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 ‘HHC’

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.

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

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Get the $800 million back from Harris Corp.

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Taxpayers and government officials alike are either unaware of ignorant of one major debacle: The failure of the Harris Corp. to get their job done in creating and implementing functional mobile technology for the Census Bureau. Though this contract, signed in 2006, was originally valued at $600 million, it swelled to $800 million. (Reward insufficient and terrible work with more money…sounds like a solid government plan!!!)

If taxpayers have ever been swindled, this is the company that did it. (Harris Corp. was supposed to save the government $1 billion by implementing technology successfully, but in reality cost taxpayers $800 million for nothing!!! )  Unfortunately, higher-ups at the Census Bureau, initially during the Bush Administration, and currently during the Obama Administration, have done very little to recoup these losses. Legal action should be taken against this company for not performing the services that it was assigned to do. A large portion of this money should be returned to the United States Treasury — or at the very least, used to pay individuals working on the NRFU operations that will have to use a pen and pencil rather than a handheld computer.

In the year 2010, this is nothing short of pathetic. The government’s decision to choose the Harris Corporation for this contract was ludicrous. It’s decision to keep fueling the fires with $200 million of additional cash is shady at best.

MyTwoCensus intends to A. File an FOIA request to find out as much information about this contract as possible and B. Bring down Harris Corp. so they are forced to give this taxpayer money back.

MyTwoCensus urges Congress to pass legislation that prevents this company from obtaining more government contracts until the money for the 2010 Census contract is returned. Immediate government divestment from a corporation that robbed taxpayers is the only way to send the right message.

Additionally, MyTwoCensus calls on the government to immediately terminate  the Census Bureau’s 5-year contract with the Harris Corporation, as it is currently in its 5th year, and that means that there is still a chance to withhold 20% of the cash, or roughly $160 million.

On a more cheeky note, if Tea Party activists want to think of a site to hold their next protest, the Melbourne, Florida headquarters of this sleezy corporation would be one of the best and most symbolic places to do it!

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 Field…Yet Another Worker Sounds Off

Friday, October 30th, 2009

Here is yet another anonymous Census Bureau employee who wishes to tell his tale (the following does not reflect the opinions of MyTwoCensus or Stephen Robert Morse)…

I was a QC Enumerator for the address validation phase in San Marcos/Escondido CA area.  I used the HHC and was relatively pleased with the results.  One of the things that did trouble me was the absolute accuracy demanded when map-spotting.  For instance, we were practically forbidden to map-spot a mobile home at its mailbox or driveway, but had to go to the front door first, even though most of the front doors were under metal awnings which blocked the satellite. When the front door failed we had to back away until we were at the mailbox or driveway before you picked up the YAH (You-are-here) indicator.  This took about two minutes each time where it should have taken five seconds.  Even separate houses where we could walk down a sidewalk and mark a house in a second, we had to disturb the resident by going to the front door, knock or ring a doorbell, get the dogs barking and wake the child, give them a Confidentiality Notice just tell them to ignore us.  This usually occurred about a week after the original address canvasser had also done it.  This was supposed to instill confidence in Census?

After all that, the first thing they told us when we began the GQV training was that we weren’t going to use the HHC’s.  I immediately thought what a waste of time all that map-spotting was, but the second thing we were told is that we now had to do map-spotting manually! What the hell for?  It would seem to me that a map-spot coordinate is useful to follow a GPS device, but is of limited use to try and follow manually.  But, the government has made expensive computer generated maps that have thousands of map-spots on them.  I thought it would even be more foolish to spend hours trying to place by hand a guessed, at best, pencil map spot on an already crowded map.  I was right, but we spent four hours learning how to do it.  I can’t imagine the expense the Bureau spent on generating progressively detailed map-spotted maps and will now spend to update them with manually estimated map-spots.

I guess my biggest complaint is the seemingly “one size fits all” that creeps into and detracts from all government endeavors.  The training for both phases was excruciatingly boring and rote!  It could have been done in half the time if the trainees weren’t treated like fourth graders and the instructors weren’t forced to read every word from a book. We were told at the beginning of GQV that we would not be doing military or penal quarters, but spent over four hours on how to do it because it was in the “book” and the “book” couldn’t be deviated from. I live in and would canvas southern California yet was subject to long discussions on “black ice” safety and how to approach/avoid “moose” especially during their rutting season!

The questionnaire is a disaster!!  It is a 44 page, die-cut monstrosity that attempts to cover ever scenario that a lister would ever encounter.  The lister must start at its beginning and read it verbatim to whomever they are interviewing.  This requirement became an embarrassing block to a successful interview.  Before we could do solo interviews we had to be observed and “certified” by our crew leader.  For three days, I and my crew leader unsuccessfully tried to complete one interview and each time I was forced to read qualifying questions such as “Is this a drug abuse treatment center?” or “Is this a correctional facility?” I would be stopped by an angry owner and asked to leave.  It was so unbelievable that I finally resigned.  In a total of three days, I logged two hours of billable time, but was expected to standby the phone and wait for the crew leader to call to schedule another certification try.  The last I heard, three of the original class of fourteen were certified and everybody else has left.

The final direction that stuck with me was the homelessness directive. We were told to submit an info form every time we saw an apparent homeless person even if we saw the same person everyday.  When asked why, we were told that homeless people tend to stay in the same area and the census takers would know where to go during the actual Census 2010 (Six months later!).  With logic like that, I look forward to the results!

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.

MyTwoCensus Investigation and Editorial: Census Bureau Employee Murdered!

Friday, September 25th, 2009

As was reported here and across the news media yesterday by the Associated Press, Bill Sparkman, a Census Bureau field worker in Kentucky, was murdered on September 12 with the word “fed” scrawled into his chest. Unfortunately, the MyTwoCensus team can’t be in rural Kentucky at this time to investigate this matter on the ground, but that doesn’t mean that we are not using all available resources to determine what happened.

10 Questions that MyTwoCensus Hopes To Answer ASAP

10. If Bill Sparkman’s body was found on September 12, why did it take 11 days for this story to come to the media’s attention?

9. Why was it the Associated Press that broke the story rather than local news sources? (Did the police and FBI fail to report this incident to the press?)

8. Why was Bill Sparkman working alone?

7. If the Harris Corp. Handheld Computers (HHCs) functioned properly, is there a GPS record of his last known wherabouts? (Is it possible to mine data from Bill Sparkman’s handheld computer and the Census Bureau’s data network to determine Mr. Sparkman’s duties on the day he was murdered?)

6. Noting that this incident took place in a rural area, would such an incident have occurred if Sprint, the network that the Census Bureau contracted to handle telecommunications, functioned properly in rural areas, allowing Bill Sparkman to call for help when he was in trouble?

5. How did Sparkman’s body make its way to the forest? If his vehicle was nearby at the time of his death, why couldn’t he escape?

4. Where were Mr. Sparkman’s supervisors when he didn’t complete his tasks on time?

3. Did the Kentucky State Police and FBI fail to properly investigate this incident?

2. Is there a violent movement brewing in America against Census Bureau employees or was this an isolated incident? (Were any threats made against Census Bureau employees prior to this incident? If so, were ALL EMPLOYEES warned of possible dangers?)

1. Who committed this horrific act?

Today, the Louisville Courier-Journal provided some updates on the story that could be of interest:

Police said the area has a history of drug trouble, including methamphetamine trafficking and marijuana growing in its forested valleys between steep hills and ridges.

“That part of the county, it has its ups and downs. We’ll get a lot of complaints of drug activity,” said Manchester Police Chief Jeff Culver.

He added that officers last month rounded up 40 drug suspects, mostly dealers, and made several more arrests in subsequent days.

Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, said Clay County is impoverished and has a “pretty wild history of a black market economy, a drug economy.”

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.

From the Pasadena Weekly: Incompetence by the numbers

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Incompetence by the numbers

A worker finds out the hard way that helping with the US Census isn’t what it used to be

By David Czamanske 05/21/2009

In April 1999 I worked for the US Census Bureau as an address verifier, ensuring that residential addresses were correct for census forms to be mailed on April 1, 2000, for the decennial census. The work was fulltime for approximately nine weeks, until early June.
I enjoyed it. An active retired person who likes walking and has an educational background that includes urban geography, I liked venturing into new neighborhoods. Plus, I felt I was making a small contribution to the census required by the Constitution for determining the number of members each state is entitled to in the House of Representatives.

In early 2009, I took and passed the exam that qualified me to work again in this capacity, and in mid-March I was contacted to begin training as an enumerator. Along with 12 others, I attended a basic one-week training class in early April. Most of the first morning was taken up with filling out required forms — there must have been a dozen — each requiring us to provide our name, date and signature. I wondered why the forms had not been consolidated and why we were generating so much paper in this era of computerized data collection.

In the week-long training, we learned how to use the Census Bureau’s new Hand-Held Computer (called our HHC), one of them issued to each of us to help verify the addresses of residents in single-family and multifamily dwellings.

The HHC, which included a Global Positioning System enabling us to “Map Spot” each residence, was accompanied by a needlessly elaborate handbook that contained multiple errors (the list of errors, in small type, accompanying the handbook went on for four pages). I couldn’t help but ask myself: Why was the basic handbook for 140,000 enumerators hired nationally not proofread carefully before 140,000 copies were printed?

The paid training lasted longer than I felt necessary, but did include a day of field work. During the training our crew leader told us that the Census Bureau had set June 5 as the target date for completing all address verification, with June 12 as the absolute deadline. We all looked forward to nine, perhaps 10 weeks of employment.

But toward the end of the second week, our crew leader told us that the regional census office was running out of assignment areas and that our work was just about over. By April 20, all the work was done in our district.

What had gone so grossly wrong in the estimate of time required for the work? Could it have been an error in basic arithmetic? According to national news reports, 140,000 enumerators were hired to verify the addresses of the nation’s 145 million households.
That’s an average of just over 1,000 addresses per enumerator. We were told that enumerators had processed an average of 19.2 addresses per hour in test runs, or almost 800 addresses in a 40-hour week.

In fact, I was often able to accurately verify 30 or more addresses in an hour. In two weeks of full-time work, I estimate that I processed more than 2,000 addresses.

Whatever the reason for the incorrect time estimate, my co-workers and I were extremely disappointed that the Census Bureau had more or less promised nine weeks of employment and then left most of us hanging out to dry after two weeks.

Moreover, we were paid for one week of training and then worked a little more than two weeks, so 30 percent of our pay was invested in training. Additional workers were trained in the week after our training, and they worked for just one week — so almost 50 percent of their pay was invested in training!

Despite my disappointment, I hope to work next year as an interviewer — as I did in 2000 — for the 2010 Census. After all, we do need to know how many members of Congress the state of California is entitled. I just have to hope that’s one calculation they get right. n

David Czamanske can be reached at dczamanske@hotmail.com.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 2)

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Even in the post-Jack Abramoff era, when the government issues a contract, there is surely party-politics and patronage at play. In the case of the Census Bureau’s $800 million contract to develop handheld computer technology suitable for counting each and every person living in America, Harris Corp. won the contract. The Melbourne, Florida based company lies within the Congressional district of GOP Rep. Bill Posey, an eight-year veteran of the House of Representatives who has a long record of taking money from Harris Corp. employees, including $2,300 in May, 2008 (the maximum contribution permitted by law) from Harris Corp.’s CEO Howard L. Lance — as well as a matching $2,300 contribution from Lance’s wife, Christine.

These contributions are a small price to pay for the significant amount of pork delivered by Posey to his Harris Corp. constituents back in the Sunshine State.

Among the list of Harris Corp.’s other senior executives who made large contributions to Posey’s re-election bids is Peter Challan, who left the FAA after 36-years to chum it up with his pals in Washington on behalf of  Harris Corp. as the VP of their Government Affairs division.

At this juncture, MyTwoCensus is just scratching the surface on the many potential problems and conflicts of interest that are behind this failed $800 million contract between the Census Bureau and Harris Corp. We have already requested information from the government via the Freedom of Information Act. If you have inside information about any Harris Corp. transactions, we urge you to contact us immediately.

Notes on a Scandal Part 1: The Curious Case of Antonio Sanchez…

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Earlier this week, we received a tip from an anonymous Census Bureau employee in Westchester, New York. The employee informed us that on May 1 at 8:59am, he/she and dozens of his/her fellow field workers received a text message sent to their HHCs (handheld computers) that started with the line, “Please remember to drive safely…” and ended on “with great sadness we regret to inform you that two enumerators have been killed in fatal car accidents.”

Now, this text message is problematic on many levels. First, after searching through thousands of news articles, we have been unable to uncover any information about Census Bureau employees perishing in recent accidents. When we inquired with the Census Bureau, they also said that they were unaware of any accidents. If there were accidents, why haven’t they been reported? And if there have not been accidents, why are Census Bureau employees using scare tactics and lying to field workers?

MyTwoCensus successfully contacted the person who sent out the text message in question,  Antonio Sanchez, who serves as an Assistant Manager of Technology in the Westchester County  office of the Census Bureau.  However, since Census Bureau employees are not permitted to speak to the media (can you say “violation of the first amendment?”) Sanchez told us that he couldn’t discuss anything and that we should call Washington if we had any questions…

So that’s just what we did, and we’re waiting to hear back from Census Bureau HQ Washington on this issue…

Presumably, as a technology expert, Sanchez was directed by a superior to send out this message, so we don’t blame him for disseminating the information. However, until we get to the bottom of this most peculiar and disturbing incident, our investigation is still wide open.