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 ‘Listers’

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

Who Let The Dogs Out (in Sarasota)?

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

If you think that working for the U.S. Census Bureau is safe, think again. As we have previously reported, man’s best friend is census listers’ worst enemy. When we previously pressed the folks at the Census Bureau’s Washington HQ for worker safety data, they referred us to look at OSHA’s stats page. However, it is unlikely that this data is accurate because of the sheer number of Census Bureau employees scattered throughout America and the fact that the data for the recent operations will not be tabulated for some time.

Here’s an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune detailing a recent vicious attack on census worker:

The most recent attack occurred April 15, as David Fraser, 52, approached the front of the home while gathering data for the U.S. Census.

Fraser’s job for the Census Bureau involves a computer and GPS system, and requires him to go to homes, line up a GPS and push a button that registers that house.

Fraser said he was about 5 feet from the door of the house’s lanai when he heard a “low growling.” Then, he says, in a flash the dog “lurches and succeeded to open the front door” and grab and bit his wrist.

The dog took off and Fraser saw he was bleeding; he ended up at Sarasota Memorial Hospital for a tetanus shot and antibiotics.

Fraser said that under normal circumstances, in light of the dog-warning signs, he might have stayed farther back from the lanai door. But that day, his supervisors had given Census workers “a quality control talk.” Workers were “failing quality controls” and were told they needed to get to within 5 feet of structures before registering them.

Officials with the U.S. Census Bureau have declined to comment on the episode.

If you think this is a first time occurrence, think again. During the 2000 headcount, 71-year old Census Bureau employee Dorothy Stewart was killed by a pack of 18 dogs in Indiana. Here’s an excerpt from an article about Stewart’s tragic death from dogbitelaw.com:

June 10, 2000, Brown County, Indiana. Dorothy Stewart, a worker for the US Census, was attacked and killed by a pack of (more than 18) dogs while collecting census data in Indiana.  Her family filed a wrongful death suit and eventually settled with the defendants’ insurance company for the limit of the policy.

Charges of criminal recklessness were filed against the dog owners, because as they had maintained the pack for over 10 years, and numerous other people had run-ins, albeit not fatal, with the dogs.  This was the only charge apparently available to the prosecutor due to a loophole in Indiana law. In that state, it is a felony if your dog leaves your property and attacks someone, but not a crime at all if the attack happens on your property.  An attempt to change the law last year failed; the bill was watered down — first it would only protect government employees, then only between the hours of 8 and 5, and finally the house and senate couldn’t reconcile their bills and the entire effort to change the law sputtered to a halt.

The prosecutor entered into a plea agreement (dropping drug charges) and the defendants pled guilty.  On July 6, 2001, they received the maximum sentence available under the agreement, which was 1.5 years in jail for the wife, and 3 years in jail for the husband.

EXCLUSIVE: Former NYT Reporter Exposes Census’ Mishandling of Operations

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

By Laura Mansnerus

Well, the census job in Philadelphia is over. They hired way too many of us. We finished a couple months ahead of schedule. They trained people for a week so that they could work for two weeks. We all miss the paychecks we thought we’d have. The Census Bureau goofed. Does Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke know this? Probably not.

My census job was a total accident. This winter, I was on hiatus from my career in the dying newspaper industry, having left my job to take a fellowship that, of course, came to an end. When I regained consciousness, the whole publishing industry was staggering toward a cliff. Uh-oh.

In January, I was prowling on Craigslist — and the Census Bureau was recruiting for the address canvassing phase of the 2010 Census: Work 20 to 40 hours a week for 10 to 12 weeks.

And before long I was a “crew leader,” hired at $19.25 an hour to supervise canvassers, known as listers, who would be verifying every address in my district of Philadelphia. All over the nation, listers would be updating maps and address lists so the bureau would know where to send questionnaires for the 2010 Census. Fine.

I loved the prospect of spending springtime on the streets while putting off a hideous job search. Moreover, I tend to believe that the public sector does important things, even though I once worked for the E.P.A., one of the worst government agencies known to mankind. The census is a worthy undertaking. The Constitution told us to do it! So I walked into this job with a pretty sunny outlook.

The crew leaders started in March. We were told we’d be working into June. The official deadline for the address canvassing operation, I learned later, is early July.

In my chunk of Philadelphia, seven of us crew leaders were trained the first week, and the next week we trained assistant crew leaders. The third week, each of us would train about 15 listers. Then we would parcel out “assignment areas,” or AA’s, smaller districts with 300 or so addresses each, to the listers.

My supervisor, Ian Hemphill, said we would be all working all-out, full-time and furiously, because the Philadelphia region was behind schedule. It took me a week and a half to start wondering about this. The crew leaders and assistants had already knocked out a few assignment areas. Even fumbling with the balky software on our little hand-held computers, you could finish an AA in a day. My district had 90 AA’s left to assign. I’d have 15 listers.

“Ian, am I missing something?” I asked him when he called a meeting of the crew leaders. “I have 90 AA’s left, and they’re sending me 15 listers. That’s 6 per lister.”

“Oh, ho, I think your math is a little off there,” Ian said.

“Wellllll, I have 90 AA’s, divided by 15, and that’s 6.”

“Let’s get our terms straight here. Six per what? Six per day? Per week?”

Another crew leader, a quiet young guy headed for graduate school, entered the conversation: “SIX … for … the … rest … of … the … entire … operation.”

We could finish the whole thing in a week. Given some slow listers and half-functioning computers, it would take two weeks. But Ian was not persuaded. We all went home.

Wait, I said to myself. The Census Bureau was about to screw a bunch of barely employed people. They had been told they would work until June. They wouldn’t. Worse, this is the agency charged with sophisticated demographic analyses for government and business throughout the nation — no, the world — and with 10 years’ planning time the people running it didn’t know how long it takes x listers to verify y addresses? I had a supervisor who couldn’t divide 90 by 15?

I went to Google News. All around the country, newspapers were running friendly features as address canvassing started in their communities. The Census Bureau, as many of these reporters had copied from its press releases, hired 140,000 people to verify 145 million addresses. Ooops. So they were doing this everywhere. They hired one person for each 1,000 addresses. In Philadelphia they had hired one per 2,000 or so addresses. How long could that take?

The next week, while our listers were chewing through AA’s, Ian trained a second wave of listers who would serve (if needed) as replacements. Meanwhile, we were encouraged to fire people wherever possible. I did not fire anyone. I got two more listers. I got 19 in all, though one was fired because he had failed the security check. (When the local Census authorities learned this, he was already on the job — your federal security clearance dollars at work! — so I had to confiscate his computer and badge immediately while we were out on the street. But that’s another story…)

They people who were hired were top scorers on the same test I had taken. Some had not worked for months and were hugely relieved to have jobs, any jobs. They took their mission very, very seriously. We got lost in discussions about how to treat houses that appeared to be abandoned or buildings that might be divided into illegal apartments, even though our supervisors did not want us to spend much time on concerns like this.

The listers were in their second week on the job when the AA’s dried up. My big crew leader map was plastered with check marks. The listers had put in their first full day on April 3, and most were on their last AA’s when the crew leaders were summoned to headquarters on April 15. The assistant manager for field operations, a mild sort named Wayne Wolfgang, who seemed to be trying to do the right thing, announced, “There’s rumors out there that we’re running out of work.” Not true, he said. “We have a lot of opportunities to move people around. We still have work for everybody.”

Since the crew leaders had been instructed not to open our mouths at this meeting, we didn’t. The office manager distributed a memo from the regional director, Fernando Armstrong, stressing the importance of meeting deadlines. Attached was a warning about driving safely, and anticipating hazards like black ice and moose. We were supposed to pass these out to our listers. And we did! You’re out of work, but if you had any, you should watch for moose on Washington Avenue!

Ian wanted us crew leaders to tell people, “We will find you work.” I ventured, “I’m telling them, ‘we might find you more work.’” Ian got mad. “No! We WILL find you work!”

Nothing materialized, though. Listers who needed to reopen their unemployment claims asked if the Census Bureau would provide letters to certify that they were out of work. No, The Census Bureau wouldn’t do such things.

Many people had passed up other temp jobs or even quit jobs to take jobs with the Census Bureau. “What am I going to do?” said one middle-aged woman whose other job was passing out samples at a liquor store a few hours a week. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said, six or seven times. She gave me phone numbers of a couple market research firms that convened focus groups.

Others just wandered away. A few called or visited the office to deliver a piece of their minds. This was to be avoided at all costs. Keep them away from us, the last text message from Ian said. It also said, “Congratulate Listers [sic] on a quick accomplishment of their mission. Stress the positive. Stress the value of a period of federal employment with the possibility of recommendations.”

Today was my last day. I turned in the equipment I’d gathered up from listers, and on the way out of the office I saw Wayne Wolfgang. I asked him a question: “Why did the Census Bureau hire 20 people, including me, to do 97 AA’s?”

“Well, that was the number he was given by headquarters,” he said.

There was no mistake. We finished early. So what?

Wolfgang, apparently looking for congratulations until the end, said, “Did it ever occur to you that we’re efficient?”

“No,” I said.

Laura Mansnerus was an editor and staff reporter at The New York Times for 22 years. She was a 2007 Soros media justice fellow. She is also a no-longer-practicing lawyer.

Note: This article does not represent the opinions of MyTwoCensus.com, Stephen Robert Morse or Evan Goldin. The views expressed are those of the author. That said, MyTwoCensus welcomes written, video, photographic, and multimedia contributions from any individual with a 2010 Census-related story to tell.