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 ‘software’

BS Alert: PBOCS system creators claim that the 2010 Census operations were successful…Lies, lies, and more lies!

Monday, October 25th, 2010

To any investors out there, this is as much of a bull-shit alert as I can possibly give you. As MyTwoCensus has repeatedly noted, and the Census Bureau has repeatedly acknowledged, the PBOCS systems used during 2010 Census operations were complete failures that created problems resulting in severely delayed operations (thousands of workers sat around waiting for assignments) and mismanaged data (2010 Census forms had to be manually imported at a snail’s pace, and who knows how many of these never made it into the system at all…). But the PR teams below state otherwise:

Rally helps ICS deliver mandated requirements 50% faster using 1/3 staff of previous efforts and demonstrates best practices for improving U.S. government’s outsourced IT operations

WASHINGTON and BOULDER, Colo., Oct. 20 /PRNewswire/ — Rally®, the leader in Agile application lifecycle management (ALM), and ICS, a proven 8(a) information technology contractor, today announced that Rally’s Agile ALM platform played a central role in the success of ICS’s work in support of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 decennial census.

Rally Unlimited Edition enabled the 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team to deliver the Census Bureau’s paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) software over 50% faster than delivery times of the 2000 or the 1990 census software, with just 1/3 of the staff. By tracking its software development process with Rally, ICS not only delivered software requirements and met immovable deadlines, but exceeded expectations by delivering an additional software module.

“The efficiencies we realized with Rally are a perfect example of the change being driven within the government to improve the performance of IT operations across the board,” said Khurram Shah, ICS founding partner and chief strategy officer. “The velocity and productivity gains Rally brought to the 2010 Census Agile ICS development team enabled us to deliver applications that processed more data at a much faster rate than during previous Census operations.”

About the United States Census

The United States Census is a decennial census mandated by the United States Constitution to gather statistics on the U.S. population. The data collected helps determine the number of seats states have in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the 2010 Census, this data also helps communities receive more than $400 billion in federal funds each year.

“Because Census deadlines are mandated by the Constitution, there’s no question that the execution, performance and timing of our software development operation was critical,” said Erika Peace, technical project manager at ICS. “Rally provided the right tools at the right time so we could cost-effectively deliver technology more accurately aligned with our client’s business objectives.”

Challenges

Software development requirements are defined by the mandate that decennial U.S. Census figures are based on actual counts of every person dwelling in U.S. residential structures. Delivery dates are immovable, as the Census Bureau is required by law to report the nation’s population and the allotment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state by the end of December. The 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team also had to adapt to changing requirements and unique circumstances, such as the challenges around accurately counting “group quarters,” like college students living in dormitories.

Solution and Results

The 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team brought in Agile development practices to deliver 12 key requirements for the Census Bureau’s paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) software. By implementing Rally Unlimited Edition to provide the real-time status, progress and quality of the Census Bureau’s software development processes, the Agile ICS team over-delivered ahead of schedule – completing all requirements in just 18 months with just 1/3 of the staff.

“By taking advantage of Rally’s Agile ALM platform, the 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team was able to help the Census Bureau improve the speed and accuracy of the 2010 census-taking process in response to the ever-increasing population of the United States,” said Ryan Martens, Rally’s founder and CTO. “Demonstrating that Agile practices meet federal schedule performance index requirements allows Rally’s Agile ALM platform to align with government projects.”

In order to achieve critical requirements within the allotted timeframe, every incremental build resulted in shippable, working software. The 2010 Census Agile ICS software development team used Rally to meet changing requirements, build incrementally and turn deliverables around quickly. Requirements, acceptance tests and source code changes were tracked in Rally’s Agile ALM platform, giving the team rapid feedback on the status and quality of each build.

Rally’s powerful reporting capabilities were critical for providing data analysis, progress reports and status updates to government officials on a daily basis. Providing real-time visibility to senior government officials was vital for making informed decisions, assessing scope change and tracking team progress to delivery.

While addressing the National Press Club, Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert Groves summed up the importance of the PBOCS software delivered by ICS and how well it was performing when he said, “This software system, called the Paper-Based Operation Control System (PBOCS), performs various functions that are really crucial for the non-response follow-up phase…we’re processing at rates that we never imagined we could process.” (1)

Government Agile Success Tour

Rally is hosting a special edition of its Agile Success Tour on October 21, 2010 in Bedford, MA for those working in Federal contracting environments. This free, interactive half-day seminar is intended for anyone who is adopting or considering adopting Agile development practices for government software projects. Northrop Grumman and Rally Software will discuss real-life Agile implementation stories from the Department of Defense, civilian agencies, and state and local governments.

About ICS

ICS is a certified 8(a), Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB), Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) founded in 2003 by seasoned technology professionals.  ICS has proven an innovative designing experience that is client-focused, developing quality solutions in mission critical environments in the public and private sector.

ICS is comprised of experienced management and technically agile professionals with diverse competencies, creating a collaborative program and project management environment for clients. The size of the organization, coupled with the focused range of services performed, enables the company to rapidly source and retain thoroughly trained, certified professionals with tested, measurable performance and proven experience.

About Rally

Rally is the recognized leader in Agile application lifecycle management (ALM). We are dedicated to helping organizations embrace Agile and Lean development practices that increase the pace of innovation and improve product quality. According to a study by QSM Associates, software-driven companies that rely on Rally’s Agile ALM products and services are 50% faster to market and 25% more productive than industry averages. The company’s experienced services group, including training through Agile University, guides companies through the organizational change required to become innovative, Agile businesses. Rally’s products, including AgileZen, currently support more than 3,000 corporate customers, 76,000 projects and 138,000 users in 60 countries. For more information, visit www.rallydev.com.

(1) Dr. Groves briefing at the National Press Club on June 2nd, 2010; transcript available here.

Rally, the Rally logo, Rally Software Development, and AgileZen are trademarks of Rally Software Development Corp. Third-party trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

Rumor: Change in DAPPS Payroll Software?

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Anyone have any knowledge about the following tip:

Subject: DAPPS payroll software change
Message Body:
It appears that the following occurred on either 6/27 or 6/28. A change to D-308 timesheet editing rules in DAPPS was implemented which no longer permits timesheets to include entries for which one entry ends at the same time as the next begins. Such entries have been accepted up until now, and are *necessary* to properly record work across the midnight boundary. Rumor has it that the change was made to stop somebody from getting extra pay by exploiting a bug in the system.

It is not clear what the details are, for example how multiple task codes affect the results, but it is known for certain that work across the midnight boundary is affected, and that the new edit rules can cause errors between timesheets and batches. Washington I.T. support apparently is telling people they have to shift their time 1/4 hour away from midnight (trivially, falsifying their timesheets). My LCO discovered that payroll batches which had been entered without errors for the previous week, if re-opened and re-saved for any reason, generated NEW errors. It also appears that a key diagnostic report regarding overlapping time is now, sometimes, “broken” in a way that masks existing errors.

If my understanding of DAPPS is correct, it is *possible* that MANY LCOs experienced errors when payroll was transmitted 6/29.

The change was made the day before payroll had to be wrapped up and transmitted, and there was NOT SO MUCH AS AN E-MAIL NOTIFICATION. We can’t be the only ones who got burned; HQ I.T. support confirmed the situation and provided the workaround.

I would love to know how much of a problem this has caused, and/or whether the change had to be backed out of the code. As of Tuesday afternoon 6/29 the change was still in place.

Daily Sound Off: Census software violates federal law

Friday, June 11th, 2010

This Daily Sound Off comes from Bob in Elgin, Illinois:

Until Tuesday I was the AMT (Asst. Manager for Technology) for the Elgin IL census office.

Around April 1st, a change was made to DAPPS (Decennial Applicant, Personnel, and Payroll System) so that it required us to ask employees for the last 4 digits of their Social Security Number to reset their passwords. This is a direct violation of the Federal Privacy Act of 1974, and placed me personally at risk of fines and jail every time I illegally requested this information of another employee. I immediately notified IT management of this issue, and opened a trouble ticket.

Despite my complaints, this issue was never fixed. A proper disclosure could have been added to the screen to be read to the employee. Or something other than SSN could have been used to verify identity. The system even asked new users 3 security questions (hobby,favorite color, pets name) when they first logged in, but these are NEVER used anywhere. Or we could have continued to reset passwords with no further authentication, since these users were all in the office and personally known. This was not a situation where passwords were being reset from remote requests over the phone or internet where verification of identity is an issue.

On May 4th, I was ordered by my area manager, Richard Earley (Chicago RCC) to do this in violation of the law, and threatened with termination if I refused to comply. I responded that he did not have the authority to order me to violate federal law.

On May 6th, Richard Earley stopped in our Elgin office, again ordered me to violate this law, and wrote me up twice on D-282 disciplinary forms. He indicated that he would provide me with copies of those forms, and indicate exactly what rules I had violated in refusing to violate the law, but never did either of these.

In late May a new NRFU Shipping application was rolled out to replace the severely performance limited PBOCS system. The new ship app was based on DAPPS, and had the same illegal SSN request to reset passwords. I immediately logged another trouble ticket to alert management of this issue.

Tuesday afternoon, June 8th Richard Earley again came to our office with a letter written by his staff ordering my termination, that he forced our local office manager to sign under threat of termination. Richard was the only one that spoke to me, terminating me on the spot, and walking me out the door. Although a D283 is required for termination, I never saw a copy of that form.

In addition, our Chicago RCC has issued an edict that we can’t terminate anyone for performance issues, we have to demote them to a lower position. This has been done to other employees in my office, but was not done in my case.

According to the rules on this web site

http://www.osc.gov/pppwhatare.htm

Both my discipline and termination are illegal actions.

I have contacted several federal regulatory agencies, including EEO, OMB, OIG, and OSC and filed complaints as soon as I was disciplined.

In addition the census bureau owes a $1000 penalty to every employee that has been asked for an SSN to have their password reset (probably 5-10K people at a cost of $5-10M), according to the Privacy Act. And those responsible for this illegal system should be fined $5000 per the same law.

I would be more than happy to provide additional information on this issue, and would really appreciate it if you would publicize the census violations of the law.

The computer systems have so many bugs and performance issues, that I question that this census will produce a true and accurate count of our population.

Our RCC manages by intimidation and harassment. They have gone out of their way to create a hostile work environment for all involved in this operation. I don’t know if this is a local issue (IL, WI, IN) or national. In my 35 years of work history, I have NEVER seen so many illegal actions in a place of work as this one experience of working for my own government. I find it disgusting.

Census Director Robert M. Groves Lies: The Census Bureau’s software, IT, and computer problems are NOT fixed

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Earlier this week, Dr. Robert M. Groves told NextGov that the Census Bureau’s infamous computer problems with the paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) software were fixed. He even went so far as to have a memo, obtained by MyTwoCensus, sent by his underlings to Census Bureau officials throughout the country, relaying this information:

Attention: Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, Assistant Regional Census Manager for IT, and Lead Support Coordinators/Representatives.

Update: The technical team is ready to implement the fix for performance issues.  In order to do so, the system will be brought down at 6:45 PM ET.  All users need to log off prior to this time and remain out of the system until further notice.  This process should take approximately two hour and once the system is available, there will be a staggered log-in.  DOTS will send out another message regarding when PBOCS will be available and the staggered log-in schedule.


From:

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support 2010/BOC

To:

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support 2010/BOC@BOC

Cc:

Alan J Berlinger/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Annetta Clark Smith/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Arnold A Jackson/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Barbara M LoPresti/TMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Brian E McGrath/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Bridgette M Hendricks/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Chad G Nelson/TMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Curtis L Broadway/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, dcurtner@harris.com, Decennial IT Support List, Dennis W Stoudt/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, dmays@harris.com, Dsouzav@GAO.GOV, DSPO PBO MGMT List, Ellen W Cafarella/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, fdca_pbams@ics-nett.com, FLD 2010 Regional Offices List, FLD Deputy Regional Directors List, FLD Regional Directors, Gail A Leithauser/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Hilda S Dimmock/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Jacque M Biles/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Janet R Cummings/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, jlawrenc@harris.com, K Evan Moffett/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Karen C Field/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Louis R Avenilla/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Lucia J Chavez/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Marilia A Matos/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Maryann M Chapin/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Michael T Thieme/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, mtrocki@OIG.DOC.GOV, Pamela D Mosley/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Robert M Groves/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, SJackson@OIG.DOC.GOV, Tammi Michelle Archer/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, TicehurstJ@gao.gov, TMO DOTS 2010 Staff List, Viola L Lewis Willis/AMSD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Wayne Dustin/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC

Date:

05/13/2010 05:10 PM

Subject:

UPDATE INFORMATION – PBOCS Performance Issues, 5:00 PM ET, 5/13

Sent by:

Rebecca St Martin

Attention: Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, Assistant Regional Census Manager for IT, and Lead Support Coordinators/Representatives.

Update: The technical team is still testing the fix for the performance issues.  They hope to have the system available sometime tonight however at this point we do not have a more specific time frame.  DOTS will send out another update at 7:00 PM ET.

If you have any questions/concerns regarding this message, please respond to only DOTS 2010.  Please do not reply to all.

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support (DOTS) 2010
Phone: 301-763-2010


From:

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support 2010

To:

Decennial IT Support List, FLD Regional Directors, FLD Deputy Regional Directors List

Cc:

TMO DOTS 2010 Staff List, FLD 2010 Regional Offices List, Barbara M LoPresti/TMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Gail A Leithauser/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Janet R Cummings/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Karen C Field/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Louis R Avenilla/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Viola L Lewis Willis/AMSD/HQ/BOC@BOC, DSPO PBO MGMT List, fdca_pbams@ics-nett.com, Hilda S Dimmock/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, SJackson@OIG.DOC.GOV, Pamela D Mosley/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Michael T Thieme/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Wayne Dustin/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Curtis L Broadway/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Dennis W Stoudt/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Maryann M Chapin/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Alan J Berlinger/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, dmays@harris.com, dcurtner@harris.com, jlawrenc@harris.com, TicehurstJ@gao.gov, K Evan Moffett/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, mtrocki@OIG.DOC.GOV, Dsouzav@GAO.GOV, Lucia J Chavez/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Marilia A Matos/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Ellen W Cafarella/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Annetta Clark Smith/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Bridgette M Hendricks/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Tammi Michelle Archer/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Jacque M Biles/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Brian E McGrath/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Arnold A Jackson/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Robert M Groves/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC

Date:

05/13/2010 04:01 PM

Subject:

UPDATE: INFORMATION – PBOCS Performance Issues, 4:00 PM ET, 5/13

Sent by:

Chad G Nelson

Attention: Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, Assistant Regional Census Manager for IT, and Lead Support Coordinators/Representatives.

Information: The fix for the performance issues currently be experienced is still being tested.  We remain with 6 regions on the system and 6 blocked.  DOTS will send out another update at 5:00 PM ET.

If you have any questions/concerns regarding this message, please respond to only DOTS 2010.  Please do not reply to all.

TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support (DOTS) 2010
Phone: 301-763-2010

To: Decennial IT Support List, FLD Regional Directors, FLD Deputy Regional Directors List
From: TMO Decennial Operations Technical Support 2010
Sent by: Chad G Nelson/TMO/HQ/BOC
Date: 05/13/2010 02:15PM
cc: TMO DOTS 2010 Staff List, FLD 2010 Regional Offices List, Barbara M LoPresti/TMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Gail A Leithauser/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Janet R Cummings/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Karen C Field/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Louis R Avenilla/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Viola L Lewis Willis/AMSD/HQ/BOC@BOC, DSPO PBO MGMT List, fdca_pbams@ics-nett.com, Hilda S Dimmock/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, SJackson@OIG.DOC.GOV, Pamela D Mosley/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Michael T Thieme/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Wayne Dustin/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Curtis L Broadway/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Dennis W Stoudt/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, Maryann M Chapin/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Alan J Berlinger/DSCMO/HQ/BOC@BOC, dmays@harris.com, dcurtner@harris.com, jlawrenc@harris.com, TicehurstJ@gao.gov, K Evan Moffett/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, mtrocki@OIG.DOC.GOV, Dsouzav@GAO.GOV, Lucia J Chavez/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Marilia A Matos/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Ellen W Cafarella/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Annetta Clark Smith/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Bridgette M Hendricks/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Tammi Michelle Archer/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Jacque M Biles/FLD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Brian E McGrath/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC, Arnold A Jackson/DMD/HQ/BOC@BOC, Robert M Groves/DIR/HQ/BOC@BOC
Subject: UPDATE INFORMATION – PBOCS Staggered Log-in. Currently Suspended.


Attention:
Regional Director, Deputy Regional Director, Assistant Regional Census Manager for IT, and Lead Support Coordinators/Representatives.


Information:
Due to log-in issues caused by the number of users trying to come onto the system right now, the staggered log-ins have been suspended.  The six remaining RCCs will not be allowed to log-in until the current backlog has declined.  DOTS will send out a message when the remaining RCCs can log-in.

The remaining RCCs are:

2499 = Detroit

2599 = Chicago

2699 = KC

3199 = Denver

2799 = Seattle

3299 = Los Angeles

If you have any questions/concerns regarding this message, please respond to only DOTS 2010.  Please do not reply to all.

(more…)

NextGov: Census Director Robert M. Groves says computer problems are fixed

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

For weeks, we have reported on the serious PBOCS (paper-based operations control system) computer, tech, and software failures that have occurred in Washington and at local census offices throughout the country. According to NextGov, the problems are all solved:

By Dawn Lim 05/11/2010

The top Census Bureau executive said on Tuesday that the agency has fixed glitches that caused major outages in a computer system that manages information collected by census takers.

Census Director Robert Groves told Nextgov that the bureau enlisted developers to work with agency staff to solve the problem.

The problems occurred in the paper-based operations control system and could drive up costs beyond the $15 billion the bureau estimates it will cost to conduct the 2010 decennial count, according to a report from the Commerce Department’s inspector general that was released last week.

“In the past four days there have been dramatic improvements,” Groves said.

He did not disclose how much the repairs cost but added that investments in the system “cost a lot less money than it would have cost if that system didn’t work.”

He added, “The problem with the system created a backlog of completed work being checked in. The impact of these problems will be on the backend processing.”

The cost of sending out part-time workers to travel door to door to visit households that failed to complete and send back a census form remains at about $85 million for each percentage point of households that did not mail back a form, he said. That works out to about $2.38 billion because 28 percent of households did not mail back their forms by the April 27 due date.

On other topics, Groves said the next decennial census should offer an online option, which Congress has pushed the bureau to consider for years. “I can’t conceive 2020 without it,” he said. But he added that the bureau should proceed cautiously as it weighs procurement options because “nobody knows what the 2020 Internet will look like.”

“There are pressures in DC to lock into [software] designs very early and say how much you are going to spend on the 2020 [census] before you know what you’re going to do,” he said. “These pressures have to be managed carefully.”

Groves supported the Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., to make the job of the Census director a five-year, term-limited position to promote continuity across administrations and alleviate the fears of partisanship in the bureau.

Groves said it was problematic that so many census directors had been appointed in years ending with a nine – the year before the bureau began one of its largest undertaking, the decennial count. “To say that’s a good way to run this place, you must believe that the place is better off without a director,” he said.

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.

FOIA Request: Give us the e-mails of the following people who should be held responsible for tech failures

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

MyTwoCensus.com is hoping to get to the bottom of the Census Bureau’s IT woes:

Dear Ms. Potter and Staff:

Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I am requesting all e-mails sent to and from Brian Monaghan, Barbara Lopresti, and Marilla Matos from February 4, 2010 through February 12, 2010.

As you probably already know, I run MyTwoCensus.com, the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 Census. My work has also appeared on MotherJones.com,governingpeople.com, and other publications. Since this is a non-commercial request and the release of these documents will serve the public interest (because analyzing these documents is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government), I am requesting that all fees be waived.

I am also requesting expedited processing of these documents under the clause on your web page that states I can do so if this information is “urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity.” With the 2010 Census just around the corner, and recent reports by the Associated Press and other organizations that language translations have been inadequate and sub-par, this request deserves your prompt attention.
If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your withholding of information. Notify me of appeal procedures available under the law. If you have any questions about handling this request, please feel free to contact me.

Sincerely,

Stephen Robert Morse

PS – I’m not sure why, but you never responded to my FOIA request for hotel information from February 25, 2010. Any updates on that situation?

Interview With Robert M. Groves: Census Director focuses on putting IT to the test before the big count

Friday, November 27th, 2009

H/t to Gautham Nagesh of NextGov for the following interview with Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves:

Since his confirmation in July, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves has found himself in charge of the costliest and most controversial census to date.

Well-publicized technology issues and budget overruns have hampered the bureau’s preparations for the 2010 count. Last month, Groves told lawmakers that the budget overruns leading to the decennial count’s $15 billion price tag were “intolerable.”

But he told Nextgov on Monday that the bureau plans to push the limits of new technology in tests scheduled for after the Thanksgiving break in hope of making sure the census goes as hitch-free as possible in April 2010.

Groves was the director of the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and served as associate director of the 1990 census in 1990. Nextgov reporter Gautham Nagesh spoke with him on Monday about the preparations for the 2010 census and the bureau’s progress on solving some of the technology problems that the Government Accountability Office and the inspector general found.

Nextgov: What is the status of the bureau’s preparations for the 2010 decennial census, especially concerning the information technology systems needed to support it?

Groves: I came in July and had not been there since 1990. There are a couple things to note on the IT side: First, I’ve been focused clearly on decennial IT issues, not on looking backwards. We have a new chief information officer, Brian McGrath, who came in weeks before me, and he was engaged in sort of the same thing I’m doing — checking the nature of the infrastructure for the decennial.

We had on our table GAO and IG reports concerning the lack of testing in an integrated way of the various subsystems used for the decennial census. We had some outside folks take a look at whether core subsystems were being tested in an integrated way.

We also have a new set of software we’re building as a result of the abandonment of the handhelds that will support paper-based nonresponse follow-up. That is the critical task on the software side I spend the most time on. After Thanksgiving we will perform a load test on systems that will be in action during nonresponse follow-up. We’re going to make sure we break the system to measure the capacity.

The other thing that’s notable from your readers’ perspective: We’re 80 percent through opening 500 different local Census offices, each of which has its own computer network issues. That was done through Harris Corp., part of the Field Data Collection Automation contract. We’ve got 400 local offices up and running, each site is its own little story. After some initial bumps that seems to be going well.

Nextgov: What was the situation like when you arrived regarding IT systems development? What in your view caused or contributed to the IT challenges at the Census Bureau?

Groves: I haven’t spent much time going back and diagnosing those problems. I have to focus on the future.

But I am a believer in certain philosophies when you develop software and hardware products for large, diverse sets of users, including that a user has to be at the table from Day One. The user has to be part of the inspection process for all the intermediate products as they are developed. The notion of writing down all the specs for complex systems and getting them right the first time, having programmers go away for a while and code those specs, that’s an approach that brings with it big risks.

In my past life in software development I have learned from a management perspective that you’ve got to get the user there all the time. They have to be part of the development. Humans can’t anticipate all the features of a software system before they see the first version of it.

But I need to emphasize that my job hasn’t been postmortem on handhelds, I have just not done that.

Nextgov: There were reports that the handhelds had some problems during address canvassing, particularly regarding their mapping function. How are you dealing with those?

Groves: There are two parts of the master address file: the geographical information that provides boundaries for aerial units and the address records. The big good news is that after this gigantic address canvassing operation, the number of records we have is very close to independent estimates of what it should be: 134 million households. That’s a good thing, based on the independent benchmark we get from sample surveys.

Now we’re going out and checking for clusters of records deleted [during address canvassing]. If you were listed in address canvassing and you noted that an address was improperly placed in a block, your job [as a canvasser] was to delete that one address and add it in the correct place [using the handheld]. We’re scrutinizing any clusters of deletes. In some regions we’ve reinspected areas that look suspicious.

Nextgov: What do they find upon reinspection?

Groves: We’re getting spotty results. It’s not a slam-dunk one way or the other. When we go out and have a whole group of addresses deleted, sometimes everything looks fine, sometimes the ones that were deleted were duplicates, and sometimes they were deleted in error. There’s no typical result.

Nextgov: The idea of using the Internet to collect responses was proposed and rejected last year, despite conducting a pilot in 2000. What’s your opinion on allowing responses online? Is that something you think should be explored for 2020?

Groves: My son filled out a questionnaire for the 2000 census on the Internet. The decision to eliminate the Internet option for 2010 was made before I got here. I haven’t diagnosed that decision. I know the most commonly cited reason is concerns about security, which are indeed real and completely legitimate.

Looking forward, I can say I can’t imagine a 2020 census without some Internet use. At the same time, in the same breath we have to know that neither you nor I have any idea what the 2020 Internet is actually going to be capable of. When I say we must have an Internet option, I must admit I’m not quite sure myself. We have to take advantage of the technology; other countries already are. In 2006, 18 percent of Canadian households responded to their census on the Internet.

Nextgov: Do you plan to serve beyond next year? Would you like to be involved in the planning for the 2020 count?

Groves: I serve at the pleasure of the president and will serve as long as he is pleased with my service. I’m terribly interested in 2020 and also interested in innovation in all of the other surveys the Census Bureau does, thousands depending on how you count. The challenge of doing economic and social measurement in this country is never-ending. The rate of innovation lets us use technology in new and important ways; it can change the way we measure the country. That pace has to pick up in any organization like the Census Bureau. I’m terribly interested in being part of that.

Avencia Launches Redistricting the Nation.com, a Ground-Breaking Public Engagement Web Application

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Philadelphia, PA – October 21, 2009 – Following the upcoming 2010 census reports, states and municipalities will engage in a nationwide legislative redistricting process.  But in some parts of the country, the redrawing of district boundaries for partisan advantage has been rampant, which ultimately reduces the impact of individual voters on the election, resulting in lower voter turnout, and less competitive races.  The expanded use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has created both new potential for sophisticated gerrymandering and a possible means of implementing unbiased redistricting. 
With Redistricting 2011 around the corner, Avencia Incorporated, a Philadelphia-based geographic analysis and software development firm, is releasing the “Redistricting The Nation” (www.redistrictingthenation.com) website to provide the public with better information about the legislative redistricting process and tools that support and encourage fair representation and competitive elections.  
The site allows citizens and advocacy groups to:Enter their address (nation-wide) and view the “shape” of their federal, state, and local election districts.Learn who is in charge of drawing the boundaries of their election districts (e.g., independent commissions or elected representatives). Compare the “compactness” scores of their election district to other, similar districts (less compact and unusually shaped districts are more likely to be gerrymandered).Draw new district boundaries on a map and generate compactness scores for the new district. Avencia is also concurrently releasing a revised version of its 2006 study of gerrymandering (“Redraw the Map on Redistricting 2010”).  The new study expands the scope and methodology of Avencia’s original “Gerrymandering Index” to include state-level districts, council districts, and political wards for several new cities, and introduces three additional techniques for measuring districts’ compactness.  While poor compactness scores do not prove gerrymandering, they are a measurable indication of the practice.
The whitepaper ranks the ten most gerrymandered local, state, and federal districts in the country based on four different measures of compactness.  The study reveals some interesting findings. For instance, at the Congressional level, both FL-22 and NC-12 rank high in the study’s Top Ten for all four measures of compactness, while some of the worst offenders at the local level are: Philadelphia, PA-District 7; Miami, FL-District 2; Jacksonville, FL-District 11; Houston, TX-District E; New York, NY-District 4; and Philadelphia, PA-District 5.
Avencia is no stranger to political and election-focused projects.  Earlier this month, Avencia and Committee of Seventy, the Philadelphia region’s premier non-partisan government watchdog group, launched a sister website to the “Redistricting The Nation” site, dedicated to raising public awareness in the Greater Philadelphia area about the potential impact of the 2010 census on federal, state, and local election districts, available at www.redistrictingthenation.com/philadelphia.  During the November 2008 presidential election, the firm built a Voting Incident Tracking and Mapping web-based application that tracked voting problems in real-time to enable Committee of Seventy’s record-setting 1,000 person volunteer force to respond faster and more efficiently.  Avencia also worked for multiple candidates in races to generate campaign walking and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) maps, and most recently generated over 400 campaign financing analysis maps for MapLight.org for their ‘Remote Control’ report.
“It is exciting to be able to leverage our global database of legislative districts and GIS analysis tools to promote good government and nonpartisan redistricting,” said Robert Cheetham, Avencia’s CEO. “It is a process that can be easily manipulated to protect incumbents and discourage competitive races. Our goal with this new site is to both educate the public early in the Census 2010 cycle, and to create software tools that will promote a more open, citizen-driven and transparent redistricting process in 2011.”
Political geography is at the center of several ongoing projects at Avencia.  The white paper analysis of compactness of election districts was made possible by Avencia’s Cicero product, a legislative district matching and elected official lookup web API, developed for local governments, unions, businesses, and non-profit political and advocacy organizations to match citizens with their local, state, and national elected officials.  Cicero taps a global database of legislative district maps and information about politicians, legislative bodies, and election events.  Initially beginning with only a few cities, Avencia has grown the database to include national, state and local legislatures for the United States and several other countries and made an interactive version available to the public.

 

About Avencia
Avencia is an award-winning, Philadelphia-based geographic analysis and software development firm specializing in the creation of innovative location-based software tools to enhance decision-making processes.  Avencia believes these location-based technologies can help promote the emergence of more dynamic, vibrant communities. For more information, visit www.avencia.com