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 ‘headquarters’

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

The Suitland Files: Inside The Census Bureau (Part 2)

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

I apologize for taking so long to post the second half of the series that I started nearly two weeks ago, but I’ve been traveling extensively and things were getting quite hectic. Without further ado, I present to you an inside look into my meeting with top communications/public relations/press officials at the Census Bureau’s HQ in Washington, DC:

After making idle chit-chat about Europe, climate change, and Dr. Groves’ travel habits (like any good reporter, I try to extract information wherever possible) for more than half an hour with two private security guards inside their security booth on the perimeter of the Census Bureau’s fenced off headquarters (they refused to let me sit on a bench outside even though it was a warm day…), I was greeted by Derick Moore (who Steve Jost authorizes to make the official Census Bureau comments on MyTwoCensus posts) and Eun Kim, a new Census Bureau PR official who until very recently was a DC reporter for Gannett (hmmm…I wonder why she jumped over to the dark side…).

After clearing a round of metal detectors, I made my way up the elevator with my two aforementioned handlers. I was led to a waiting room where I made some chit chat with Derick and Eun who each told me about their careers in private sector media. (I pray every day that the allure of a solid government salary with good benefits doesn’t one day catch up with me too…) Steve Jost, chowing down on a sandwich and french fries, returned and had us follow him into his office. We all sat down, with me at the head of the table. With white hair and a bit of scruff on his face, Jost wasn’t the devilish and egotistical Nazi I expected he might be, but rather a jovial guy who immediately poked fun at my comments about him on this site. I replied that I made those comments when I was thousands of miles away in the safety of my own home, and I had never expected to be sitting down with him in person. But I had no regrets. My job is to be a watchdog, and a vigilant watchdog I will be.

Last to arrive at our meeting was Stephen Buckner, the mouthpiece of the 2010 Census (spokesman) who had the boyish charm of a high school quarterback. I’m sure that fifteen years ago he easily cruised his way to a victory during elections for homecoming king.

Jost was the leader of this round-table, so between french fries he started firing off all of the positive accomplishments that he and his team have made, while clearly avoiding any of the shortcomings. Here’s a rundown of the most interesting things that he said:

1. High unemployment rates and homeowners losing their homes to foreclosure will cause problems with the 2010 Census.

2. The hardest group to count is “young, unattached people” who move frequently, only have cell phones, are between jobs or studies, etc. — NOT immigrants or minorities, as one might expect from all of the Census Bureau’s hard-to-count group advertising…(MyTwoCensus will investigate this further in the near future!)

3. The Census Bureau has created a series of ads using pop music…get ready to find these on your TV screens starting in early January.

4. The participation rate in the Census increased for the first time since 1970 in 2000, despite general trends that fewer and fewer people are involved in civic activities like voting, performing jury duty, etc. Hopefully they can once again reverse this trend in 2010.

5. 95% of media consumers will be reached multiple times by 2010 Census advertising campaigns.

6. 53% of 2010 Census advertising is local. 47% is national. (Note: MyTwoCensus has not heard back yet as to whether our proposal to let the Census Bureau advertise for the 2010 Census on this site was accepted…)

7. Spoiler Alert: Sesame Street will be featuring a 2010 Census storyline via The Count and Rosita characters.

8. 2010.Census.gov was redesigned.

9. Though 173 forms of social media have been integrated with Census Bureau awareness efforts, no I-Phone Application has been created for the 2010 Census.

10. The 2010 Census forms will be mailed to all households in America (hopefully) on March 17, 2010. (Let’s hope drunken St. Patty’s day revelers don’t interfere with the efforts of the U.S. Postal Service…)

11. When selecting advertisements for the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau asks the creative directors of 12 different advertising firms to submit proposals via a “creative rumble.”

12. Hopefully there won’t be a repeat of the 2000 Advance Letter Debacle in 2010…

13. There will be extra Census Bureau staff in New Orleans to personally hand deliver 2010 Census questionnaires to every household.

14. The address canvassing portion of the 2010 Census provided data that there are approximately 134 million individual housing units in the US, down from original estimates of 140 million.

15. Many addresses in places like Las Vegas where construction on homes was started but never finished have been deleted from the 2010 Census rolls.

16. Very, very, very few people hired to work for the Census Bureau as temporary workers have quit during the 2009-2010 cycle, as other jobs are extremely scarce.

17. On November 17 at 9:30am, Dr. Robert M. Groves will be holding his next monthly “State of the 2010 Census” address…

I was given some handouts (drawings of a 2010 Census logo on a NASCAR racecar that will be unveiled soon), portions of powerpoints (that showed me data about levels of Census participation), and had the opportunity to see one of the hip-hop music based commercials that was recently shot in LA and will soon be airing nationwide. It was a smooth operation, and my questions were answered well. Were the answers necessarily honest? No. But did the PR team effectively do their jobs to give give off the image of squeaky clean 2010 Census communications operations? Absolutely.

The Suitland Files: Inside The Census Bureau (Part 1)

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

This post is dedicated to the memory Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. The other night, I caught Alex Gibney’s biographical documentary Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson, and I was once again reminded how exciting political journalism can be, especially when it’s written in the first person. So, here is the first of two installments detailing my trip to the U.S. Census Bureau Headquarters in Suitland, Maryland, written in a style that I hope would make Dr. Thompson smile:

President Obama must have sensed that I had a whole lot of questions for him, because just as soon as I arrived for my tour of the White House, Marine One arrived to whisk him off to Andrews Air Force Base for a trip to Boston. Nonetheless, after five months in other parts of the world, it was good to be back in the District, which was just as vibrant as when I left it in May.

After a post-White House pit stop at Potbelly Sandwich Works, I jumped on the red line at Metro Center for a minute before changing at Chinatown to the green line that would coast me all the way out to Suitland, Maryland, home of the U.S. Census Bureau’s  HQ. It’s a long and lonely ride out to Suitland, as it’s just about as far as the Metro can take you from any of DC’s attractions. Once the Metro stopped at Anacostia I couldn’t help but be wary, knowing that I was in the highest-crime district in an already high-crime city.

When I exited the Metro at Suitland, I noticed that my fellow riders (no less than three individuals walking with painful limps, a pair of girls who looked to be no more than seventeen –each with a baby in their arms, and a blind man who lacked a cane and got from point A to point B by only by sticking his hands out to guide him –which seems to be a death wish in the vicinity of active train tracks) all seemed depressed. And watching them made me depressed, so I scrambled onward. I walked through an endless parking garage, the whole time during which I was convinced that Deep Throat would sneak up on me from behind. When I finally made my way to its entrance, there she stood, looking completely out of place, like a princess at a soup kitchen, the glass-paneled behemoth that was completed in 2006 and holds unquantifiable amounts of data. When Census employees click their heels together three times and say “There’s no place like home,” this is where they land.

I’d been told to arrive early for my meeting, because after all, I was meeting with some very high-level bureaucrats, and they had, you know, things to do. But I still had forty minutes, which was too early, so I figured I’d take a lap around the building to kill some time. Just as I walked to the edge of the building’s iron-gated perimeter, I peered through the main entrance and saw a familiar face, or should I say a familiar pair of spectacles and a familiar gray mustache. “No way, it can’t be,” I thought to myself. But it was. I knew it in an instant. My heart started to pound. I could feel the sweat dripping down my neck. I wanted to loosen my tie but I suddenly was no longer in control of my hands, which were now involuntarily shaking. Of the thousands upon thousands of employees of the U.S. Census Bureau who are based at headquarters in Suitland, here I was, standing beside the top dog, the king of the castle, the questionnaire czar, the big kahuna, el estadistico grande, the Don Juan of Censusland…it was none other than Dr. Robert M. Groves himself.

Still in a trance, I strode right past the security guards (who were obviously doing a great job keeping the place safe and secure) and shouted “Dr. Groves!” with the enthusiasm of a kid who was about to get his baseball signed by Babe Ruth. (I mean, Census bloggers need heroes too.) Groves stopped dead in his tracks and stared me down. He had the look of a man who’d just been caught by TMZ with his pants down, but it was really just the inquisitive ambivalence of responding to someone who shouts your name as if you’re old friends when in reality you’re hardly even acquaintances.

Surely he didn’t recognize me, as I was sporting a mustache and glasses myself, two accessories I lacked during our only other encounter, which was at his confirmation hearing back in May (The ‘stache and specs were just a coincidence, not an elaborate homage, I swear!). During my first brush with Census royalty, Groves, all but assured of his Senate confirmation said to me, “You should come by Suitland some time soon and I’ll give you a personal tour.” I told him right then and there that I would take him up on his offer and hold him to his word.

As i was still crippled with fear and verbally paralyzed, Groves said to me, “Ah, I wanted to come to your meeting, but I was called to go somewhere at the last second.” You would think that I would be utterly dejected by this, but this wasn’t the case at all, as I had no idea that Dr. Groves was even considering a meeting with me, so this was much more than I’d bargained for. Still overjoyed, all I could think was,  ”Damnit, why didn’t I bring my camera?”

Not knowing what to do as the power of speech suddenly returned to my body, I asked him for his business card. He fumbled around his wallet for a few seconds and told me he was out. Ostensibly he doesn’t want to be on my speed dial, so he played it safe with a solid excuse. That, I can totally understand. (I wouldn’t want me on speed dial either.) Clearly in a rush (his driver was waiting for him), Groves parted with me by saying, “You’re doing a good job.” As I blurted out a terse “thank you, ” he was already on his way.

Still in a relative daze, I only floated back to the real world only when I felt the heavy hand of a security guard on my shoulder. Even if the rest of my Census Bureau HQ experience went to shit, at least I had the approval of the one person who mattered most in Suitland’s Glassy-Glowing-God-like Monolith.

Mr. Morse Goes To Washington

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Hi All,

Just wanted to let you know that I will be arriving in Washington within 20 minutes. Tomorrow afternoon, I will be meeting with Steve Jost, Stephen Buckner, and other Census Bureau officials. I’m not sure what we will discuss or if this meeting is on or off the record. But if you have any pressing questions that I should pass along, please submit them as comments to this post.

Best,
Stephen Robert Morse

Fedex-gate pt. 3: FedEx substitues for MS Word

Thursday, June 11th, 2009
Guide for Document Reviewers 5-14-09.pdf (page 1 of 2)MyTwoCensus obtained an internal memo from the Census Bureau that directs employees to use FedEx every time they want to make a change to a document

Hmmm, in most worlds using Microsoft Word’s “track changes” feature would suffice, but apparently not at the Census Bureau’s Suitland, Maryland headquarters.