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 ‘letter’

Daily Sound Off: History of access letters

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Here’s today’s Daily Sound Off:

Our History of Access Letters

[Set against the background of a fill-in-the-blanks, multi-part, Census Form Letter, complete with Census seal, to use for locked buildings and gated communities]

We’re in an urban area.

My district has only apartments or condominiums. All of these have external control devices/call boxes, with the exception of one building that has a locked door and no identifying marks other than the street number.

I have been surprised by the the number of property management organizations and condominium owner’s associations that have actively impeded Enumerators in pursuit of the data. This includes posters from “management” stating “do not allow Census workers into the building” or stating “access to the building is only available by invitation of each individual condominium owner.”

Our LCO has offered an amusing stream of “access” letters aiming to help us gain access to the buildings to enable the sacred first visit in person.

Our Enumerators hit the streets on Apr 29.

First letter, May 13th, on copy paper, no Census Logo or letterhead, toughest language “Please allow our Census Bureau employees to enter your building(s) or community to perform their official duties.”

Second “letter,” May 17th, , on copy paper, no Census Logo or letterhead, text labeled as a copy of US Code, Title 13, Chapter 5 [sic], Subchapter 2, Section 223, substituting at the end “….(it goes on to describe the penalties).” for “shall be fined not more than $500.”

Third Letter, later in the day on the 17th, on copy paper, no Census Logo or letterhead, placed the above Title 13 extract between an opener of “At the XXX Census Office, we have been experiencing a high number of apartment managers and other facility managers who do not understand their obligation to provide information to US Census workers.  Here is the official language from the document which gives you the authority and responsibility to provide this information to the sworn federal employee” and closing with the AMFO’s signature block, but no signature.

Fourth Letter, May 19th, essentially the third letter with the AMFO’s business card attached.

Fifth letter, May 20th, on copy paper, no Census Logo or letterhead, essentially the third letter but with the full text of sections 223 and 224, i.e., containing the full language on fines.

Sixth Letter, May 21st – Fifth Letter retracted, revert to Fourth Letter

Seventh Letter, May 23rd, on copy paper, no Census Logo but with a mockup of the Census letterhead, similar to Fifth Letter but containing only section 223, with the text of the section within a ruled box.

Eighth Letter, May 24th, Seventh Letter retracted for “looking too official [sic],” revert to Sixth Letter, i.e., the Fourth Letter.

Ninth, and current, Letter. May 27th. on copy paper BUT it  is a copy of an RCC’s official letterhead paper, signed by the RCC director, dated “May 2010,” with text extolling the recipient to assist the Census and read the enclosed “Section 223, Title 13 [sic].”
On the reverse the top half is entitled “SECURITY/PROPERTY MANAGER INFORMATION SHEET.”
The bottom half is a photocopy of US Code Title 13, Census, Chapter 7 – Offenses and Penalties, Subchapter II -Section 223, from the United States Code Annotated.

All of this would be somewhat amusing if it weren’t so timid, unprofessional and unproductive. It is on par with the Enumerator’s Manual suggestion about gain access to an access controlled building by tapping on the door glass with your keys.

What works for me….
When I first talk with property managers on the phone, they all seem to be reading from a script.
The script is along the line of “Our clients are very wealthy and very famous. They pay us great sums of money so they aren’t bothered. Further, we can’t have seasonal employees scampering down our halls.”
I then arrange for a meeting in person. Before the meeting I send a copy of the very first, timid, letter, telling them that this is just a draft of our first-level letter for them to examine. I then arrive at the meeting in _full_ business attire. The meetings have been short and the result has been access for our Enumerators.

In my briefcase I have the Ninth Letter copied on to heavy, white, laid bond paper, with a copy of §223 on a second page. So far it has staid in my briefcase.

[This is just one of twenty of more exercises where everyone in the field is saying "They've done this before, right?" and "Surely this isn't the first time the Census has encountered this situation."]

Social networking is bad! (says the Census Bureau)

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010
An anonymous Census employee sent SRM a tip about a few flyers the Bureau sent along with their paychecks (finally). One flyer covered driving safety (and please, everyone, do take care while driving). The other covered the ethics of social networking, and unfortunately it came to the conclusion that it’s bad. Sorry Morse, time to close up shop! (Note: That was a joke.)
Email excerpt:
It’s funny how it is implied that criticizing and talking to outsiders about the incompetence of the census machinery and brass is punishable with jail and fines, when in reality, it only applies to title 13 of USC in regard to respondent information and personally identifiable information.  The census own manuals have a section devoted to the rights and protections afforded to whistleblowers.  They also imply that because we are paid government employees, that it is unethical for us to publicly humiliate and or expose the ineptness of our employers.  Nice try.  There is no law preventing anyone from writing in their personal capacity, but it is implied that it is wrong, unethical, and just not cool.
And from the reminder itself (no emphasis added):
CONFIDENTIALITY AND ETHICS REMINDER
Social Networking and Census Employment
As personal blogging, tweeting, social networking sites have become more common and popular, it
is not unusual for Federal employees to have an opportunity to write about their work and their
employer in a public forum.  Please be aware you cannot disclose any nonpublic information that
is protected by statute.  You also cannot receive payments for writing about Census programs or
operations or about assignments you have been given as a Census employee.  In addition, you
must be careful to ensure that there is no appearance created that you are writing on behalf of the
Bureau of the Census, the Department of Commerce, or the United States Government when you
are writing in your personal capacity.
[...]
These restrictions on writing and publications are in addition to the life-time oath you took to
uphold the confidentiality of census information.  Any wrongful disclosure of confidential census
information subjects you to a fine up to $250,000, imprisonment up to five years, or both.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: The “advance letter” mailing appears to have gone off (almost) smoothly…

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Despite the threat of service cutbacks and job losses at the US Postal Service that were announced in recent days, the mailing of approximately 100 million “advance letters” appears to have gone off with only a few minor glitches. (See previous post about city names and zip codes being inaccurate in St. Louis!) Yes, this whole mass mailing concept should seem like a fairly simple process, but after the major printing debacle that occurred in 2000 (that could have been fatal to the advance letter process), we taking nothing for granted. Despite some small levels of populist discontent about the Census Bureau “wasting money,” the lack of discussion about the advance letter should be treated as a good thing, in that people are now generally aware that their 2010 Census form will arrive in the mail in one week. Let’s just hope that next week’s mailing, which is clearly the most important one in terms of obtaining data (and saving taxpayers money in the long run) is also a process marked by accuracy and efficiency.

San Francisco vs. The U.S. Census Bureau

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

H/t to the San Francisco Chronicle:

City Hall takes on the U.S. Census — again!

Squaring off against the U.S. Census is nothing new for City Hall officials – and they’re doing it again this week over the “advanced letter” the census sends all U.S. residents explaining the census questionnaire several weeks before they get the real thing.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera wants the U.S. Census to have a heartPaul Chinn/The Chronicle

In 2000, the advanced letter was sent in a variety of languages including Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean and Tagalog. But in February, the letter will go out in English only, with Spanish versions included in some census tracts.

That means a lot of San Francisco’s 325,000 residents who speak a language other than English may not understand what to do with the census questionnaire. And that means they may skip it altogether, go uncounted and cause the city to lose out on federal money.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera and David Chiu, president of the Board of Supervisors, have sent a letter to the census asking that it reconsider its policy change. Chiu also introduced legislation at the board calling for an inclusive advanced letter.

The city has a long history of waging battles against the census. In the 1970s, Chinese residents sued over an undercount in Chinatown. In 1990, the city sued over another undercount. In 2000, the city said the census undercounted by a whopping 100,000 people – causing the San Francisco to lose out on $30 million a year in federal funds. (The census compromised, giving the city another 34,209 people.)

Sonny Le, a media specialist with the census, said nothing about the advanced letter has been finalized. We asked him numerous times why the language change had been floated in the first place, and he couldn’t give an answer, only saying it was “a combination of different things.”