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 ‘partnership’

The latest from the Inspector General’s office…

Sunday, December 26th, 2010

We failed to post a piece from the Inspector General about the Census Bureau’s “partnership” programs that MyTwoCensus criticized heavily for its lax spending procedures. Check out the November 18, 2010 report HERE.

And if you turn to page 20 of this Inspector General’s office document that was released on December 20, 2010,  you will find an update on recommendations being made for the 2020 Census.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Las Vegas money well spent…hardly

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Update: To clarify, Michael Cook of the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office has noted in the comments section that the below event differs from the $100,000 trip to the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas that CBS recently investigated.

Thanks to the reader who alerted us to this YouTube video that was uploaded in August. Dozens (perhaps hundreds) of people watch a woman sing a mediocre a cappella rendition “I Love Rock & Roll” and this supports the 2010 Census in what way?

Follow up: Census Bureau gives “awards” to organizations that did “nothing more than cover” the 2010 Census

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

I came across a cheeky and informative post from the Willammette Week, a publication based in Portland, Oregon about the Census Bureau’s “awards” scheme. Here’s the post:

IMG_0066
Look what we got recently! It’s a plaque from the United States Census Bureau!

The Census Bureau tells us in an email the plaque cost $6.95 and that it sent 135 of these plaques to organizations in Portland as a token of gratitude for helping out with this past census. That works out to about $938 in Portland, not including shipping,

Wondering how that played out around the country? We did too. About 59,000 of the plaques were sent nationwide. Multiply that by their $6.95 cost and that’s about $410,000 worth of gratitude, again not including shipping.

These plaques and thank-you letters were sent to organizations “that collectively provided countless donated goods and services to the 2010 Census effort,” according to an email from Census Bureau spokeswoman Michelle Lowe. Lowe’s email also states that some of the plaques went to organizations that helped save the census bureau $23 million by providing resources to help “test and train” census workers and to other news organizations who did nothing more than cover the census like we did.

Um, thanks.

IMG_0072

Note: Somebody at the Census Bureau has decided to make the word “newspaper” into the words “news paper.” The grammar police who have commented on MyTwoCensus so many times should be all over the Census Bureau for this egregious error.

Census Bureau official criticizes $1.6 billion savings

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

An anonymous Census Bureau official submitted the following to MyTwoCensus.com:

Last week Commerce Secretary Locke touted the Census Bureau’s $1.6 billion cost savings which they will return to the Treasury.  But I agree with congressman Issa that the touting of 1.6 billion returned to the Treasury is simply a “smoke and mirrors budget gimmickry that the American people have come to expect from the federal government.”

The bureau’s incompetency was saved by luck. There were no natural disasters and the recession produced a workforce that was otherwise unparalleled. About $800 million were in unspent funds set aside for hurricanes, floods and earthquakes which there were none. It is analogous to as if I lent you $10 and you returned it when it was not needed.

But the workforce productivity that beat expectations came from alleged poor management practices and labor and wage violations.
The most common complaint is the overtime it denied field, office staff and LCO managers. There were many office and field staff who worked many hours and never submitted time sheets for fear of termination in the worst employment market since the Great Depression.
The report also fails to mention that the first few operations (address canvassing, groups quarters validation) were overstaffed and thousands of employees were trained and got either no work or less than a week’s work.
The Census Bureau also entered into poor contracts such as the Harris handheld computers and PBOCS. And last but not least the supplies and paper contracts it entered into which produced enormous amounts of waste. There are entire rooms of unused office supplies (rubber bands, erasers, pencils, file folders) and preprinted manuals and administrative forms in huge quantities that are quietly being made to disappear. We’re not talking boxes, we are talking hundreds to thousands of boxes per LCO. The counter argument was any operation would of generated office waste but any census employee who works in the office who packed the shipping trucks knows exactly what I am talking about.
Robert Groves should have a press conference about what they are doing with the truckloads of unused supplies and whether they are returning those to the contractor for a refund. Perhaps the Inspector General should do an audit over the truckloads and pallets that are being quietly thrown out. In order to hide this waste some managers are threatening employees who document this with immediate termination.
I am optimistic that in the months after the census ends the truth will come out. In retrospect had the Census entered into better IT contracts, had there there not been problems with PBOCS, had they better estimated simply the amount of rubber bands every office would need they could have saved them themselves possibly at least another billion.

Steve Jost of the Census Bureau responds to my ranch resort post…

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Steve Jost of the Census Bureau  wrote the following response to my recent ranch resort post, but please note that he does not address the airfares or hotels or other transportation costs of Census Bureau officials from the Denver office that I inquired about:

I suppose one could fly speck every single event or Census related project for cost efficiencies, however this example was a poor one to choose to make some argument about waste.  Indeed, it is a great example of how vital the 2010 Census partnership effort is, and how much it helped save the taxpayers.

First, the partnership effort deserves a great deal of credit for helping the country achieve a mail back response rate and cooperation during our door to door phase that contributed to reducing the total cost of the Decennial Census by $1.6 billion.

Second, this luncheon was at no cost to the taxpayers as the food was provided by partners.  They were gathered together for a Census sponsored briefing on data products that will be coming out from the 2010 Census and the Bureau spent just $500 for room rental for that briefing.  We took the opportunity at this briefing to also thank these partners for their generous contributions toward making the 2010 Census a success.

One example of how our 255,000 partners helped reduce the cost of the Census through their own civic engagement is how much money the government saved because local organizations donated space for testing and training centers.   Nationally, they helped saved the taxpayers over $179 million in rents that did not have to be paid so we could train our temporary workforce of some 565,000 enumerators.   This luncheon was a small gesture of thanks for their significant contribution.

Is the 2010 Census road tour still happening?

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Even though nearly all enumerations have been completed at this point, a reader submitted a photo to us from the Whiting, Indiana Pierogi Festival (yum!) that implies partnership/outreach efforts are ongoing. MyTwoCensus.com seeks to determine why money is still being spent on partnership/road tour activities. Take a look at your tax dollars, still at work:

Protectionism 101: Congressman probes why 2010 Census swag is made outside the US

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Though I’ve written about waste for some time on this site, only in recent weeks has my attention turned to 2010 Census swag, particularly because I learned that it has been wasted in large quantities. Now,  Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch, a Democrats, want to investigate why so many 2010 Census promotional materials weren’t made in the US of A. Here’s the scoop from the Boston Herald:

An outraged Massachusetts lawmaker is calling for a congressional probe of the federal government’s purchase of foreign-made census propaganda with taxpayer cash, the Herald has learned.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-S. Boston) is requesting an investigation into the spending by the U.S. Census Bureau on the heels of a Herald report revealing that census swag including hats, T-shirts, toys and other trinkets were made in China and Honduras.

“It is deeply troubling that with 10 percent unemployment the U.S. Census Department, whose central responsibility is to locate Americans, could not locate an American company to provide its hats and T-shirts,” Lynch said. “This does not inspire confidence. We have contacted the Subcommittee on the Census and have asked them to investigate.”

The Herald reported yesterday that boxes of census promotional materials distrubuted in Boston were made overseas.

Census officials said that $42 million was spent on 67 million promotional items as part of a $1 billion ad blitz. A Census spokeswoman said the bureau bought the items from 2,300 American companies. She conceded that some of the companies may have bought materials from overseas companies.

Census officials said assembly, embroidery, stitching, silk screening and other craft work was done in America and that all payments were made to U.S. companies.

The flap has infuriated labor union officials, who blasted the federal government for not doing more to ensure that products paid for with American tax dollars were made in the United States.

The census promotional goods were part of a massive effort to encourage citizens to fill out their 2010 census forms. Much of the promotional material was shipped to local government buildings for distribution to volunteers and part-time workers.

As of last Monday, more than 72 percent of Americans had participated in the census by mail, matching the rate from the last census in 2000.

$47,000 worth of swag in Florida…

Friday, May 7th, 2010

From the Orlando Sentinel:

If you got a free Census T-shirt at an Orlando Magic game, your swag came at taxpayers’ expense.

The U.S. Census Bureau spent $47,000 on 20,000 shirts given to Magic fans during a nationally televised game, but the bureau’s message wasn’t entirely clear to everyone who received the shirts.

A local television station interviewed people who said they were puzzled by the meaning behind the shirt’s “Be Counted” message.

Denver Colorado sees THOUSANDS of dollars worth of 2010 Census swag unused — including canvas bags

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

My suspicions about waste and leftover swag enabling scammers to do their jobs more easily is proven true yet again. Thanks to Colorado NBC affiliate 9News.com, and specifically investigative reporter Jace Larson for the following. Let’s hope that he follows up on this like he said he will at the bottom of the article:

DENVER – The U.S. Census Bureau spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on promotional items used to convince more people to mail back their census forms, but a 9Wants to Know investigation found thousands of the items were dropped off, unused, at a local high school.

The leftover items, such as backpacks, cloth grocery bags, hats, pins, magnets and business card holders, were dropped off at Lakewood High School last month.

“We probably had, between the backpack style [bags] and the shopping bag style [bags], over 1,000 dropped off,” Lakewood High School Principal Ron Castagna told 9Wants to Know.

He estimates more than 1,000 posters printed in different languages were also dropped off at the school.

An unknown Census worker walked into the school in mid-April and asked the principal if she could leave the items. She did not ask the school to distribute them.

“[She] said, ‘We have extra stuff. We’re wrapping up the Census and we just want to distribute the materials,’” Castagna said.

It did not sit well with him.

“Wait a minute, times are tough and I’m sitting in a position where we’ve got a school district that’s done everything the right way and yet we’re still going to face budget cuts,” he said.

Among the many boxes of posters the Census worker left at the school, were more than 300 promotional posters printed in Farsi. Farsi is the language spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan.

9Wants to Know reviewed the U.S. Census Bureau’s numbers from 2000 and found 360 people spoke Farsi in all of Jefferson County at that time.

Castagna says he hopes to let students use the backs of the posters in art classes.

“How much money was spent on items like this that could have been spent someplace else?” Castagna asked.

9Wants to Know broke down Census spending. The U.S. Census Bureau spent $4,899,348 on promotion for 10 states in the Denver region.

U.S. Census Bureau spokeswoman Lauren Shaw says nationally local offices used an average of 98.7 percent of the promotional items ordered. Leftover items account for 1.3 percent of all materials ordered, according to Shaw.

Shaw also says she believed the materials dropped off at Lakewood High School represent unused materials for 10 states that are part of the Denver region, not just one county or one state.

Denver Region Census spokesman Doug Wayland says the spending was worth it.

“Visual items raise awareness about the Census,” Wayland said.

He says promotional materials actually save taxpayers money even if there are extra items left over. He points to national figures to prove his point.

Promotion and advertising nationwide cost $370 million this year. The U.S. Census Bureau says a 2000 advertising and promotional campaign helped boost mail-back participation by about 5 percent. If that happens again this year, the campaign could save taxpayers $425 million. That is because for each percentage increase in the mail-in participation rate, the Census Bureau says taxpayers save $85 million.

When residents mail back the census form, it costs the government 42 cents for postage. When people do not mail it back, a Census worker must go to the home and that costs $57 per house.

Wayland says proof that advertising and promotional campaigns work is in the numbers. The percentage of people who mailed in census forms had declined from 1970 to 1990. In 2000, the first year of an advertising and promotional campaign, the percentage of people who mailed in their census forms increased.

“We reversed three decades of people not sending back their questionnaires,” Wayland said. “Instead of those people not mailing back their questionnaires, they are motivated to mail it back based on those reinforced messages.”

“There’s a term I like to use called image transfer. You see national advertisements on posters and you see the message. Then when you see an item with the Census logo at home there is a transfer of the message that was on TV or on a billboard. Repetition reinforces the message that the Census is important,” Wayland said.

A member of a Colorado policy watchdog group says because the costs of going door-to-door, using promotional materials makes sense.

“They are covering the country in as many ways as possible, through schools, through promotional materials, advertisements on TV through door to door canvassers. They are really making sure every person is counted. That is really important,” Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute Fiscal Project Coordinator Kathy White said.

The Census Bureau says the census is vitally important to funding for local communities in addition to helping Congress decide how many representatives communities, counties and states will have in government bodies.

Nonprofit organizations use census numbers to estimate the number of potential volunteers in communities across the nation.

When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992, census information aided the rescue effort by providing estimates of the number of people in each block, the Census Bureau says on its website.

It also says that census numbers were used to support a request for a new community center in New England. Senior citizens successfully lobbied for a new center before county commissioners, according to the Census Bureau.

The U.S. Census has faced criticism before.

Many Americans were unhappy that the Census sent three letters to households reminding people to fill out the form.

Shaw says that is less expensive than sending a Census worker to homes that would not have otherwise filled out the form.

Also, a government audit alleged in February that the Census Bureau paid employees who never actually worked and paid others who overbilled for travel expenses.

Several 9NEWS viewers question why some of the promotional materials say “Made in China.”

Shaw told 9Wants to Know that the U.S. Census Bureau contracted with American businesses for the materials. She says American businesses chose to use items made overseas, but printed the logos on the bags in the United States. She says the majority of other items were made in the United States.

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?

In Focus: How your $timulus package money is being $pent by the Cen$u$ Bureau

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

H/t to Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporting outlet Pro Publica for sharing the following data with us. Here are some screen captures that depict how your taxpayer dollars are being spent (…interestingly, Census Bureau Communications Director Steve Jost’s former boss Carolyn Maloney represents New York City and the areas where $125,000,000 in stimulus money is headed in communications contracts!). The amount of money being spent on partnership support is particularly disturbing as I have received multiple reports of partnership materials being DISCARDED by the palette!

How well did the Dora the Explorer 2010 Census advertising spot do?

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Here’s the ad…I admit that the tune is quite catchy:

However, using our Twitter tracker widget, the jury is still out on whether or not the campaign was a success:

Can someone send me a “Partnership Specialist” handbook?

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

I would really love to know if the Census Bureau tells its “partnership specialists” to proclaim every 2010 Census an event a success, even if it is actually a colossal failure. From reading recent articles about poor turnouts at Census Bureau events that are called “successes” by staff members, this seems like a probably strategy. I hope that there’s a reader out there who can clarify this information for me. Many thanks in advance. – SRM