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’

New #Census report from the Inspector General…

Monday, June 14th, 2010

It’ s only four pages and the last part of the report consists of recommendations based on problems highlighted earlier. Please post your comments below. Given how critical this report is, we can only imagine how scathing the next full report from the Inspector General will be.

http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/reports/2010/OAE-19893-01.pdf

MyTwoCensus analysis:

1. Respondents are facing additional burdens because questionnaires are not being handled properly. The report doesn’t go far enough in criticizing the Census Bureau for creating a system whereby sensitive data is just laying around for long periods of time , thereby compromising the data’s confidentiality.

2. As has been discussed in recent weeks on MyTwoCensus.com, there are no guidelines that state whether enumerators can use the Internet to determine proxy information. A memo was sent out about this a couple of weeks ago, informing field workers not to use the Internet, but it is unknown whether this memo reached everyone. Either way, it was sent way too late in the operation to be effective as most enumerators are likely already set in their ways of tracking people down.

3. That 1/3 of interviews were proxy interviews is an unacceptably high figure.

4. Enumerators should never have to give out their personal phone numbers unless they are being compensated by the government or have this written into their contract as part of their job description.

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.

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.

MyTwoCensus Investigation: 2010 Census Response Rates Lag Behind Response Rates From 2000

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Correction/Update:

1. I may have misheard Dr. Groves at the Wednesday Press conference when I wrote that he said 2010 response rates were as good as they were in 2000.

2. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that 2010 response rates are significantly WORSE than they were in 2000. My suspicions were also raised today when I learned that the response rate increased by 14% in one day. This means that some 25 million forms were processed in the past 24 hours, which is historically unheard of!

I apologize for any inaccuracies, but I stand behind the data and statistics that I am reporting, and furthermore, other than the one statement above, I stand by the rest of my claims. I was likely confused when I heard Dr. Groves say “We’re off to a pretty good start.”

Though we don’t have the full transcript yet (we will publish it here as soon as we get it), Census Director Robert M. Groves made claims at yesterday’s press conference that mail response rates for the 2010 Census were ahead of/on par with what they were in 2000. These claims are false for the following reasons…

According to Appendix F of this document from the 2000 Census, http://www.census.gov/pred/www/rpts/A.7.a.pdf, the mail return rate was at 42% ten days after the major questionnaire mailing period began on 3/13/2000. But in 2010, ten days after the process started on 3/15, the  participation rate is at only 20%. Here are screenshots from the 2000 report and from 2010Census.gov to check out the data:

Now, look at the mailback rate for 2010 on 3/25 (This year the mailing started on 3/15. In 2000 it started on 3/13.):

*ALSO, PLEASE  KEEP IN MIND THAT THE 2010 CENSUS FORM IS WAY SHORTER/EASIER TO COMPLETE THAN THE ONE FROM 2000!

Tales From The Field: Group Quarters Validation Enables Costs To Soar

Monday, October 26th, 2009
As the “Group Quarters Validation” phase of the 2010 Census is well underway, we bring you another detailed account from a Census Bureau employee in New York City (Those interested in writing for us should not hesitate to send contributions…details on our contact page) whose anonymity we are committed to protecting. If you are wondering why there have been so many cost overruns at the Census Bureau, check out the following:

Group Quarters Validation started across the country four weeks ago (September 21st) when the office telephoned about two hundred listers and told them it was going to five weeks of work. Several times I overheard the managers say that we had the largest workload in the nation. The Census headquarters originally estimated our workload to be approximately 37,000 OLQ cases in about 800 blocks. But the number of cases was misleading because sometimes entire multi unit buildings and their units were classified as OLQs. Headquarters later estimated the OLQ workload by counting unique basic street addresses (a house number and street name).  They estimated about 8,800 unique street addresses in about 800 blocks, implying each block averaged about ten unique OLQs. I’ve only been in New York a few years but in this city I know that there is not a single block with ten churches, homeless shelters, hostels or hotels.

During the week when we were preparing questionnaires and field staff were being trained it was becoming clearer that there were only about 1,500 unique OLQs. With over two hundred field employees if each lister conducted a couple of ten minute interviews they would be completed in a matter of days. By the time the office knew what hit them the field operation winded down. It was only the first week.

But for those in the office the nightmare was just beginning. In the first few days the twelve office clerks were so inundated with checking in work from the field that we could not keep up and were backlogged for days. Census headquarters overestimated the productivity of quality control clerks who had no field training and had to review every questionnaire using a four page checklist and write every corresponding non-survivor 14 digit bar code manually on a sheet of paper. The initial office review of each questionnaire, manual transcribing of non-survivor labels and final office review of the work was so slow that none of the work could be shipped to the National Processing Center (NPC) in Jeffersonville, Indiana fast enough.

When the field work dwindled we did bring in a few listers who were familar with the procedures and they simplified everything for us. But the office managers (LCOM, AMQA, AMFO and some guy with a German accent) who knew nothing about procedures, sat around, twiddled their thumbs, raised their voices and continuously talked down to us for not processing work fast enough. At first we began processing non survivor labels by placing them on a single non-survivor label page. However since headquarters overestimated the number of OLQs they produced too many 44 page questionnaires and not enough non-survivor label pages. Since each questionnaire and non survivor label page had a unique bar code used for scanning at the NPC we could not photocopy these pages. So when we ran out of single label pages to put labels on, the new nationwide procedure was to slap these labels on the full 44 page questionnaires. So we started mailing full 44 page questionnaires with only two pages filled out back to NPC.


The Bureau was not willing to be flexible with their deadline of four weeks. So, of course the New York Region panicked. They started sending people from the Rocky Hill and Hoboken New Jersey offices; even flew in managers from Greensboro, North Carolina to help us and authorized overtime for everyone: clerks, office supervisors and even managers. What didn’t make sense to me was why they sent New Jersey field employees who are paid for their travel time. They have to travel two hours to our office and two hours home so their time working in the office was only four hours, when they could of simply hired some of the hundreds of listers from our county that only received a week’s worth of work.

The Census Bureau managers seem to rely on panicking to make brash decisions that will skyrocket their costs. We are told that we are not to work overtime without supervisor approval but they’ll then offer everyone overtime, pay for New Jersey people to commute half a day and fly people from across the country to help us finish the operation. I’m disappointed that no one at the local office, regional or even at headquarters caught this error that could of possibly saved us thousands of dollars. We could of simply hired just fifty listers to work the full four weeks and saved at least $100,000. Instead we trained 228 listers for a week to work just a week.

Today was the first day of the fourth week of the operation and we finished the operation last night after two weeks of twelve hour days. While I’m glad to have gotten overtime pay I am a little saddened we are four days ahead of schedule and will all be let go for lack of work. I can’t imagine what the dent in the wallet of the federal government must of been not only in our office but across the country to print all those questionnaires and then have to ship them to NPC with only two pages filled out, not to mention the overtime.

During the operation, hearing listers speak about problems in the field were the best stories to pass the time doing repetitive work. We were getting hammered by mistakes made during address canvassing, including the entire high rise apartment building classified as OLQ and missed buildings in areas where they told listers to work quicker during address canvassing or risk losing their jobs. These missing buildings could only be missed if the lister didn’t go out into the field. Listers may have a problem with the outhouse or storage shed listed as an OLQ. But how do you deal with the high rise apartment building where the lister marked every unit an OLQ?  Then how do you slap thousands of labels on 44 page questionnaires, fill out the first and last page only and box them to ship to NPC?

At the very least Census didn’t train extra people during the operation and now they actually have a quality control system to prevent field employees from falsifying information. I suppose things are going better at this point but I am not even going to voice my concern to them because it will fall upon death ears. They are going to wipe their hands clean and say that we were told it would be about five weeks and we could be released earlier. Certainly the listers in the field didn’t expect to only be working just a few days in the worst recession since the Great Depression.