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 Cook’

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?

Dr. Groves calls a software change from two years ago a “late change” in operations strategy. MyTwoCensus says this is nonsense.

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Earlier today, the Associated Press released a short article (below) that discusses the Census Bureau’s repeated paper-based operations control system failures. In response to Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves’ comment that, “the problems stem from a late change from a handheld device system to the paper-based system” I can simply point to a response I just received from Michael Cook, Chief of the Decennial Media Relations Branch at the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office. Cook wrote me, “The change to a paper-based NRFU operation ordered two years ago by then-Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, required us to develop PBOCS in a compressed time-frame.” Now, this makes no sense. TWO YEARS IS NOT A COMPRESSED TIME FRAME. It is a ridiculously long amount of time to use engineers to tweak and test a system to make it perfect. Once again, the Census Bureau’s IT failures are pathetic and unaccepptable in the year 2010.

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. Government Accountability Office says a computer system needed to finish the 2010 census may not be up to the job.

GAO Strategic Issues Director Robert Goldenkoff said Friday before a congressional hearing in Los Angeles that the Paper Based Operations Control System hasn’t demonstrated the ability to meet peak requirements of the census as it seeks to count residents who did not return forms by mail.

Census Director Robert Groves says in a statement that the problems stem from a late change from a handheld device system to the paper-based system.

He says the system has worked well so far but that the agency is not out of the woods yet.

The GAO says the Census Bureau is otherwise well-positioned to finish the door-to-door count, which begins Saturday.