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 ‘Questionnaire Assistance Centers’

Census Bureau Official: The Worst Local Census Office In the Nation

Monday, May 10th, 2010

The following piece comes from an anonymous Census Bureau official in New York whose identity has been verified but will remain protected by MyTwoCensus.com. This work below does not necessarily represent the views of Stephen Robert Morse or MyTwoCensus.com:

From the outside our LCO looks great. It sits in a high end commercial office building with beautiful views of Park Avenue and the Grand Central Terminal. But on the inside the office is the prime example of the appalling waste, lack of accountability, sabotage and finger pointing that has become widespread here at the 2010 Census.

Our LCO contains the upscale doorman buildings of the East Side, the multi-million dollar condos in Union Square and the Lower East Side, Fifth Avenue retail stores such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Bergdorf Goodman and famous restaurants such as Tavern on the Green and Smith & Wollensky. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment is upwards of three thousand dollars a month. For months, numerous employees warned everyone the demography of the residents and the high real estate prices was going to be a problem finding applicants for $18.75 an hour and free training space. The recruiting and partnership assistants had trouble finding partners that would donate space that we could use five days a week for eight hours a day. The LCOM made clerks cold call high end banquet halls, and conference rooms in private office buildings but most of them refused because in such a recession these businesses could be generating revenue instead of donating their space. Some spaces though were nice enough to say that if we would be willing to offset some of their custodial, security costs or even the cost for toilet paper they would offer us the space. But the Census Bureau was adamant about not paying a single cent for space.

The other problem was recruiting enough applicants. The office clerk rate of $14.25 and field employee rate of $18.75 an hour was chump change for what is considered one of the highest real estate prices in the country. Most of the people who take a job for these pay rates are students, public housing or subsidized housing residents or retirees. For this very reason we were ranked last in the nation when it came to recruiting enough applicants to do the census.

To no one’s surprise since recruiting numbers were not being met the career census employees at regional census center (RCC) and headquarters pointed fingers, blamed the local census office managers and bring in outsiders. They brought in regional technicians and other recruiting assistants from Queens to show us how to plaster and flier neighborhoods with posters. Nevertheless they didn’t even make a dent in the recruiting numbers. Looking for someone to blame the RCC fired the recruiting manager and asked another one to take over. When the second one refused to work with the LCOM, the solution was fire her too. Then they offered it to a Westchester manager who declined also. (smart move) And the regional technician from Queens spent a week there before he was fed up. Are you starting to notice a trend? You know there is a problem when people would rather be fired than work with the LCOM.

The employees refused to work with the LCOM because she was condescending, oftentimes publicly humiliating and sabotaging other managers from getting their job done. Most of all, the LCOM had it out for the AMQA. She [LCOM] diverted a strong OOS from quality assurance to recruiting and told recruiting assistants to refrain from finding training sites and questionnaire assistance centers (QACs). When the area manager sent partnership assistants to help look for additional QAC sites the LCOM diverted them also. Then they sent a regional technician to help her. He mapped the geographic location of all the QAC sites and figured out the hours they would be most effective. Then he coordinated some recruiting assistants to help telling them exactly where he needed QACs and what hours he needed them. She threw away the work and tried to get the regional technician fired.

At the climax, when the LCOM resigned her going away party featured a clerk who impersonated her in a wig and stormed the lobby like a drama scene from a reality television show. After the LCOM left, an RCC employee became the acting LCOM. Like other RCC employees he offered little constructive help but sitting at his computer falling asleep or basically hovering, standing over, watching as temporary hourly employees slave away at processing work on an antiquated system that does not work.

When it came time to hire enumerators for non response follow-up our office still didn’t have enough training spaces but told to select applicants anyways. Despite being the worst LCO in the country the office managed to select almost 2,000 applicants, hiring a negligible number of non-citizens and those who scored below 70 from an applicant pool of about 5,000. (the original applicant testing goal was over 12,000 applicants) Instead of finally compromising and paying for much needed space RCC asked the LCO managers to create a schedule to take advantage of every single seat in a classroom, moving and splitting crews of enumerators from one training site to another each day. A great idea from the outlook; but when you try to implement this it can be a logistical nightmare. We promised jobs to thousands of applicants but couldn’t fit them into training space so all this week we fielded phone calls from thousands of irate applicants who were desperate for work or enumerators who don’t even know where and when their next day of training is. While the office is fielding phone calls headquarters is making sure we key enough hires in the system. The office resorted to training their employees in the hallway of a high end commercial Park Avenue South office. The managers have to work from morning to midnight, sometimes through the night and everyday there are employees who basically break down and burst into tears in the office. The Census Bureau could of saved themselves money simply by pay their partners a stipend to offset custodial or security fees or even the toilet paper than pay the wages and overtime for the entire office which is probably in the tens of thousands.

Another example of government waste at its finest is how they bring in huge cubic dump containers to throw out entire storerooms of materials for the group quarters enumeration, recruiting brochures, and questionnaires. I ask myself if it was worth firing our AMQA over lack of Questionnaire Assistance Center sites when entire cubic containers of be counted census forms were just thrown out? In a few weeks during the non-response follow up operation we have to enumerate all the housing units in entire high rise apartment buildings in Manhattan because no one received census forms. This is simply because headquarters and RCC rushed and told people to work faster last year. If New York City is missing entire high rise apartment buildings imagine how many single family homes are missing across America. The joke of the office is if things don’t work headquarters will fly in people who will come in take over and magically “finish the job”. This is simply why places like New York City get undercounted.

So when the newspaper reporters are standing outside our office demanding interviews about why the office won’t respond to applicants request about job training. Why don’t they ask the RCC and headquarters? From the first look you can blame the temporary local census office but the real blame falls onto the RCC and headquarters who evaluate purely on numbers with little regard to the demography and real estate costs of one of the most expensive neighborhoods in America. The New York East 2230 office is the prime example of career level census managers who have tunnel vision. These people are former statisticians, mathematicians and geographers who are great at quantitative analysis but have little management experience and strategy.

If this LCO works just like any other office in terms of the waste it shows what must be happening in 494 offices across the nation every day. The Census Bureau MO “when things don’t work throw more money, resources and people at it.” This is why the census costs 15 billion dollars. The Census needs someone with real management experience and who is a real visionary. The employees at regional census center and headquarters should be ashamed of themselves. And to think the inspector general’s office was here just weeks ago makes it even more appalling. You can be sure I’ll be writing the congressional subcommittee about this.

On the Closing of the Be Counted and Questionnaire Assistance Centers . . . and Beyond

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

The following press release represents the opinions of the Latino Census Network, not MyTwoCensus.com:
by the Latino Census Network (April 21, 2010)

The Latino Census Network has received a number of inquiries about the closing of the Census Bureau’s Be Counted and Questionnaire Assistance Centers. Members of the New York City Council have written to the Census Directors asking that these centers be kept open for an additional 30 days. Other have expressed surprise that these centers have closed.

The Census Bureau informs us that these centers had been scheduled to close on April 19th from the start. Because these were established through contracts with community-based organizations and other institutions through contracts, it would be difficult to extend these agreements at this point.

The Census Bureau’s focus now is on their Non-Response Follow-up (NRFU). Door-to-door census taking occurs starting May 1nd through June and early July 2010. Local census takers will visit households that did not mail back a census form. All census takers carry an official badge and a shoulder bag – both with the Department of Commerce seal – and a binder. During a visit, census takers will show ID and hand respondents an information sheet explaining that their answers are confidential. The census taker will complete the questionnaire, which should take about 10 minutes. If no one is home, a “notice of visit” will be left at the door inviting the resident to call the census taker to complete the form over the phone.

With the mail-in participation so close now to the 2000 Census rates at the national level, the Census Bureau no doubt sees this mail-in part of the process a success. It is expected that in the next week or so, additional Census forms will come in, making it possible that the 2000 participation rate will be matched. Given all of the factors that make this 2010 Census more challenging than the last (9/11, greater anti-immigrant sentiment, etc.), this level of mail-in participation is considered a success, at least at the national level.

Title 13, U.S. Code, requires that the apportionment population counts for each state be delivered to the President within nine months of the census date, by December 31. 2010. According to Title 2, U.S. Code, within one week of the opening of the next session of the Congress, the President must report to the Clerk of the House of Representatives the apportionment population counts for each state and the number of Representatives to which each state is entitled. Also according to Title 2, U.S. Code, within 15 days, the Clerk of the House must inform each state governor of the number of representatives to which each state is entitled.

The legislatures in each state are responsible for geographically defining the boundaries of their congressional and other election districts–a process known as redistricting–and more detailed census results are used for these purposes. Public Law 94-171, enacted by Congress in December 1975, requires the Census Bureau to provide state legislatures with the small area census population tabulations necessary for legislative redistricting. The Census Bureau must transmit the total population tabulations to the states by April 1, 2011.

Census Bureau Officials: The Questionnaire Assistance Center and “Be Counted” site debacles

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Update from the authors in response to comments: The QAC Representative’s duty station is the QAC site so they are not paid for mileage to and from the QAC site. For field staff their duty station is their home so they are paid milage to and from training (enumerators, crew leaders and field operations supervisors, partnership assistants and recruiting assistants) If they exceed eight hours a day in training the rest of the hours go into overtime. However if they are under 40 hours a week whether they receive overtime rate pay is not known.

A group of Census Bureau officials who have requested anonymity (but have had their identities verified by MyTwoCensus.com) shared the following report with us about Questionnaire Assistance Centers and Be Counted sites:

We are a team of recruiting assistants partnership assistants, clerks and questionnaire assistance center representatives who worked with the Questionnaire Assistance Centers and pooled together our resources to write you this article. We hope this article will answer many of the questions communities have about the Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC) and Be Counted (BC) sites.

As you know Questionnaire Assistance Centers or QACs are places staffed by Census Bureau employees where people with a question about filling out their census form, need language assistance or believe they were not counted on their own household form can pick up a form. The only difference between QACs and BCs is that BC sites are not staffed. The intention is good but a series of poor management mistakes, lack of communication and prioritizing quantity over quality undermined the operation and will ultimately lead to an under count in the New York region.

In other regions partnership works with the local census offices but in our region they work out of the regional census center and independent of the local offices. The search for QAC and BC sites was a partnership task, however the management and staffing of these sites is done at the local census office by the Assistant Manager for Quality Assurance (AMQA). For months though, the local census office never interacted with partnership. Sometime early this year the local census offices discovered that there would not be enough QAC and BC sites and so the recruiting assistants were told to go out and in addition to recruiting applicants find potential QAC and BC sites.

At the local census office level all anyone was worried about was getting the “magic number of QAC sites” and in a mad scramble there was no regard to quality. There was little guidance given as to what would be a good QAC. Of course most community based organizations loved the idea of being a QAC because it was beneficial to the community they served. But most of these QACs were during weekday hours and some were little known organizations with no foot traffic. The big corporate giants such as chain banks who were census partners were the worst. They are featured on the 2010 Census website  as being census partners but when it came time to ask them to be a QAC they flat out refused.

In the third week of February all the local offices were told they needed to get all partners who agreed to be a QAC site confirmed by signing a conditions for donation of services and space agreement. When local census office employees went out to visit these places who had originally agreed to be a QAC some refused to sign the contract. Those who refused to sign the agreement did so because of a clause that basically says the Census Bureau retains their right to sue the partner if they do anything to screw Uncle Sam. Other partners denied knowing they agreed to be a Questionnaire Assistance Center. Many of the partners listed in the Integrated Partnership Contact Database (IPCD) which partnership used to keep track of their partners were either phantom or ones where partnership merely went to a networking event and took business cards. When crunch time came the new directive was we could accept verbal agreements and forget about the contract. Of course that lowered our legitimacy considering we had ID badges with no pictures.

The training was even worse. The QACs are staffed by census bureau employees who are trained for one day (see attached training schedule). But considering that there is two hours of administrative paperwork and an hour of fingerprinting the actual training is a half day. Many of the trainers rushed the training because they didn’t want to go into overtime. The employees are paid the overtime rate if training goes over eight hours in a single day even if you are under forty hours for the entire week.

The 2010 Census website www.2010.census.gov pulls the QAC sites’ location and hours from the Integrated Partnership Contact Database (IPCD) which is an off the shelf piece of sales management software from salesforce.com. On March 19th, the first day the QAC and BC sites were scheduled to open, the 2010 Census Website didn’t even feature all the sites, the wrong sites or the wrong hours. The following Monday headquarters pulled the website offline.

The QACs are open on average about 15 hours a week but a lot of us wanted more hours because we were paid at the clerk rate, the lowest level of LCO pay. For some of us during the first week we were sitting at places where there was either no foot traffic or the line was out the door and around the block.

In summary, the QAC/BC operation is another example of Census Bureau dumb decision number 7485840, 7485841 and so forth. 7485840: prioritizing quantity over quality of QAC sites
7485841: training QAC representatives for less than a day
7485842: using an off the shelf piece of sales management software which was overly complicated
7485843: having partnership working independently of the local census office
7485844: an agreement that tells your partner you will not waive your right to sue them

They could of done this with fewer sites and better hours. It is extremely hard to manage almost a hundred QAC sites. Some of our QACs were understaffed, some have no traffic, others are not staffed when they should be. As for partnership, they are held to no performance standards. The regional director and top managers in our region accepts what headquarters tells them to do, puppets of a huge bureaucracy and does little to advocate the special needs of the region.

When the 2010 Census ends and the Census Bureau advertises the thousands of nationwide partners that helped them by donating space and services it should be taken with a grain of salt. Most of the partners in the Integrated Partnership Contact Database aren’t really partners and even if they are they now want to back out knowing that Uncle Sam will not hold them harmless and sue them if they screw them.

Questionnaire Assistance Centers in Focus

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

We’ve received our fair share of tips about the effectiveness of operations at Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QACs), so we’re hoping that readers can comment on these centers and experiences you have had with them. Locales ranging from churches to senior centers to 7-11s are doubling as QACs. Unfortunately, we’ve been told that the “Take 10 Map” (that is annoyingly slow on all three computers I work with) doesn’t have every QAC listed. I noticed that Torrington, Connecticut (ZIP Code 06790), where I spent summers during my youth, only has one QAC. On the other hand, the South Shore of Nassau County (Zip Code 11570) in New York, where I grew up, has many QACs. Why the disparity?

One tipster told us, “Some organizations who originally agreed to this commitment backed out because the last paragraph of the attached agreement. My interpretation is that the government still wants to retain their right to sue if someone screws Uncle Sam.”

The paragraph in question from the Space Donation Agreement reads as follows:

Because the Federal Government is self-insured, it is the U.S. Census Bureau’s policy not to purchase or pay for commercial liability insurance. In addition, the Anti-Deficiency Act, Title 31 U.S.C. §1341,prohibits any Federal agency from undertaking contingent and undetermined liability without funds being appropriated by Congress for such purpose. For this reason, the Government cannot agree to a “hold-harmless” clause nor can it waive the right to sue.

*MyTwoCensus.com calls upon our readers to visit QACs in your area to test the knowledge of those who work there and to make sure that the QACs actually exist.