 2010 Census?

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

The following is a press release we found on the net, but its not necessarily something to brag about:

Sprint Wins Exclusive Wireless Data Contract for 2010 Census
Harris Corporation, the system integrator for the upcoming 2010 U.S. census, has selected Sprint as the exclusive wireless data provider to help automate the process and to provide wireline and wireless data support to collect the information in real-time. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Beginning in April 2009, approximately 140,000 field workers carried the Harris custom-built devices operating on the Sprint network, with the ability to transmit collected data back to the Census Bureau in near real-time. In addition to their unique data collection capabilities, all hand held devices were equipped with GPS capabilities (allowing workers to verify addresses remotely without relying on printed maps) and fingerprint ID scanning for added security.

In addition, Sprint is providing several other solutions for this program, including:

  • Approximately 500 Sprint Global MPLS sites across United States, allowing local Census offices to connect on a single IP-based network
  • Roughly 1,500 managed devices including routers, switches, firewalls and Intrusion Detection Service (IDS) for additional security
  • More than 150,000 active telemetry wireless devices that will allow workers to collect data remotely, resulting in more accurate reporting and substantially less use of paper
  • About 1,500 mobile broadband connection cards
  • Significant professional services and integration expertise such as on-site security management, dedicated program management, and data center hosting services from Sprint, providing the critical infrastructure “glue” for one of the most complex activities of 2010.

Full Transcript Of Stephen Robert Morse’s Conversation With Kenneth Prewitt

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last week, I, Stephen Robert Morse, had the opportunity to interview former Census Director/current Census Bureau consultant Kenneth Prewitt. The following piece is certainly long (5,000+ words), but I think that it will provide many answers for people who have questions about the 2010 Census. If you don’t have the stamina to read such a long piece, I urge you to read the shortened version of this interview on MotherJones.com. Enjoy the following:

6/23/09: Conversation with Kenneth Prewitt, former Director of the U.S. Census Bureau

Interview by Stephen Robert Morse

SRM: When did you arrive back at the Census Bureau?

KP: By arrive back, you mean in the consultant sense?

SRM: Yes.

KP: I have been sworn in, but I haven’t actually started work, so I wouldn’t say that I have arrived back yet. I haven’t done any work yet because I was hoping that the confirmation process [for Robert M. Groves] would play out. I’ve done very little, but I’m probably going to try to get started in the next week or so.

SRM: Do you have to wait for Robert M. Groves’s Senate confirmation before you begin?

KP: No, I don’t have to wait. I just felt like it made more sense to do whatever I could whatever I could with the leadership who will be in place for the duration of the decennial. But no, it’s partly my own schedule and getting free of my obligations here [in New York] and so forth.

SRM: If you’re not running the show right now and Robert Groves isn’t running the show right now, who is running the show at the Census Bureau in Washington?

KP: Well, they’ve got an Acting Director [Tom Mesenbourg] who is running the show, and even if I had been there I wouldn’t be running the show [He laughs!] They have a leadership structure. The Census Bureau is not unfamiliar with acting directors. If you look across any decade, you will find that about 15-20% of the time, it being run by an acting director. So it’s not an unusual structure.

SRM: That’s a good lead-in to another question. Do you think the Director of the Census Bureau should have a fixed term? If so, for how long?

KP: I very strongly think it should be a fixed term. It should be a presidential appointed, Senate confirmed, five-year term, starting in the year 07 or 02 (or 12 or 17), off-cycle of the decennial Census (which takes place in years ending in 0), renewable once without Senate confirmation. And were it to be renewed again, it would go back to the Senate, so it could be a ten-year term with one Senate confirmation. I feel very strongly that it should be a fixed term.

SRM: And do you think the Census Bureau should be an independent agency?

KP: I very strongly feel that it should be an independent agency. It’s a scientific organization. It’s like the National Science Foundation, like NIH, like the Archives Center. It has a statistical responsibility for society and it should be treated as a science institution and like NASA and I think it would be a much stronger institution if it were independent.

SRM: Do you think the Census Bureau has been damaged by partisan activity?

KP: It’s a complicated question because the partisan activity goes back to 1790. [laughs] The first presidential veto, by George Washington, was a veto of Alexander Hamilton’s formula for apportioning the House, and the one that Washington preferred was one that Thomas Jefferson produced, and that was one partisan issue. The apportionment formula that Jefferson produced gave an extra seat to Virginia. Everybody knew what that game was [laughs]. That was partisan. Look, partisan interest in the census is simply nothing new. Has there been damage over that period? Yes, on and off. For example, after the 1920 Census, the House of Representatives was not apportioned. It was simply not apportioned, for ten years. That was a partisan issue. It wasn’t the Census Bureau itself, but it was a Census Bureau product in which the apportionment numbers simply weren’t used.

SRM: How does partisanship affect the census today?

KP: I think the sampling fight, whatever it was, was deeply unfortunate. And it was a partisan fight. And I have written at great length and argued a great length that it shouldn’t have been partisan. The Census Bureau does not know how to be partisan. If it tried to design a census that had a partisan outcome, it wouldn’t know how to do it. How could you predict in three or four or five years before you are doing the decennial census, a design that would benefit this district instead of that district? If you’re trying to count everybody, you wouldn’t know how to torque it in a way. It’s all about a share basis. All apportionment numbers and redistricting numbers are on a share basis, which means that if you do something here, you’re adjusting the entire system, because it’s allocated on a fixed pie, on a share basis. So the actual assertion that the Census Bureau could behave in such a way as to tilt things one way or the other way in the partisan sense, is, on the face of it, a silly charge. It’s the same Census Bureau that’s considered to be incompetent by some people and then some of the same people are saying that this incompetent agency is so clever and so Machiavellian that it can design a census for partisan reasons. It just doesn’t compute. Now, did [accusations of partisanship] damage the census? Yes, it damaged the idea of sampling. As I quip, I like to tell the people I interact with who are against sampling, I say, “Next time you want to go to the doctor for a blood test, don’t say ‘I want you to take out a little bit,’ say ‘Take out all of it!’ How else will you know? Clearly there’s a fundamental sense in which the public and the leadership understand sampling. When you wake up in the morning and you want to find out whether it’s raining, you don’t look out every window of your house, you look out one window. There, you sampled. Etcetera, etcetera. So, the idea that we turned the word sampling into a dirty word and a partisan word is deeply, deeply damaging, not to the Census Bureau, but the idea of fiscal integrity, the idea of how do you have the best count possible. That’s not necessarily an argument for a particular methodology, dual system estimation. It’s a complicated, difficult methodology, and the Census Bureau has now worked on it, and understands that it hasn’t quite gotten it right yet, but the whole thought that this is about something called sampling, goes against a very particular technical methodology, which the U.S. Congress has not shown the patience to try to understand, is unfortunate. On the other hand, every other number we use to govern society, the CPI, all the lagging indicators, unemployment numbers, trade statistics, healthcare, how many people are uninsured, all of those numbers are based on samples.

SRM: After President Obama was elected, you were the frontrunner to become the next Director of the Census Bureau. Even the New York Times endorsed you for this position. Why did you withdraw your name from the running?

KP: By the way, I don’t know what the word “frontrunner” means in that sense. I am aware that my name was mentioned, but who knows who the frontrunner was or was not? I was aware that I was under consideration. At a certain point, I felt it more appropriate and more useful, because I had decided that I was not going to be able to relocate, I have heavy duties at Columbia University, and I wanted to continue those duties. In that sense, I wrote a note that said, “If you are considering me, please don’t.” But I wouldn’t say that I was a nominee who withdrew.

SRM: Why do you think Bob Groves’ confirmation [to become the next director of the U.S. Census Bureau] has been stalled?

KP: I wish I had a good answer to that question. I really do. I see that some people went through last week. I think maybe nineteen people, or some large number of people, went through last week. But why he wasn’t on that list, I don’t know. As I had quickly e-mailed to you, I had gone along on the assumption that  everybody was being held out because of the start of the hearings on Sotomayor. But if they are letting some people through but not Bob, I simply don’t have a good explanation for that.

SRM: Do you have any suspicions as to who stalled the nomination?

KP: No, I really don’t. I don’t walk the halls of Congress, where I could learn that. I think I would know if it were knowable, if somebody knew.

SRM: When do you think this will be resolved?

KP: How about six weeks ago? [Laughs] That’s when I thought it would be resolved. I just find it sad, on one level, because somebody doesn’t take the census serious enough to recognize that leadership matters. And leadership does matter. It’s June, for heaven sakes. It’s already too late to improve some things, but it’s going to get increasingly too late to improve anything. And the poor Census Bureau is going to get beaten up for something it didn’t have any say-so in. At the end of the day, nobody’s going to remember that you didn’t have a director [currently there is an acting director] for a year and a half, going on two years. But there was also a long period before Murdoch [Stephen Murdoch, Census Director during the last year of the Bush administration] was appointed and confirmed. That’s a slight exaggeration because the deputy census director had been basically eased out (forced into retirement)  and the then-census director Louis Kincannon had said that he would resign. However, he said that he would stay on until a replacement was in place, but once he decided to announce that he would resign, it obviously created a lame duck situation. So it was obviously very difficult for the Census Bureau to move during that period. And it took the Bush Administration a year to find Murdoch and then another six months to get him confirmed, so in that sense there was an 18 month period when you were expecting to have a director and you didn’t have one. Louis was still there for much of it. He’s a very first rate man and a very effective guy but he had already announced that he was leaving, so in terms of planning the decennial, there wasn’t a whole lot that Louis could be doing.

SRM: As we’re now talking about the Census Bureau in the early and mid 2000s, what happened to the 2010 Census? Where did things go wrong? What are your thoughts?

KP: Hermann Habermann, who Louis Kincannon appointed when he was became Director, was a very talented and important Deputy Director (of the Census Bureau). Hermann and Louis both had deep experience within the Census Bureau and both had gone on to do other kinds of things. Louis had gone on to OECD (?) and Hermann had gone on to the United Nations Fiscal Program, so they were real, major professionals and were running, I think, a very good operation. And this is now back in 02, 03, 04. Then there were some money problems, some serious money problems. Not money problems in terms of the Census Bureau’s budget, but it got held up, there were continued resolutions. It had nothing to do with the Census Bureau, they just got chewed up in the process, which meant that there was a period, and I don’t have that period in my mind, but a period in the mid-decade, when they couldn’t actually plan seriously for the decennial, because they didn’t know how much money they were going to have. They didn’t have the kind of money in that year, for example, to do the kind of planning they needed to do. They were really being squeezed financially. Then, after the ’06 election, Hermann was basically eased out by the Commerce Department.

SRM: What does that mean exactly?

KP: He was told that he would be reassigned from being deputy director of the Census Bureau to some other job in the Commerce Department, which was not one he wanted, so in that sense he wasn’t going to be what he thought he was, which was Deputy Director of the Census Bureau. So, that was when Louis Kincannon said “If I can’t have my own Deputy Director, then I myself will resign.” So that’s in ’06 and that was done by the [Bush] Administration for whatever its reasons were. I know what the public reasons were, but I don’t think they were the real reasons.

SRM: What were those reasons?

KP: The public reason was that there had been a laptop issue, and they blamed Hermann for that laptop issue. There were stolen laptops. Look, the proportion of stolen laptops at the Census Bureau that went missing were a tiny percentage of what some other agencies were experiencing. And Hermann was a very responsible civil servant, and when the word came out that he had to let us know what the laptop situation was under the law, blah, blah, blah, he answered forthrightly and quickly, so the Census Bureau took the hit, and for whatever reason they decided to blame him. Ok, now I’m getting all of this back in my mind. So Hermann then leaves and Jay Waite becomes Deputy Director, so essentially Jay Waite was running  the decennial census during that time. It was then in that period, then, this is in 06, after the mid-term, when they begin to run into troubles with the handhelds. As I said, Hermann was first-rate and he was managing the contracts. So, they didn’t really have anyone to be managing those contracts, and Jay Waite, who is a very talented man on some operations, he just wasn’t attuned to some of the issues that could come up with the handheld situation, so that one got out of hand.

SRM: So who’s fault was this? Who’s fault was this whole handheld computer debacle?

KP: The Department of Commerce. This is why I think it needs to be an independent agency. They weren’t paying attention to the Census Bureau during the intermediate years. That’s always true. That’s why it has to be independent. Look, who is to blame? That’s a Washington question. Structures are some times to blame, not people. I mean, you can create a structure which makes carrying out a certain task very difficult, not in order to carry that task out, in order to do something else, but the result is unintended consequences. The unintended consequence of getting Hermann Habermann out of the Deputy Director position in those years was not having anyone pay attention to the handheld debacle. The fact that Hermann Habermann was removed on not a very good charge contributed to the fact that nobody was paying attention to the contract, the Harris contract [the $600 million debacle to create handheld computers for the 2010 Census], at the level of detail he needed to be paying attention to for about a year.

SRM: There were reports by the Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, and they all said over and over again that the 2010 Census was a very high risk situation. It seems like even after these reports came out that there were opportunities to correct these errors, but nobody listened this advice. Again, who is to blame? Why did this happen? What is the root of these failures?

KP: Well, I don’t know. Whoever it was that doesn’t want Bob Groves…I’m not trying to find somebody to blame. I’m trying to say, what is the situation that leads to these kind of outcomes? All of this starts during the mid-term elections in 06. You had a quasi-leaderless situation in 06-07. Then, you get the handheld fiasco, whatever you want to call it. Then the Secretary of Commerce and the Commerce Department tries to put something together in an emergency situation. But then with Steve Murdoch in the Directorship position, but then there’s an election in 08. But because there’s not a term appointment [for the Census Director], Murdoch is clearly not going to go, so it’s now…

SRM: What are your thoughts on Murdoch and his leadership?

KP: Steve was in a difficult position, because if he had a five-year term, he could have run the Bureau differently than if you think you’re going to be there for a year. That’s why this fixed term really does matter. So the Census Bureau gets jerked around, starting in 06, first by the administration, and then by Congress not acting, and then on budgetary issues and so forth. And suddenly you’re walking up to 2010 and you’ve gone almost four years without a permanent, solid, leadership team in place to do the decennial, because the person who was doing it, Jay Waite, also leaves, and I won’t blame anybody, but he leaves. Murdoch leaves because he had to. Tom Mesenbourg [current acting director of the Census Bureau] who I have a great deal of respect for, a very talented man, becomes Acting Director, but he had never done a decennial, so he’s got to learn on the job. He’s doing a first-rate job of learning on the job, but he had never done a decennial. So you have an agency that no one is actually paying attention to until there’s a problem, and then there’s a lot of rushing around and looking for quote on quote, someone to blame. And now, we’re perpetuating it by letting Bob Groves sit around at his apartment in Washington instead of running the Census Bureau.

SRM: So Bob’s not even going into the office yet?

KP: He can’t. He technically can’t.

SRM: There was a Field Data Collection Automation Task Force, known as the FDCA Task Force, and they made another report to Carlos Gutierrez (Secretary of Commerce) in early 2008 with recommendations on how to improve the collection of field data. What has been done since early 2008, for over a year now?

KP: If that’s the task force I’m thinking of, then I was on it. Our only job was to advise Gutierrez on what to do regarding the handheld computers. And that was the task force that said “Keep them for address canvassing but don’t use them for non-response follow-up. So in that sense, it was acted upon.

SRM: Do you think that it’s surprising that here we are, in the year 2009, and we’re conducting the 2010 Census without using technology for all parts of the operation?

KP: Let me put it as follows. I think the Census Bureau has been a technical innovator, certainly since the start of the 20th Century. After all, it was the first agency to use the Hollerith Card, the old punch card which was married to an adding machine which became IBM. It invented sampling theory in the 1930s. It was the first federal agency to use a major mainframe in the 1950s. It was extremely adept in 2000 in doing intelligent character recognition and data capture using very, very high-tech processes. And I think you can say about 2010, that it was technically innovative in using the handhelds in address canvassing. Who’s to say that they had to use handhelds for non-response follow-up? So, they have been technologically innovative once again, with respect to GPS and address canvassing. I don’t know the results yet, but I hope we’ve come out of this with a much better address list than we had in 2000. We won’t know until we start in the field, but at least one has reason to think it is. So, I think it has been technologically innovative. The fact that you didn’t take the extra step for non-response follow-up doesn’t mean that it’s been technologically stagnant.

SRM: But do these handheld computer devices from the Harris Corporation even work properly? And were they designed properly?

KP: Well, that I’m not in the position to judge. They’re doing quality studies on that right now.

SRM: Do you think that Harris Corp. is a worthy company to receive these contracts?

KP: I need to see how well the devices work. Anybody who gives you an opinion on that is doing it before the data are in.

SRM: I don’t know if you’ve read on MyTwoCensus.com and other blogs, where people have complained about the functionality of these devices.

KP: When you payroll 140,000 people, it’s not hard to find people who are disgruntled. And I’m not saying they’re wrong. I actually talked to people who did the address canvassing work, people I know extremely well, people who had no reason whatsoever not to tell me what was going on, and they had some problems, but they are convinced that they ended the process by producing a much better address list then when they went into it. And that’s the test. Of course there’s always somebody saying “this didn’t work” or “that didn’t work.” But the test is, do we have a better address list? And that’s quality control judgment. I’m not trying to slam your website (MyTwoCensus.com) but you have to appreciate that you are getting a self-selected group of correspondents. But I’m not passing judgment on you, and you shouldn’t pass judgment on the technology until the data are in. What I’m saying is that I don’t think the people who are writing to bloggers are the people producing systematic data.

SRM: I understand that. So, what are the greatest obstacles that remain for the 2010 Census operation?

KP: The old ones. They haven’t changed. One, you’ve got to start with a good address list. If it’s a good one, good. If it’s not, then you can’t have a good census because that’s your frame. And when you send non-response follow-up people, there’s that. Secondly, you’ve got to hope for a decent mail-back  response rate, because the workload goes way up and the costs go way up if you don’t have a good mail back response rate. And we simply do not yet know what the response rate is because we haven’t done it yet. But if it’s not in the mid-60s, it’s going to be both budgetarily and operationally very difficult for the Census Bureau. And in 2000, we had expected to be in the low 60s, and we got into the mid to high 60s and that was an enormous boost, and we did it with a first-rate effort. And I think that the people running the advertising campaign right now and all of the outreach are very good professionals and I hope they are successful. But it’s up to the American people to do it. What can the Census Bureau do, other than put it in their mailboxes on schedule. And if they [the American people] don’t send it back in, they have to start knocking on the door. So there is the mail-back response rate and then there’s the willingness to cooperate in non-response follow up, and then there’s the startling problem of the enormous number of undocumented in the country, who will have every reason not to want to cooperate with the federal government.

SRM: What do you think about people like Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who last week, in an interview with The Washington Times, said that she refused to fill out the 2010 Census form?

KP: I think it’s seriously unfortunate when an elected official of the federal government says that I’m going to deliberately break the law. I don’t know what kind of signal she thinks that sends, but if she believes that’s a good signal, I’m sad for the country. She says, incorrectly, because she hasn’t read the law, that the only thing she needed to do is give the number of people who live in her household. If everyone in the country did that, you would have zero quality control. Zero, because you do quality  control not only on how many there are, but is the family structure the way you told it is, is the racial composition, is the gender composition? You do quality control on all those other variables, and it means that you’re eliminating the capacity of the Census Bureau to do quality control. I think that it’s deeply, deeply, unfortunate that a member of Congress would, in effect, announce that, and invite other people who feel that way to say, “Well I don’t have to do it either.”

SRM: Do you think this has become a partisan issue?

KP: I have no idea. You asked me what I thought. It’s my opinion of her behavior. I don’t know her motivation.

SRM: Do you think that radio hosts and other prominent people questioning whether people should participate in the 2010 Census would turn this into a partisan issue?

KP: Everything can turn into a partisan issue. Honestly, I can tell you what the consequences are, but in terms of motivation, when you don’t know the people, I don’t know if it’s a partisan or non-partisan issue. I think it’s unfortunate for what it will do to the 2010 Census.

SRM: I’m sure the Mother Jones readers would be very interested in me asking about President Obama’s announcement on Friday, June 19 that gay marriage would now be able to be counted in the 2010 Census. What exactly does that mean and how exactly would that be done?

KP: Here I’m fairly confident that they have not worked out the exact operational procedures yet, because this was not expected when they were designing the questionnaire and designing the procedures, they did not think this was how they would be tabulating it. There isn’t a good answer to your question yet, or at least I haven’t seen it. Look, any time you are doing something with 300 million people, it’s not easy to get it right in different locales, however the question is worded on this now. Relationships in the household are on the short form.

SRM: Will the government be printing new forms now?

KP: No, it’s impossible. You can’t start reprinting new forms now. This stuff is already being printed. It takes a very long time and a lot of forward planning to run something of this magnitude. The idea of reprinting would probably be impossible.

SRM: So how would gay households know that they count?

KP: Well, that’s something that I can’t answer because I haven’t seen anything yet. There will be some serious effort by Census Bureau personnel to  create an operational plan that will make it work. I think they will go about this very seriously to make sure there aren’t any errors in the data. They want to get it right. This is who they are and what they do.

SRM: I noticed that Steve Jost (political appointee and former Census Bureau communications director) is back at the Census Bureau, and he was one of your deputies during the Clinton administration. Are you bringing back many people who were formerly there during the a Clinton administration.

KP: Jost is probably the only one. Hundreds of people at the Census Bureau were there during the Clinton administration. The Census Bureau has about five thousand employees, and if they didn’t retire or die, then they were still there in 2000. In terms of political appointees, there’s only 4. The director, the communications director, Steve Jost, the legislative director, and I’m absolutely certain that the person I had as legislative director will not be coming back, and then there’s intergovernmental relations, who deals with governors and mayors, and I’m absolutely certain that person is not coming back. So I think Jost would be the only one.

SRM: What about you? What’s your actual title now?

KP: Consultant.

SRM: Is that a part-time job?

KP: Certainly it’s a part-time job. Good gosh, I’ve got a real job. I’m just a consultant for the Census Bureau.

SRM: Are you the only person that has that title or do other people also have that title?

KP: I bet they have two or three hundred consultants out there doing different kind of work right now. You shouldn’t quote me on that number, but I imagine there’s a very large number of people doing some version of consulting work. You’ve got to imagine how big this is. For example, you may have a consultant who tells you how to make sure the trucks which are delivering the census forms to the data capture centers got an extra driver on April 13th to make sure they arrive on time. OR if they’re going to fingerprint everybody, you may have a consultant who tells you how to count a fingerprint to make sure this all runs smoothly and so forth. It’s big. If you’re going to payroll a million people, you may have consultants to make sure the payroll system is functioning. So don’t make my role something special.

SRM: You are the only person whose role as a consultant has been reported, that’s why I was asking.

KP: Okay, fair enough. Don’t quote me on the number, but I would be very surprised to find out that the number is a very large number of consultants, on all kinds of technical issues and so forth.

SRM: I know it’s early, but what will people say when they look back on the 2010 Census?

KP: I hope they say they pulled off a miracle [laughs].

SRM: Will you need a miracle at this point?

KP: That’s a quip, but I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to do this census in the current environment. That has nothing to do with the Census Bureau’s skill set. It has to do with the American people’s not wanting to be bothered, not answering their mail, not having phone lines anymore because they got cell phones, and the Census Bureau wants to do follow-up on the phone, and they can’t find phone number because they’ve only got the landline number. It has to do with the number of mobile people who would have changed houses between the time you did the address listing and when you knocked on the door. Houses will get torn down and houses will be built. The whole foreclosure crisis is a major crisis because whole hunks of the country are empty when they should be functioning neighborhoods. There are just a host of problems. And then there are the ones we can’t predict. Who knows? Natural disasters, strikes, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. I know it’s going to be difficult, it’s always difficult to do a serious census. In this current economic and political and general cultural circumstances. Let me ask you a question. Let’s say there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. What percentage of those people do you think will mail a questionnaire back in?

SRM: 10?

KP: Whatever it is, it’ a low number. So let us say it’s 50%. That’s a 3% undercount before you start. Let us say it’s 25%, then you’ve got an even bigger undercount before you’ve even started.

SRM: So that’s what explains the need for the use of statistical sampling?

KP: That’s one of the reasons we were going to use it, but we can’t. So that just means that you’re doing a census knowing that you are going to miss a very significant proportion of the American population. And you’re obligated to count everyone, that’s just an uphill battle.

SRM: I really appreciate this conversation, and I definitely learned quite a bit. Thank you very much.

KP: It will only get more interesting.

SRM: I hope we can speak again soon. Thank you, goodbye.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Census Workers in Danger

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Harris Corp's technology

Throughout the ongoing “address canvassing” in preparation for the 2010 Census, the lives of the 140,000 field employees who took part in this operation were oftentimes put in jeopardy. In acts that are just as dangerous as using cell phones or writing text messages while driving, these workers were forced to look at the small screens of their handheld computers, commonly known as HHCs (the ones manufactured by Harris Corp. as part of the $600 million debacle that will likely be talked about for decades as one of the most pathetic partnerships of the U.S. Government with private industry) to find and mark addresses while driving. There is only one word to describe this situation: DANGEROUS.

Not only can driver distraction harm the employees, but it also has the potential to harm individuals, animals, and property in the vicinity of the distracted drivers. If the handheld computers had been built with a speaker that shouted directions (like any consumer GPS device), the employees would not be in this perilous situation.

It shocks the MyTwoCensus team that no individual from the Census Bureau or Harris Corp. ever considered the safety of the people who must operate these devices. Given that many 2010 Census employees are senior citizens, tasking them to drive while operating a computer is a recipe for disaster.

Update: The Census Bureau does its best to discourage employees from driving while using the HHCs, but these rules are not always followed in local offices throughout the country.

Note: Please e-mail MyTwoCensus @ MyTwoCensus.com if you are aware of any situations where car accidents or other unnecessarily dangerous situations have resulted from driver distraction due to the use of the Harris Corp’s handheld computers. MyTwoCensus has already heard reports of employees involved in fatal car accidents, and we are hoping to investigate whether the HHC played a role in these deaths.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 4)

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

On April 18, 2009, an under-reported yet monumental transaction took place between the Harris Corporation (the company responsible for creating the failing handheld computers used for 2010 Census operations) and Tyco Electronics (formerly part of the company with the same first name responsible for one of 2002′s most notorious financial scandals).

According to Data Week, “Tyco Electronics has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its wireless systems business to Harris Corporation for $675 million in cash, subject to final working capital adjustments. Tyco’s wireless systems business generated sales of $461 million in fiscal 2008. The transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals and is expected to close toward the end of 2009.”

MyTwoCensus is concerned because it is unclear at this point is whether 2010 Census data can be accessed by these companies. It is unknown whether meta-crawlers (excuse the Google jargon) have been installed in the handheld devices created by Harris that could potentially share private and proprietary data with these corporations.

Here’s the official description of Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems:

“Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems is a leading supplier of critical communications systems and equipment for public safety, utility, federal, transportation and select commercial markets. Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems products range from some of the most advanced IP-based voice and data networks to traditional wireless systems that offer customers the highest levels of reliability, interoperability, scalability and security. More information about Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems solutions can be found on the Web at www.tewireless.com.”

With IP technology in the hands of Tyco, is your personal data safe?

Given that Tyco Electronics is based in Bermuda, a tax haven known for its lack of regulation, this acquisition could surely spell significant amounts of more trouble for investors, the SEC, and the Commerce Department if Tyco’s assets turn out to be less than stellar.

On a sidenote, it is clear that from a financial perspective, Harris is not performing well for its shareholders. However, it’s interesting to note how long the Harris Corporation’s stock rose until its peak of more than $65 a share on March 30, 2008, long after other companies had already started losing significant amounts of money. But today, the company’s value has been cut in half.

MyTwoCensus urges financial and security experts to share their opinions with us.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 3)

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Here is a first-person account (written by a highly qualified Census Bureau employee who has requested anonymity) submitted to us about the Harris Corp’s handheld computers that have been used in the field by the Census Bureau’s address canvassers during the first stage of 2010 Census operations:

I’d say the biggest bug in the handhelds was due to the government trying to assure privacy. They had the handhelds set up to hide information from us after we entered it. So after declaring a street or an area “done,” the computer hid that information so we couldn’t go back to check, or to compare or verify our work. (So, we learned to avoid marking things “done” until we were absolutely sure we wouldn’t need to check back.)

The handhelds provided an advantage, in that they served to level the information-recording playing field amongst the canvassers. When the GPS was working (which was 99% of the time for me, the only time I had a bad signal was in a very wooded area), it made it quite easy to “map-spot” all the residences, and those spots will be used by USPS workers when delivering the census. Remember that in addition to the easy, obvious residences, there are plenty of residences that aren’t so evident. Cabins at the end of dirt roads, where people live there but have no mailboxes in favor of a PO Box. Trailers parked in driveways with separate families renting space. Rental apartments in the back-rooms of businesses or the basements of libraries. Our handhelds let us map all those places, and made it possible for everyone’s map-spotting to be equivalent. If we had been doing pencil-and-paper mapping, each canvasser’s information would have been different, because each would just be guessing where on the map each house was. Since we all had the same GPS technology, we’re guaranteed to be mapping residences at the same quality level. Also, by using the GPS/handheld technology, we probably cut our work time down by 3/4.

So I definitely think adding the handhelds was a good idea, it’s just too bad they implemented it poorly via a custom-contractor.