Some months ago, after I received credible reports that Census Bureau employees were staying at Ritz Carleton hotels while on official biz, I wanted to know the extent of such spending sprees. I filed a Freedom of Information Act request and waited many, many months to hear back about its status. Today, I was fed up. I e-mailed Grant Book, the (presumably young) Commerce Department lawyer whose job it is to keep telling me “wait longer or sue us for the information.” Now, I’m not in the business of lawsuits, so I choose to wait for the info. Today, Mr. Book told me that my “final response” was sent out on June 22. I am 100% certain that this response never reached my inbox, as I searched for it repeatedly. Either way, here’s what the response looks like. The outcome: Negative. The trend toward increased government transparency continues…not! (And I’ve never seen so many court cases cited in my life for denying a FOIA request) Here it is, in all its glory:
Posts Tagged ‘hotels’
The Omaha World-Herald has taken on an issue that I have written about extensively in recent weeks. How does the Census Bureau justify the costs of workers traveling large distances and putting them up at hotels while local workers get paid to sit idly or are terminated?
A waste in U.S. Census operation?
By Christopher Burbach
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
The U.S. Census Bureau has brought in more than 30 out-of-town workers to conduct door-to-door surveys in Omaha, even though some Omaha census employees say they don’t have enough to do.
The Census Bureau expects to spend $42,311 on hotel rooms and food for the workers, who are from Lincoln and other Nebraska locations, said Russ Frum, assistant regional census manager in Denver.
He said there are “about 38” such workers. The Census Bureau expects to pay for 315 hotel room nights. That would work out to about eight nights per employee. Most started June 4. They’re scheduled to leave Friday.
The workers, known as enumerators, are knocking on doors to collect census data at households that did not mail back a 2010 Census form. They’re trying to catch people at home to ask them the census questions in person, or on the telephone. It’s what the census calls “nonresponse follow-up.”
Frum and an Omaha census official, Jackie McCabe, said the expense is justified. They said data collection was behind schedule in some areas, especially northeast Omaha.
“We have brought experienced people in to finish an area that did not appear was going to be finished on time,” said McCabe, local census office manager for Douglas, Sarpy and Washington Counties.
The out-of-town workers are Nebraskans, she said. Local managers had tried to find Omaha crews to complete the surveys in the areas that were behind, she said. (more…)
Yesterday, MyTwoCensus.com reported that 2010 Census workers from Colorado have arrived in New York to assist with operations. Each of these employees is put up at a hotel and paid a per diem rate. (I’ve heard that Hilton Hotels are being used for this purpose — which isn’t surprising since Census Bureau officials are known to stay at Ritz Carleton Hotels while on government business).
Michael C. Cook of the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office wrote to me yesterday, “When we assess that a particular office is either not following procedures or has weak management we often make staffing changes, or even send in experienced managers to help improve operations and re-train the temporary staff.” So the Census Bureau is saying that nobody in New York, a city of 8 million people, is capable of handling these procedures? (Two sources have confirmed to me that one manager clerk from Washington DC is even being put up in New York’s Battery Park in a $4,500 per month apartment on your dime.)
The federal government outlines hotel and per diem rates for New York quite clearly. This means that in addition to their salaries as Census Bureau employees, each individual is spending up to $411 per day, not including flights or other expenditures, merely to eat and sleep in New York. This isn’t the first time this has occurred. During the address canvassing stage of 2010 Census operations, the Census Bureau sent in workers from North Carolina to assist with efforts in New York. Such wasteful incidents have also occurred with workers from Georgia being sent to Florida and workers from Texas being sent to Louisiana. With unemployment hovering around 10% and the Census Bureau’s admission that it had four times as many applicants as it did positions open, can this type of spending on transportation, hotels, and per diems be justified? Absolutely not.
The following comes from Statesman.com:
U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett has stepped into a dispute between Travis County officials and U.S. census leaders over how the area’s homeless population will be counted for the 2010 census.
For weeks, the groups have been sparring over the times, methods and manpower needed to tally the area’s estimated 4,000 people living in shelters, camps, cars and hotels. But that conflict escalated this week when a census employee called Doggett to say she had been fired for raising concerns about the safety and accuracy of the count.
On Friday, Doggett called U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves in Washington.
“Director Groves promised me he would investigate both the employee’s firing and review the best practices to accurately count the homeless,” Doggett said in a statement Friday.
Census officials across the country plan to count the homeless on three days: On Monday, workers will tally people in shelters. On Tuesday, they’ll count people at mobile food kitchens. And early Wednesday, they’ll head outside to camps and public places such as bridges and sidewalks.
It’s the Wednesday effort that has caused the most friction locally.
That count is planned for midnight to 7 a.m., a time local homeless advocates deem unsafe for census employees. Critics also say the census is not providing enough people or allowing enough time to ensure an accurate count.
“To count thousands of people over seven hours is unrealistic,” said Travis County Constable Bruce Elfant, a member of the Austin-Travis County Complete Count Committee. “This isn’t like going door to door.”
A faulty count would mean losing out on millions of dollars in federal money.
On Friday, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell sent a letter to a regional census official detailing their concerns about counting the homeless.
“Your own Census staffers estimate that the homeless population could be undercounted by as much as 40%,” the letter states. “This would mean 1,000 or more homeless residents would not be counted in Travis County, resulting in the loss of more than $15,000,000 to our community.”
Jeff Behler, deputy regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, said the late-night hours were determined “because, in the research that was done by our staff, it was determined that would be the best time in which that population would be the least transient.”
Local leaders proposed holding an additional daytime event Thursday at the Palmer Events Center with food, music and giveaways for those who came to fill out the census forms. Census leaders said no, Elfant said.
“There appears to be very little wiggle room for communities that want to try innovative things,” Elfant said. “It’s been frustrating.”
Homeless advocates also worry that census takers could get hurt wandering into the greenbelts and wooded areas that late at night. David Gomez, who works with the homeless for Austin Travis County Integral Care, said homeless people could be sleeping, drunk, high on drugs or otherwise impaired.
In a memo obtained by the American-Statesman, U.S. Census Bureau employee Lisa Bayliff agreed.
“There are camps that have barbed wire stretched about 3-4 inches from the ground to trip intruders from easy access,” she wrote. “There are camps that are known meth labs; they have signs posted around the perimeter to warn people to go away … The timing of the operation is flawed and is willingly placing all Census employees at peril.”
Census takers, who will be wearing reflective vests and carrying flashlights, have been told not to wake up sleeping people, Behler said. They will travel in groups, try not to startle people and clearly communicate their intent, Behler said.
Earlier this month, Bayliff took her concerns to the Austin congressman, Doggett spokeswoman Sarah Dohl said.
But this week, Bayliff contacted the office to say she had been fired for speaking to Doggett, Dohl said. That prompted Doggett to call Grove.
Bayliff declined to comment. Jenna Steormann Arnold, spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau in Central Texas, said she could not talk about specifics of the case.
“Yes, she no longer works for the Census Bureau, but since it is a personnel issue that deals with confidential information, we cannot discuss it,” she said.