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 ‘Michael C. Cook’

Let the Freedom (of information) Summer begin!

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Today, Michael C. Cook of the Census Bureau’s public information office wrote the following in the comments section of this post:

The Census Bureau publicly discloses on our website a status log of all FOIA requests to assist organizations like My Two Census and individuals to track the status of formal public records inquiries. In addition we have routinely provided My Two Census with status reports on your many requests.

On February 14, 2010 you requested records on the translation services contract with Diplomatic Language Services and we provided a response in 31 days.

On February 19 and again on the 26th you submitted a modified request for correspondence with various public officials and emails which contained your itemized list of 26 profanities. We have partially complied with this request.

On February 25, 2010, you requested travel records on all Census employee hotel stays for a 14 month period. As of today, we have not received from you the legally required fee to cover the cost of this substantial request.

On April 20, 2010, you requested all records relating to technology systems at the Census Bureau covering a three and a half year period beginning in 2006. As of today, we have not received from you the legally required fee to cover the cost of this substantial request.

On April 25, 2010, you requested copies of all emails between four Census employees during a one week period in February. As of today, we have not received from you the legally required fee to cover the cost of this request.

On June 14, 2010 you requested a log of all your requests.

Last night you requested information on an employee in our Chicago Region.

What you don’t see here is the exorbitant prices — in the range of $30,000 — that the Census Bureau tries to charge me to fill these requests. However, journalism organizations, like MyTwoCensus.com, are exempt from these fees. Nonetheless, though in 2009 the Census Bureau forced me to create appeals to claim my status as a journalism organization and then waived the fees, in 2010 the Census Bureau has not recognized MyTwoCensus.com (currently getting more daily hits than ever) as a journalism organization. Here’s what I wrote back to Mr. Cook:

How in god’s name do you expect me to pay these fees? I am working for myself and this site is no longer funded. Journalism organizations are excluded from paying fees, and I only request electronic copies as I don’t believe in wasting paper. It is an insult to have to have $30,000 on hand every time I want to make a request. What do you think?

In light of this information and the Census Bureau’s continuous effort to shield itself from damaging information being released to the public through MyTwoCensus.com, I will be starting the Freedom (of Information) Summer initiative, whereby I will make FOIA requests five times per week throughout the summer. As you already read in a previous post, the Census Bureau’s FOIA staff doesn’t get all that many requests, so I’m going to make them work a bit harder to encourage more government transparency.

My voice will not be silenced, and yours shouldn’t be either. If you would like me to request information on your behalf, please be as specific as possible (dates, terms, people, etc.) and I will do my best to file FOIAs that have legitimacy for you. Here is some more info for you to check out:

http://www.census.gov/po/www/foia/foiaweb.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_Information_Act_%28United_States%29

Update on today’s story…The Census Bureau hides behind the shield of FOIA once again

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

The following letter is one that I wrote to Michael C. Cook, chief of the Census Bureau’s public information office for the 2010 Census…I am not at all pleased by his response:

Here’s the editorial I wrote and the link to the Chicago Tribune story is inside:

http://www.mytwocensus.com/2010/06/17/mytwocensus-editorial-current-census-bureau-official-involved-in-scandal-must-go-immediately/

Was Aramanda hired bc of politics? or merit? Do you have proof that we was hired bc of merit? How and when did he get this job? What is his exact position?

What is Aramanda’s record while working for the Census Bureau?

Will Aramanda be getting paid by the Census Bureau while he testifies at this trial?

Who is running the show at the LCO when he is across town at a trial?

Will he be fired immediately? (Note: I am urging that he is fired immediately as this is a huge conflict of interest).

I hope to hear back from you by COB.

Here is his reply:

Hi Stephen,

The federal Privacy Act governs what any federal agency can disclose about
an employee. You can find details about the Privacy Act at:
<http://www.justice.gov/opcl/1974privacyact-overview.htm>. We encourage you
to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in writing addressed
to:

Mary C. Potter, FOIA Officer
U.S. Census Bureau , Room 8H027
4600 Silver Hill Road
Washington, DC 20233-3700

Best,

Michael C. Cook
Branch Chief, 2010 Census Media Relations
Public Information Office
U.S. Census Bureau

OK, this response makes me IRATE. I have filed NUMEROUS FOIA REQUESTS in the past 6 months, and none have been answered. The Commerce Department will surely find some grounds or other not to honor my request and then they will tell me that I have to file an appeal. I will then file the appeal, and keep contacting the appeals office, and then never hear anything ever again. Thank you Obama Administration transparency…Jesus Christ. The White House has become a PR firm. Enough said.

The Census Bureau wastes your tax dollars by shifting workers around the country…

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

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.

UPDATE: MyTwoCensus Investigation: Census Bureau’s lack of photo IDs for employees and use of cheap black canvas bags as “uniforms” aid scammers because impersonating a Census Bureau enumerator is all too easy

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

UPDATE: FOR THOSE WHO READ AN EARLIER VERSION OF THIS PIECE, SEE THE UPDATE  PRESENTED NEAR THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE.

On Sunday, I discovered an alarming piece of news from Washington state: Census Bureau polo shirts and black canvass bags were on sale at a local Goodwill store. As Steve Jost, the Census Bureau’s Associate Director of Communications wrote in a blog post yesterday, “Census workers will be easily identifiable: Each will have an official government badge (identifiable by the seal of the Census Bureau) and a black canvas census bags.” This should raise red flags, because by giving out these materials (that were subsequently donated) the Census Bureau is actually enabling fraud to take place. The other way that the Census Bureau has enabled fraud to take place is by failing to give its 600,000 door-to-door workers photo IDs. In a day and age where photos can be printed instantly on an office computer, this is ridiculous. The Census Bureau’s ID cards used by these employees are flimsy and extremely easy to replicate.  Yesterday, I questioned the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office about this, and received the following DENIALS from the Census Bureau:

E-mail from Stephen Robert Morse of MyTwoCensus.com: It came to my attention that  polo shirts with 2010 Census logos and black 2010 Census canvas bags have appeared in thrift shops and on Ebay – presumably these were leftover partnership materials. As you said, there are two ways to identify Census workers – by their black bag and their name badge. I am concerned that people, particularly the elderly, may be duped by scammers.  I have two questions: 1. Why, knowing that black canvas bags are used by enumerators, did the Census Bureau distribute black canvass bags with 2010 Census logos as partnership materials?  2. Why did the Census Bureau choose not to use photo identification for official Census workers? I worry about this because it is extremely easy for criminals to replicate the ID badges.

E-mail back from Michael C. Cook,  a Senior Marketing Specialist at the Census Bureau: A search of Ebay by Census staff found only Census 2000 shirts.  There are no 2010 enumerator bags or back packs currently on Ebay.  The child’s drawstring backpack for 2010 and the enumerator shoulder bag share nothing in common, not size, not logos, not shape, not dimensions, other than the color black.   If a member of the public is not certain of the identity of a census employee, they may ask for a photo ID, such as a driver’s license, or a phone number for the local census office to call and confirm the individual’s employment.

Now, this is truly a great way to dodge the questions I asked. Fortunately, I was also able to get Mr. Cook on the telephone and he said that the Census Bureau couldn’t make the photo IDs because “it had to do with the volume and the fact that there is a short amount of time between the time we identify the workers, to the time we hit the street — it wasn’t cost effective to take photos.” So the Census Bureau has no problem spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on ads, but has no budget to authenticate its workers’ identities in picture form to protect people from scammers…

*Note: My one mistake in this investigation was not taking a screen capture of the black canvas 2010 Census bag that was being sold on EBay. For all I know, the Census Bureau Public Information Office could have purchased it in the time before they responded to my query. Nonetheless, most Americans wouldn’t know that Census Bureau employees only use black bags. And despite this, there is still a 2010 Census tote bag on EBay that the Census Bureau PR team scouring the internet failed to notice. This time, I took a screenshot:

I’m not saying that scammers even need Ebay or thrift stores to obtain these materials. In fact, the Census Bureau’s partnership specialists have handed millions of them out for free! Did you get any Census Bureau swag? If so, let us know in the comments section!

Here is a photo of the all-too-easy-to-replicate canvas bags and non-photo IDs used by actual 2010 Census enumerators:

UPDATE: A READER JUST SUBMITTED US A PHOTO OF A BLACK CENSUS BAG THAT WAS FOUND ON EBAY…IT LOOKS AMAZINGLY SIMILAR TO THE 2010 CENSUS BAG. IN FACT, I AM 99.99% CERTAIN THAT THE PERSON WHO LISTED IT ON EBAY PUT IT UP AS A CENSUS 2000 BAG IN ERROR. TO ME, IT APPEARS TO BE A 2010 CENSUS BAG…ANY RESPONSE TO THAT PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE?