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 ‘Inspector General’

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.

Recommendations from the Inspector General’s Office

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, we posted the Inspector General’s Quarterly Report to Congress on the 2010 Census. Here are some updated recommendations from Todd Zinser, the Inspector General of the Commerce Department, in a memo to Census Director Robert M. Groves:

Recommendations:

Given the challenges involving PBOCS and the lack of time remaining in the schedule, Census should realign PBOCS development and testing, placing greater emphasis on minimizing the impact of the system’ s limitations during operations. We recommend that you ensure that the following actions are taken:

• senior executives with the authority to set priorities – s u c h as reallocating resources to where they are most needed, resolving conflicting priorities, and making major changes to the decennial schedule or plan – - closely monitor PBOCS activities and act to expeditiously reduce operational risk;

• streamline development and testing by further reducing PBOCS capabilities to the essentials needed for the most important enumeration operations;

• focus on developing standardized procedural workarounds for PBOCS capabilities that cannot be implemented to support operations; and

• enhance technical support staff and procedures to expeditiously resolve problems in the field.

To improve cost containment efforts for future operations, we also recommend that you ensure that Census Bureau management develops effective internal controls over wage, travel, and training costs and scrupulously follows these controls.


Census News Round-Up: Call Center Hiring, Census Forms Being Distributed, Groves Testifies In Washington About 2010 Census Jobs, New York Undercount?

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

1. From the Atanta Journal-Constitution: Ryla is hiring 1,400 people in Georgia to work at call centers from April-August, presumably for the Census Bureau’s non-response follow-up operations.

2. From the Terry Haute, Indiana Tribune Star: 2010 Census materials are already being distributed in hard-to-count areas of Indiana.

3. From Ed O’Keefe at The Washington Post:

A majority of the roughly 1.2 million temporary jobs created by the U.S. Census Bureau this year will be created in the late spring, agency Director Robert Groves said Tuesday.

Groves told a Senate subcommittee that 600,000 to 700,000 census takers will be hired from May through early July to visit individual households that fail to return census forms. Some workers currently employed in temporary positions are expected to reapply for new positions and get hired, he said.

“We over-recruited, clearly underestimating the labor market,” Groves said, acknowledging that the nation’s employment situation provided the Census Bureau with a wealth of eager applicants who, according to an agency statement, showed up for training at a much higher rate than they did during the 2000 Census.

4. The venerable New York Times reports that, “The city and the Census Bureau hope to avoid a repeat of the 1990 census, when the city challenged the count and the bureau acknowledged that it missed more than 240,000 New Yorkers.”

Highlights of the Inspector General’s Latest Report…

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Here are what we think are some of the most important findings of the Inspector General’s recent report:

- The 2010 Census is currently estimated to cost approximately $14.7 billion, reflecting an increase of $3.2 billion over the last 2 years. For this fiscal year, spending on the 2010 Census will total $7.4 billion.

- The ELCOs’ (Early Local Census Offices) production wage costs were 45–186 percent of their budgets and for production mileage they were less than one percent to 250 percent of their budgets. For the quality control phase of the operation, ELCOs’ wage costs were 68–439 percent of their budgets and for mileage were less than one percent to 878 percent of their budgets.

- During the period between January and July 2009, which encompassed the Address Canvassing operation, some employees claimed nearly 3.9 million miles driven at the higher rate, resulting in excess payments of approximately $136,000.

- 604 employees spent the majority of their time driving instead of conducting field work, and of those, 23 employees spent 100 percent or more
of their time driving.

- 15,263 employees received training but worked for less than a single day or did not work at all. Of these employees, 10,235 did not work at all but earned approximately $3.4 million for attending training. An additional 5,028 employees completed training, at a cost of $2.2 million in wages, but worked for less than a single day.

Digest all of that for a while and there will be more to come…

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Heads Should Fly…NOW!!!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

UPDATE: The Inspector General’s report is available HERE.

Though we are yet to obtain a hard copy of the Inspector General’s report that will be released within the next two hours that details how the Census Bureau went massively over budget during the address canvassing phase of the decennial census, we believe that Census Bureau employees should be held accountable. Without making false accusations,  here is a list of names of people who, according to the positions they hold at the Census Bureau , should be held accountable and punishedmeaning demoted or fired – for this waste (in order of culpability from worst offenders to more moderate offenders…):

1. ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR DECENNIAL CENSUS – ARNOLD A. JACKSON

2. ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR ACS AND DECENNIAL CENSUS – DANIEL H. WEINBERG

3. COMPTROLLER -  ANDREW H. MOXAM

4. ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR FIELD OPERATIONS – MARILIA A. MATOS

5.  HUMAN RESOURCES CHIEF -  TYRA DENT SMITH

6. TECHNOLOGIES MANAGEMENT OFFICE CHIEF – BARBARA M. LOPRESTI

7. FIELD CHIEF – BRIAN MONAGHAN

And while these deputies and senior Census Bureau employees are responsible for their actions, they answer directly to three men: Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves, Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer Thomas Mesenbourg, and Associate Director For Communications Steve Jost, who are in that order, the three top dogs so to speak at the Census Bureau. Perhaps the man who is most to blame for the widespread failures is Mr. Mesenbourg, who served as Acting Director of the Census Bureau for more than a year before Dr. Groves was installed in office. Mesenbourg continues to oversee an agency filled with miserable and inexcusable performance results, yet he has done little to enact change. Nonetheless, neither Dr. Groves nor Steve Jost should be let slide for these actions. While both of them consistently discuss looking toward the future, they can’t seem to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess that was present at the Census Bureau when they arrived. To play on Shakespeare’s words, “There’s Something Rotten In Suitland!”

Senate Hearing: Countdown to Census Day

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

NOTE: THIS MEETING IS NOW POSTPONED DUE TO WEATHER!

FOR RELEASE: Feb. 10, 2010

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

HEARING: “Countdown to Census Day: Progress Report on the Census Bureau’s Preparedness for the Enumeration”

WASHINGTON (Feb. 10, 2010) – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, will hold a hearing TOMORROW, Thursday, Feb. 11, at 2:30 p.m. titled “Countdown to Census Day: Progress Report on the Census Bureau’s Preparedness for the Enumeration.”

With less than two months until Census Day 2010, Dr. Robert Groves and other officials will give the committee a progress report.

WHAT:

“Countdown to Census Day: Progress Report on the Census Bureau’s Preparedness for the Enumeration”

WHEN:

Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 at 2:30 p.m.

WHERE:

342 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Also scheduled to live broadcast at http://hsgac.senate.gov.

WITNESSES:

- The Honorable Robert M. Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce

- The Honorable Todd J. Zinser, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Commerce

- Robert N. Goldenkoff, Director, Strategic Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office

###

Interview with Robert Goldenkoff of the Government Accountability Office

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

On Friday, October 9, 2009 I interviewed Robert Goldenkoff, who has worked for more than 20 years at the Government Accountability Office and currently serves as the GAO’s Director of Strategic Issues. One of his many areas of focus is the 2010 Census, which the GAO defined as a high risk operation in a March 2008 report. On Thursday October 8, Mr. Goldenkoff faced questions at a Senate hearing investigating the 2010 Census. In the following interview he discusses the recent fingerprinting problems that he shared with Congress and many other long-term issues with the decennial census.

SRM: What led to the discovery that there could have been criminals hired by the Census Bureau?

RG: We’re looking at all aspects of the Census Bureau’s readiness for the 2010 Census. The decennial census is so huge that we’re focusing a lot of our work on areas where the Census Bureau doesn’t have a lot of experience, where they haven’t done that particular operation before. One of those areas is fingerprinting. In the past, at least for the 2000 Census, they relied only on a name background check. That was why we included fingerprinting as part of our review, because it was a new operation. They’ve been doing the census pretty much the same way  – obviously technology changes – but, the fundamental approach to the 2010 Census is very similar to say the 1970 Census. So if there’s going to be an issue, it’s more likely in something that they’ve never done before.

SRM: Why is your office investigating this rather than the Commerce Department Inspector General’s office? Or were you working together on this?

RG: We are two independent agencies, two different reporting authorities. We do work together, collaborate and coordinate our work just so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Sometimes we work in the same areas and other times we work in different areas, depending on facts and circumstances.

SRM: Where did you get the figure that you reported to Congress that 200 criminals could have been hired by the 2010 Census? And can you clarify what “could have been hired” means?

RG: It’s strictly based on the percentages. There were 162,000 people in total hired for address canvassing. 1,800 passed the name background check but their fingerprints revealed that they had criminal records. Of those, 750 were disqualified for census employment, because their criminal records were such that they were ineligible for census employment. All we did was project those same ratios for the 35,700 people who went through the name background check but whose fingerprints could not be read. So it’s strictly a projection. It’s unfortunate that the reporting of this was not always accurate or perhaps sensationalized it. We’re not saying that 200 criminals did work on the census, but we’re saying that based on that projection it’s possible.

SRM: During the summer, I was contacted by a man named David Allburn who runs a company called National Fingerprints, LLC, which can be found at NationalFingerprints.com. His firm placed a bid with the Census Bureau to receive a contract to handle the fingerprinting of employees, because right now prospective employees are fingerprinted by other Census Bureau employees who are not well trained in fingerprinting. David informed me that someone who is an experienced criminal would know that it’s very simple to smudge your fingerprints and make them unreadable by simply pressing your hand too hard on the paper when your fingers are being rolled in the ink. The Census Bureau chose not to use David’s company but rather to conduct the operation on their own without outside help. Of course part of the reason David called me originally because he was upset that his company wasn’t chosen for the contract, but he was also concerned that the 2010 Census operations would be infiltrated by criminals. At first I figured David could be overexaggerating this scenario, but now I know that he was absolutely right. So I’m wondering, do you have any idea why David’s method was rejected?

RG: No idea.

SRM: I’ve also heard from many sources that after people have been hired by the Census Bureau and started to work, their criminal background check reports came in later, and only then, after they already had access to a significant amount of data, were they fired. Why did this happen?

RG: I don’t know. Our point to all of this was not to scare people or anything like that. Our point was to make it clear to the Bureau that they need to have a better policy, or at least have a better policy for those people whose fingerprints can’t be read. With so many people working on the census, even if only a small percentage of fingerprints are flawed, you’re still talking about a substantial number of people.

SRM: Has the Census Bureau done anything to try to fix this flawed system?

RG: It is important to point out though that the Bureau has acknowledged that they have a problem with this and they are taking steps, improving training for example, to improve how the fingerprints are actually captured. Moisture is an issue with the quality of prints. The remaining issue is what to do about people whose fingerprints can’t be read.

SRM: I’m also wondering, can social security numbers be used as an element of background checks? Having sat for the employment exams for the 2010 Census, I know that it is mandatory to provide your social security number at that early stage.

RG: That already might be used, but I’m not sure. But people can change their social security numbers or use fraudulent social security numbers. That’s why it’s not as reliable. As we saw, just  the name background check can’t be the only tool used as criminals can get past that system.

SRM: Who do you hold accountable for these errors?

RG: This is something that the Census Bureau had no experience with. It’s clearly something that the Census Bureau and its parent agency, the Commerce Department, need to deal with. We’re not out to get anyone or point fingers. We want to see a successful census. I think the Census Bureau has acknowledged there’s a problem and they are going to work on it – and we are going to keep tabs on them. There are some smaller field operations coming up, but the big one is non-response follow up in the spring, to follow up with non-respondents. That’s going to be around 600,000 people hired. So we’re going to watch the Bureau’s progress in improving fingerprinting abilities.

SRM: On a related issue, I wrote about how the Census Bureau’s three Data Capture Centers may have similar human resources issues. Because, for example, in Baltimore, the Data Capture Center is run by contractor Lockheed Martin, who subcontracted the hiring efforts to Computer Sciences Corporation, I am wondering if the same rigid hiring standards that Census Bureau employees are subject to apply in these cases? I was told by Stephen Buckner, spokesman for the Census Bureau, that these employees are subject to the same standards, but a couple of loopholes that I noticed are that employees at these centers are not subject to drug tests or that because of time lags, people who undergo background investigations now might not start work for six months, meaning that they could potentially develop criminal records in the interim period. Can you address these issues?

RG: I’m not familiar with the specifics when contractors are involved.

SRM: What are the greatest challenges for the 2010 Census from your perspective?

RG: I’m glad you asked that because what we’ve been reporting on is much bigger than fingerprints. That’s certainly an issue, but the Bureau has other things they need to be concerned about as well. Speaking positively, the GAO has a high risk list, and we put the Census Bureau on this list in March 2008 because of weaknesses in the Census Bureau’s IT management, problems with the handheld computers, the difficulties they were having in coming up with the total cost of the decennial census, the fact that they did not conduct a full dress rehearsal, and on top of all that time was running out. And we put the decennial census on our high risk list because it’s a critical statistical program for the nation. Using March 2008 as an anchor point, we have seen that the Bureau has made a lot of progress in terms of risk mitigation. There is certainly a lot more work to be done but we are also encouraged by a lot of the improvements that we’ve been seeing. Certainly it was important to have a president appointed and senate confirmed Director (Robert M. Groves), so it’s certainly important that the top leadership is now firmly in place. We’re encouraged by some of the advisors that Dr. Groves has brought in who have experience from the 2000 Census. And we’re also encouraged by the fact that the Census Bureau acknowledges that they have a problem. The first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that you have one. But some of the areas that still concern us: IT management, requirements and testing plans have not been finalized, it’s difficult to track progress because of vague metrics, and some of the IT systems face tight implementation time-frames. Of all the IT systems, the one that we’re most concerned about is the paper-based operational control system (PBOCS).

SRM: Can you elaborate on that?

RG: That was the program that was put in place when they abandoned the handheld computers for non-response follow-up. So PBOCS basically controls the office workflow. There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of nailing down requirements and testing in the short time remaining. Basically, they have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it before it needs to go live.

SRM: There was a Census employee named Bill Sparkman who was murdered about a month ago. Is your office involved in that investigation?

RG: No, not at all.

SRM: Do you have any comments on the recent decision for the Census Bureau to sever its ties with ACORN?

RG: The Bureau just needs to make sure that it has adequate guidance so that it can make a determination as to who they should partner with and who the shouldn’t.

Press Release from Senator Tom Carper’s office

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

FOR RELEASE: Oct. 6, 2009

CONTACT:  Bette Phelan (202) 224-2441

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs

HEARING: “2010 Census – A Status Update of Key Decennial Operations.”

WASHINGTON (Oct. 6, 2009) – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security, will hold a hearing Wednesday, October 7 at 3:00 p.m. titled “2010 Census: A Status Update of Key Decennial Operations.”

With less than six months before Census Day 2010, this hearing will provide a status update of key decennial operations, estimated to cost more than $14.7 billion.

Census Director Dr. Robert Groves, in his first appearance before the committee since his confirmation, will provide updates on the Bureau’s recent completion of its address canvassing operation; the progress of the Bureau’s testing of key decennial information technology and operational systems; the use of American Reinvestment and Recovery Act spending to enhance outreach to hard-to-count communities; and the Bureau’s response to program and operational challenges identified by both GAO and the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General.

WHEN:Wednesday, October 7 at 3:00 p.m.

WHERE: 342 Dirksen Senate Office Building

WITNESSES:

The Honorable Robert M. Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce

Todd Zinser, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Commerce

Robert Goldenkoff, Director, Strategic Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Uh-Oh, Bad News: New Reports From In The Inspector General

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

MyTwoCensus obtained the following reports from the Commerce Department Inspector General’s Office last Friday, but we thought we’d give the powers that be a long weekend of relaxation before they start to fret…and we must add, they will be fretting. Throughout this week we will be providing commentary and analyses, but for now here are the three reports that you should take a look at:

Census 2010: Problems Encountered in the Large Block Operation Underscore the Need for Better Contingency Plans (OIG-19171-02)

http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/2009/Final%20Census%20Large%20Block%20Flash%20Report.pdf

2010 Census: First Quarterly Report to Congress Report (OIG‐19791‐1)

http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/2009/QTR-1%20First%20Quarterly%20%20Report%20to%20Congress%20080609.pdf

Recommendations from 2010 Census: First Quarterly Report to Congress, August 2009 (OIG-19791-l)

http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/correspondence/QTR-1%20FINAL%20Report%20Recommendations.pdf

Holiday Weekend Reading: New Inspector General’s Report

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

You’ve probably already started grilling burgers or headed for the beach, but please check out the Inspector General’s report that was released today:

http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/sar/March%202009%20SAR.pdf

We’ll be bringing you detailed commentary early next week…

Congressman weighs in on inconsistent hiring figures

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Update: We understand that many of our readers are hoping to find out more information about the FedEx-gate Scandal. We will be holding our next post on this issue until tomorrow morning as we are currently fact-checking new major allegations.

Earlier today, Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post reported, “the House lawmaker charged with overseeing the Census has expressed some early, if only vague concerns about how Census workers have performed their address canvassing duties, or the national inventory of every place of residence.

“While I’m very pleased that Address Canvassing has gone well for the most part, it’s too early to declare the operation a complete success because there are still some unanswered questions,” Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said in a statement yesterday. “The Commerce Department Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have both expressed concern about some listers not following procedures for Address Canvassing and some shortcomings in quality control measures.” A spokesman would not elaborate.”‘

Below, please find a press release that echoes many of the issues that MyTwoCensus has previously reported about employment and unemployment figures not adding up. Apparently at least one member of Congress (Patrick McHenry) has caught on…

Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Brock McCleary
June 9, 2009 Phone: (202) 225-2576

McHenry: Is the Administration erroneously counting census jobs?

WASHINGTON – Congressman Patrick McHenry (NC-10), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives, issued the following query regarding Obama Administration officials’ claims that the stimulus package will “save or create” 600,000 jobs over the next 100 days.

“As hiring for the 2010 Census continues, the American people ought to know whether the Obama Administration is attempting to include the thousands of temporary and part-time census workers in their count of 600,000 jobs ‘saved or created.’

“Including census workers would be disingenuous at best.  First, the Obama Administration didn’t invent the census; these are positions which are created every ten years, regardless of who occupies the White House.

“Furthermore, attempting to combine these part-time and temporary jobs to count them as full-time positions is not an accurate picture of the nature of the work.  As many families struggling to make ends meet with a series of part-time jobs can tell you, two part-time jobs does not equal one full-time job.

“I hope the Administration will be forthcoming about whether these temporary positions, which would have been created regardless of stimulus spending, are included in their jobs count.”

Note:    The 2010 Decennial Census is expected to result in 200,000 hires in 2009, which the Office of Management and Budget scores as the equivalent of 17,197 full-time positions.  In 2010, the Census Bureau will hire an estimated 700,000 workers, the equivalent of 105,391 full-time positions.

###

FedEx-gate: Census Bureau wastes $3 million

Monday, June 8th, 2009

We hope that the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) and Commerce Department’s Inspector General are paying close attention to this investigation. MyTwoCensus thanks our readers who alerted us to the following story. If you have received FedEx packages from the Census Bureau, we urge you to contact us immediately and share your stories as well.

The initial tip that led to this investigation came from a former Census Bureau employee who wrote to us, “On Tuesday, May 26, I received a FED EX package from the temporary East Los Angeles office of the Census marked “PRIORITY OVERNIGHT DELIVERY” containing one thing: a regular-size white envelope, with my address written on it, containing two pieces of official paperwork: (a) 1-page personnel office document stating I was hired March 30, and (b) 1-page personnel office document stating I was let go April 20 because of lack of work. I have no idea why they sent this PRIORITY OVERNIGHT DELIVERY, but at $20 or so a pop, times 140,000 workers nationwide, that’s a lot of money. ($2.8 million in fact).”

Below, please find an airbill sent last week from another local 2010 Census office in a different region. The problem, in this and thousands of other instances, is that the message inside this $20 FedEx package could have just as easily been sent using standard first class mail via the U.S. Postal Service (for a mere ¢44) to reach its non-urgent nearby location within 24 hours. MyTwoCensus is currently trying to determine just how widespread this problem has become. We certainly hope that $3 million or more has not already been wasted.

fedexairbillspokane1MyTwoCensus hopes that this wasteful spending will be stopped immediately, hopefully before the 1.4 million people who will be  hired for the 2010 headcount are also sent non-urgent messages via FedEx. As the U.S. Postal Service goes further and further into debt, one wonders why government agencies are failing to use their own counterparts.

MyTwoCensus will be filing a Freedom of Information Act request by the close of business today to ensure that these numbers become public. On Friday we asked the Public Information Office at the U.S. Census Bureau to provide us answers to our questions about the use of Fedex, and after following up throughout the day today, we still have not receieved any official comment.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 1)

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Just as MyTwoCensus was getting ready to launch our multi-part investigative series detailing the many problems associated with Harris Corp. and their failed attempt to create a handheld computer suitable for all aspects of the 2010 Census, Government Executive’s Brian Friel beat us to the punch and published this column:

The Right Stuff

As Census Bureau officials continue to salvage what they can from the bureau’s failed decennial automation project, it has increasingly become a real-time case study in core problems plaguing the federal government’s contracting practices.

The original $600 million contract, awarded to Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris Corp. in April 2006, would have allowed census workers to collect decennial data for the 2010 count by handheld device, rather than the old pen-and-paper way. The devices also would be used to update Census’ massive address list. Third, Harris would provide a variety of technology support services.

Two years went by, and then the entire contract went kaput. In 2008, Census and Harris officials ran to Congress with fingers pointed at each other as $200 million already sunk into the project basically went to waste: The handheld data collection project was a failure.

Now the Census Bureau has dropped the data collection and the major support services from the contract with Harris, leaving only the handheld-driven update of addresses. The new contract has a drastically reduced scope, but a significantly higher price tag. It will cost nearly $800 million.

The Commerce Department inspector general and other watchdogs have identified two big problems with the contract.

First, Census didn’t know what it wanted. As the IG noted in a March 2009 report, a significant problem was “the failure of senior Census Bureau managers in place at the time to anticipate the complex IT requirements involved in automating the census.” Its initial list of “requirements” in the contract grew and changed exponentially, adding layer upon layer of complexity. “Census changed requirements several times, which caused delays and increased costs,” the IG reported.

Second, Census set up a contract with Harris that allowed costs to spiral out of control. If the bureau had known what it wanted from the beginning, it could have written a fixed-price contract, which basically says: “Here’s what we want, here’s what we’ll pay you.” Instead, Census wrote a cost-plus contract, which basically says: “We’re not sure what we want, so we’ll pay you whatever it takes.”

In April, Vivek Kundra, the new federal chief information officer, told Congress these two problems are common across federal contracts. “The federal government doesn’t do a good job of defining what the requirements are,” he told Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., at an April 28 Senate hearing. According to Kundra, if agencies do a better job figuring out what they want, they can set up more fixed-price contracts, which control spending more than cost-plus contracts. “Fixed-price should be most common,” he said.

Kundra identified a common problem that leads to “runaway contracts.” Every contract involving technology has two main sets of requirements. First, a set of business needs that an agency’s operational office defines. Second, a set of technical needs that an agency’s IT department defines. If the two groups aren’t working together to jointly define all the requirements — if one leaves the other out — then an agency won’t really know what it wants. “The way that happens is ensuring there’s a high degree of engagement from both the business side of the house and the technology side of the house,” he said.

In the Census Bureau’s case, officials realized they had that problem only after they already had sunk $200 million into their automation contract, and at a point when starting over was impossible. “By the time you find out the requirements have increased or the budget is out of control, it’s too late to make an adjustment,” Kundra said. “For far too long we’ve put good money after bad money.”

If you don’t know what you want but you pay for it anyway, chances are you’ll repeat that long-running mistake.

Live-blogging Robert Groves’ Senate Confirmation Hearing…

Friday, May 15th, 2009

8:20 – Arrive at hearing. Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post and a couple of cameramen from C-SPAN are the only people present in the room.
8:25 – A committee staffer named Dierdre, who is clerking the hearing, says that only 3 Senators are expected to attend today.
8:29 – Robert Groves walks into the room, sets down his bag and a stack of papers, says a quick hello to me, and then walks out of the room.
8:35 – 4 women and 4 men, who appear to be family members of Robert Groves, walk into the room.
8:36 – Groves re-enters the room and hugs/shakes hands with his family members. He appears confident.
8:38 – Bob Groves comes over and introduces himself to me. He recognizes me from MyTwoCensus. He invites me out to “Suitland” – aka Census Bureau HQ to see the inner workings of the Bureau. I hope to take him up on his offer.
8:52 – Groves is schmoozing with other Census Bureau officials. They share some laughs.
8:57 – There are 3 reporters here other than me (Wash Post, CNSNews.com, NPR). Thus far, there’s been a whole lot of hype without a whole lot of action.
9:10 – Maintaining the status quo. Only 20 people total in the room. This will likely be a pretty darn quiet event.
9:20 – Nothing to report.
9:25 – Still nothing to report.
9:26 – Approximately 35 people in the room right now. No sign of any Senators.
9:27 – Senator Carper is here.
9:28 – Carper has his arm around Robert Groves. Senator Levin is here too. Three of them chatting like old chums.
9:31 – Carper just sat down, everyone is quiet, ready to go.
9:32 – No other Senators except for Levin (who is introducing Groves) and Carper.
9:33 – Senator Levin giving introduction of Robert Groves.
9:37 – Levin says, “Groves has been endorsed by 6 former Census Directors from Democratic and Republic administrations.”
9:39 – Senator Levin finishes introduction and departs.
9:40 – Senator Carper is discussing the hearing in Philadelphia from Monday.
9:42 – Carper mentions that 2000 Census had 500,000 temporary employees.
9:43 – This is the most expensive census in history. Estimated cost: $100 per household, rather than $56 per household in 2000. Why such a disparity?
9:44 – Carper acknowledges that the investment into handheld computer technology has been a colossal “failure.”
9:45 – Sounds like Carper is wrapping up…”Since no members have arrived yet…” Carper is looking for ways to kill some time.
9:46 – Groves’ financial statements have been reviewed by the government and he is all  to go.
9:47 – Groves is sworn in by Carper. He introduces his guests – family and colleagues.
9:51 – Groves mentions non-partisanship. (We will post his official opening remarks soon).
9:52 – Sen. Akaka (D-Hawaii) just entered the room.
9:54 – Groves is very articulate. His commitment to running the Census Bureau in a non-partisan way sounds legitimate.
9:55 – Groves discusses the statistical sampling issue. Groves agrees that statistical adjustment will not be used for redistricting.
9:56 – “My job is to constantly search for ways that censuses and surveys are conducted.”
9:57 – Groves finishes his remarks.
9:58 – Senator Carper mentions that many other Senators have returned to their home states, hence why they are not here today. He introduces Sen. Akaka.
9:59 – Senator Akaka praises Robert Groves.
10:01 – Carper telling stories about his son going on a road trip. The point of the story is that people may get counted twice, especially rich college students.
10:05 – Sen. Collins (R-Maine) has arrived at the hearing.
10:08 – Groves explains that working with leaders in subgroups of the population is important to encourage participation.
10:14 – Akaka asks how Groves plans to attract highly qualified staff members to the Census Bureau, as 25% of Ccnsus Bureau employees are scheduled to retire within the next year.
10:15 – Groves says that very few American students are studying statistical methods many are foreign students at American universities). Groves notes that there are very few American schools that offer statistical analysis programs. Groves suggests that restrictions on foreign workers working for the Census Bureau should be lifted.
10:17 – Groves says there is a need for interdisciplinary programs.
10:18 – Akaka asks how Groves will improve diversity within the Census Bureau.
10:19 – Groves says that he wants to increase diverse staff to increase a diverse population.
10:20 – Sen. Collins is now speaking. She is asking questions.
10:21 – Collins praises Groves’ statement that a non-partisan, objective 2010 Census is necessary.
10:22 – Collins, “What safeguards will you take to prevent the decennial Census from being influenced by partisan politics?”
10:23 – Groves discusses transparency and assures that he will speak out against interference if that occurs.
10:24 – Collins, “Would you be prepared to resign if you were asked to do something when there has been interference?”
10:24 – Groves, “Not only would I resign, I would make sure I stop abuses.”
10:25 = Collins asks about statistical sampling. She wasn’t here when this was discussed earlier.
10:26 – Collins asks if Groves would want to use sampling in 2020. He says, “I have no plans to do that.”
10:27 – Collins, “In this information age…the Census is using paper and pencil to collect data…What steps will you take to bring the Census into the 21st Century? What will you do to ensure better management of technology contracts by the Census Bureau?”
10:28 – Groves discusses Research and Development and management.
10:30 – Senator Collins concludes and exits.
10:31 – Carper discusses that the federal government has many problems with technology.
10:37 – Groves discusses the over 1,000 partnerships that Census Bureau created for 2000 Census. Groves says that local leaders play an important role in this. He supports grassroots campaigns to get people counted.
10:39 – Grovces explains that different societal sub-groups have different sub-groups. He discusses Australia’s method for dealing with Aborigines as a successful method. (Bill Bryson’s work suggests otherwise.)
10:49 – Just fell asleep for about 7 minutes because Sen. Akaka has been droning on and on while prefacing a question. I see no less than 10 other people with their eyes closed right now. Final question: How will you reach the grassroots?
10:52 – Akaka asks Groves about field workers not following procedures according to the Inspector General’s report.
10:53 – “I am not briefed on the training or non-response follow-up. I find those things interesting. I will pay attention to those. – Groves
10:55 – Carper now speaking about IG’s report – “This almost jumped off the page at us. I urge you to familiarize yourself with this report.”
10:56 – Carper says he has 2 more questions.
10:59 – Groves acknowledges there will be problems with the 2010 Census, but pledges quick, calm, collected, responses to issues, with full transparency.
11:00 – Carper asks if Census Director should have a fixed 5-year term and if reporting to the Secretary of Commerce makes sense.
11:01 – Groves says that it’s problematic that many Census Directors are appointed in years that end in the number 9 – meaning right before the decennial headcount. Groves says this is “meritorious of serious discussions.”
11:04 – Carper asks if there is enough funding for the Census Bureau.
11:05 – Groves says he doesn’t have enough information to answer this question.
11:06 – Carper finishing hearing now.

The Smoking Gun Report from the Inspector General’s Office

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

We urge all of our readers  to take a close look at the Inspector General’s most recent reports about the 2010 Census (located here: Observations and Address Listers’ Reports Provide Serious Indications That Important Address Canvassing Procedures Are Not Being Follow—OIG-19636-01 [PDF] Report). This report details many significant failures of the Census Bureau’s recent address canvassing operations that were brushed aside by Acting Census Director Tom Mesenbourg at today’s 2010 Census hearing in Philadelphia. Here are the major problems discussed in the report:

During address canvassing field observations, we found that some Census listers were not
consistently following the procedures in their instruction manual. In several cases we observed
listers skipping the procedure for knocking on doors. In at least one case a crew leader ignored
portions of the verbatim training and instead instructed listers to omit this procedure. We
received several additional reports from listers who were specifically told by their crew leader to
omit this procedure. Further, we observed listers map-spotting addresses from their cars when
they were instructed to collect a map spot at or near the main entrance of a structure—usually the front door.

Despite instructions to traverse every road in an assignment area, some listers we observed
completely skipped roads in rural areas when they assumed no houses existed on the road.
Address canvassing in rural areas can be difficult as tree cover and other conditions can visually
obscure structures. Road conditions also can pose significant challenges: for example, rough
terrain may necessitate four-wheel-drive vehicles, and some roads may only lead to fields or
barns, or may dead-end at a physical feature such as a river. Nonetheless, canvassing these areas is essential to accurately locate rural living quarters.

OIG staff observed address canvassing in 15 different locales in 5 of the 12 Census regions. We
identified the failure of listers to conform to address listing and map-spotting procedures in 7
different locales representing all 5 regions. We also received independent information on the
same problems for 2 locales not associated with our sample. Although our observations were not conducted on a statistically drawn sample and therefore cannot be considered representative of the entire operation, the widespread nature of the problem is noteworthy.

A number of factors may be contributing to this breakdown in procedures. Skipping procedures
reduces the time it takes to conduct address canvassing. We have received reports from Census
field staff that they are under intense pressure to complete their assignments within a limited
time frame and to minimize or avoid overtime. Some are concerned they may face termination if they miss deadlines or work unauthorized overtime. Production pressure may therefore be one cause for this breakdown, but Census needs to determine why these problems are occurring.

Failure to follow procedures negatively impacts the quality of the address list, map spots, and the subsequent enumeration. Living quarters that are not included on the address list have a greater probability of not receiving a decennial questionnaire and thus not having their residents counted. Address canvassing is the primary means for identifying “hidden” dwellings, such as sheds and makeshift garage apartments, but the likelihood of missing such living quarters increases if the lister does not attempt the required personal contact. Because of smaller populations, missing a single living quarters in a rural area has a greater impact on the quality of final census population counts.

Failure of listers to correctly use the handheld’s GPS capability—a key component of Census’s
nearly $800 million field data collection automation contract—jeopardizes Census’s ability to
ensure that living quarters are recorded within the correct census block. This accuracy is
particularly important for redrawing congressional and state legislative districts.

The Census is depending on its address canvassing quality control operation to identify and correct errors resulting from listers’ not following procedures. We are therefore expanding the number and breadth of our field observations to focus on this quality control operation, particularly in rural areas. Given the problems we have identified, we are concerned that Census has not completed its contingency plan for improving list quality in the event that the results of address canvassing are found to be deficient.

These shortcuts have cost impacts as well. Quality control operations may take longer to
complete and cost more than anticipated since improperly listed addresses that are identified or
deleted must be recanvassed. Inaccurate map spots can increase the time it takes for enumerators to find their assignments during enumeration and nonresponse follow-up operations and add to their chances of getting lost and enumerating the wrong housing unit or group quarters.

Inaccurately located rural living quarters may have a greater cost impact on subsequent census
operations, as locating and driving to these potentially remote units requires greater effort than
doing so in urban or suburban areas.

Note: We have added a new permanent link on the right side of this site that will take you to the Inspector General’s most recent reviews of Census Bureau activities.

Confidential Memo Leaked To Us: Beware of the Inspector General

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

The following memo was leaked to us by a Census Bureau employee who has requested anonymity, so we crossed out all identifying information. We particularly love the line “Don’t be a chatterbox.” We haven’t witnessed a pep talk written with as much vigor as this one since last season’s finale of Friday Night Lights…

We’re waiting for an update to see if anyone got canned as a result of the Inspector General’s visit to this office, but for now, here’s the dirt:

From: XXXXXXXXXXX@census.gov
Sent: XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
To: XXXXXXXXX@census.gov
Subject: RE: The Inspector General – - Some Things to Inspect

Hello team,

As you all know by now, the Inspector General will be visiting your office Monday morning for an entire week. They are to observe the office and may ask to receive general reports to review. Please be courteous to them. They are in no way to obstruct Address Canvassing activities for any reason. If you are not sure how to handle a particular situation in dealing with the IG, please talk to XXXXXXXX or myself before committing yourself to an action or verbal statement. The IG comes off as very nice people and they are but there job is too find out what is WE’RE NOT doing correctly. It has come down that they have actually baited listers and office staff into doing wrong procedures. They will say things like” I just don’t add that entry it’s no big deal” or say “Oh just skip that house and go to the next”. This is how people in other offices and regions got dinged.

Trust me when I say the XXXXXXXX region is counting on XXXXX to come through for us. Your report from the IG will go straight to Washington, DC, Suitland, and all the other 12 regions. Here’s what you should do:

1. make sure you and your staff know all the procedures for their area and have the manuals handy.
2. Certain basic questions staff should be able to answer and be able to reference the manual(s) on what they are saying.
3. If you don’t know something, say I will get back to you on that and do it quickly.
4. Only tell them what they are asking for., Don’t get wordy with them be courteous and respectful but don’t be a chatter box.
5. Field staff have got to make sure they are following all procedures and not taking short cuts even when baited.

XXXXXXXX, they are going to come directly to the QC area because this is where all the crazy things have been happening with people in the field. make sure your well versed in your manual and that listers know to knock on every door and not skip houses.

I know you all will do fine and make the rest of the region proud.

Good luck to you all !!

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Area Manager
XXXXXXX, Regional Census Center