Unfortunately, I was unable to be in Washington for last Wednesday’s press conference. However, the transcript is available HERE.
Posts Tagged ‘transcript’
Note my questions near the bottom of the first page, and further note how they weren’t clearly answered…(My questions discussed allegations made by Census Bureau employees about QACs…)
STEPHEN BUCKNER: Good morning, everyone. I’m with the Public Information Office at the U.S. Census Bureau. I’d like to welcome everybody joining us on the telephone today, and also here at the National Press Club. Today, Dr. Groves, the Director of the Census Bureau, is going to be talking about mailing back your form. We have five days left to get your form back in the mail. He’s also going to be providing a brief overview of operations since our last operational press briefing on the 22nd of March where we launched the Take Ten Program, challenging local areas to mail back your form and beat your participation rate from the 2000 census. We’re off to a good start, and Dr. Groves will touch base on that.
In your press kit, you’ll see a variety of materials on the topics of today’s operational press briefing. Online, they’re also available under the news conference page for those listening and online. We will have a Q&A session following the Director’s comments, and we’ll try to alternate between the telephone and those here in the room. With that, I will give you Dr. Robert Groves. Thank you.
DR. ROBERT GROVES: Great, thank you, Stephen. Thanks a lot for coming today. This is an operational update, but really the headline of today’s briefing is that we have five days left for the over 120 million households around the country to mail back their form. And by that we mean if you get your form in the mail by April 16th, this Friday, there’s a much, much, much lower probability that anyone will come to your door to do follow-up work in the later phases of the census.
Today, this week, we begin a week of transitions. The transition is moving from this massive phase that we call the mail out/mail back phase where people fill out their census by mail, to one where we begin to hire a large number of people who will go out throughout the country, knocking on doors of houses and taking the questionnaire information in a personal interview.
I want to end with remarks on that, but I want to begin, really, by doing a quick update of recent operations. And in a word, things are going quite well. I guess that’s two words, quite well. Let me run through the things we’ve done. We have finished three operations that are notable that are complicated and are now in the hopper. The update leave operation, by that we mean in areas where postal delivery is not reliable, where many people have postal boxes, and also in those areas where in the, say for example the gulf coast where the housing unit stock is actually changing quite rapidly, we drop off questionnaires. We completed that on April 2nd, the dropped off questionnaires are being mailed back now at great rates. This operation is complete, it was on schedule and under budget.
We also finished, today we will finish, a count of people living in transitory locations. By that we mean RV parks, campgrounds, hotels, motels, marinas, circuses, carnivals throughout the country. We’ve completed that work on schedule, we’re happy to say. And then in a complicated operation called service based enumeration. We reached out and counted people who are affected by various types of homelessness. We counted people in shelters, soup kitchens, at regular stops of mobile food vans, outdoor locations and a variety of other places, about 65,000 locations throughout the country. This, as you might imagine, is a complicated one and we’re happy that we did that on time and with safety, relative safety, of all our enumerators and the people counted.
We had a problem in the New York/Boston area. You might remember there were torrential rains around the time we were doing this. We had to postpone one day to finish that work there.
Then I want to note two operations that we’re right in the middle of because they’re relevant to some folks who haven’t received forms because we do the enumeration in different ways. We don’t mail out forms to different areas. Ongoing right now is an operation called Update Enumerate. By that, we mean we go out with census takers and house by house do interviews with people in those areas. These are areas like the remote parts of Maine, certainly parts of Alaska, American Indian reservations, disproportionately, a lot of areas with seasonal housing. And the settlements called colonias on the border of Texas and Mexico are handled this way. It’s about 1.4 million households that we’ll visit in this way. We’re about 38 percent through with that operation. We’re way ahead of schedule on that, so that’s going well.
And then finally group quarters, another category of folks who don’t receive forms in the mail. These are areas that are like nursing homes, assisted living facilities, prisons, dormitories, barracks, and so on. We’re in the middle of that operation. We’re about 22 percent complete, that’s on schedule. That’s going to go through May 21st. That’s ongoing now. So for people in those situations, they should not have received the mail questionnaire, and indeed we’re reaching out to them and doing the measurement in different ways.
As of Friday, I’m happy to note, if you’ve been following this on the website, 65 percent of American households we’d estimate have returned the forms. This is over 77 million households in the country who have completed the short form and mailed it back. We’re going to post an update today at 4:00 on our website. If you’ve been following that, that will make that number be higher, no doubt. It is notable, if you look at those data, that there are states that are above 70 percent at this point already, 10 states have that status. It includes large states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania. When we started this operation, the states in the upper middle west dominated the early returns. That’s mainly because they received those questionnaires by hand using our census takers to drop off questionnaires at their houses. Now you see states, other states, catching up that received them by mail.
It is interesting to note that on April 8th, South Carolina as a state, surpassed its entire 2000 census performance. And today, both North Carolina and South Carolina have beaten their own 2000 participation rate. So that’s a notable and noteworthy event, I think. Kentucky is really close, this could happen today for Kentucky. We have hundreds of jurisdictions around the country who have beaten their 2000 participation rate already, and to all of them we salute you for your civic participation and we hope you’ll be joined by hundreds of others in a matter of days.
We remain focused on return rates, participation rates in large cities, in some rural areas. The large cities pose interesting problems to sample surveys and censuses. They are low this decade, as they were last decade. Notable is New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and a set of others. You can go to our website and see this. In fact, if you look at this map here, the colors we love to see on this map over here are those that are yellow, orange and red. And the colors we don’t particularly like to see are those blues. You can see the Texas/Mexico border as an area that is challenging for us. You can see the middle of the state, or the middle of the country with those higher than average performances.
We are focused on all of these areas. We are looking at this daily through a variety of statistical models and intense scrutiny of partnership and other activities. We’ve made changes in our advertising to have much more targeted advertising into the areas and into the subgroups that look like they’re responding at a lower rate.
I want to turn to an issue that you in the media could help us get the word out on, and that is those people who didn’t receive a form, what should they do at this point? And we have a variety of reasons that that might have happened. You might be living in one of those areas where census takers are coming to your door right now over the next few days and weeks. You might have a post office box where you receive your mail, rather than having your mail delivered to your home. You might be in a house newly built that was added just recently and we tried to get about two million of those kind of cases into the mail stream. You may have just received a form, but you may not have gotten it yet.
For all of those people who have not received a form, we have a very simple thing you can do, two alternatives. First, you can call our telephone assistance center, and these numbers are posted right here. The English number is 1-866-872-6868. And starting today, you can call between eight a.m. and nine p.m. local time every day, every day of the week. And there are numbers for different languages and for the hearing impaired.
And starting today, you can take the interview right on the phone. You can answer your census questions right on the phone. It’s the simplest thing you can do. You supply the address where you’re living, and you answer the questionnaire over the phone. Alternatively if you wish, you can go to over 40,000 sites around the country that are questionnaire assistance centers or labeled Be Counted sites. How do you know where they are? You can call these same numbers to find out where they are. You can go to our website, 2010census.gov, and find where the questionnaire assistance centers are. And there, you can pick up what we call a Be Counted form. You supply your address information and fill out the form that looks very similar to the mail out form.
We want to make it as easy as possible for those who haven’t received the form to get it. This is a massive operation, going to over 134 million households. Missing a few households is something that happens every census, and we want to make sure that you have an easy way to get a hold of the form.
But in closing, I want to turn to the most important message. We are counting down the days, the clock is ticking, and we are asking you, if you have a form sitting in your home that you haven’t filled out yet, to take a few minutes to fill it out and mail it back. If you can mail this form back by Friday, April 16th, the odds that someone will come to your house to follow up and ask census questions are much lower. Each passing day makes that likelihood higher. We would love to avoid sending census takers to large numbers of households around the country. And the easiest way for those of you who have a form sitting in your house to avoid that is to fill out the form and mail it back.
I remind us that for every one percent of the households that do that, we save us taxpayers $85 million nationally, a very large sum of money, for a very small act on your part. Taking it down to the personal level, if you fill this form out and mail it back, it costs us taxpayers 42 cents. If you don’t, it costs us taxpayers about $60 to send someone out and take the information in person.
This is a moment, these last few days, where our over 225,000 partners throughout the country and social and political leaders need to come together and get the word out that we are ticking away the clock to return these forms. This is the moment where we can all come together. Ask your neighbors if you filled out your form whether they filled out their form. Pass the word that we have just a few more days left, and this will be a much cheaper census if we can do that.
Starting at about the third week of April, we will begin to build the large files that will identify the addresses that our interviewers will have to go out and call on case by case. We will begin that work on May 1. It will continue through July 10th, and we will have other briefings on that large operation that we call non response follow-up. But this moment, at this time, the message is very clear. If you have a form sitting in your home and you haven’t turned it back, you haven’t returned a form at all, now is the time to fill it out and mail it back. Thank you very much, I’m happy to take questions. Carol?
CAROL MORELLO: Can you talk a little bit about what’s going on?
MR. BUCKNER: Just one second. So as we start our Q&A process, we’ll start here in the room. Please state your name, organize, and your question. Wait for the mic, and then we’ll jump to the telephone as well. First up, Carol Morello, question posed?
CAROL MORELLO: Hi, could you talk a little bit about what you think is going on in the blue states primarily, or blue sections, primarily in the south and the west? How does it compare to 2000 at this point, and how much do you think maybe politically motivated by people who resent the questions being asked?
DR. GROVES: Some of those rural areas that are in blue are traditionally what we call hard to enumerate areas. So you might first ask, so why is that? The challenge of rural areas is both that the kind of– first of all, these are based on either what we call update leave– these are the houses– the blue areas you’re looking at are houses where they have a questionnaire, either by mail delivery or dropped off. In some of those areas, we know we’re actually going to do enumeration, direct enumeration. They don’t even have a mail questionnaire yet. But rural areas pose difficulties, both in making sure we get all the areas. And then the other challenge, I think, in rural areas is that the impact of media that we use is more dispersed. If you think about it in an urban area, there are local media that we can use and local partnership activities that we can stimulate to get communities involved in the census. That kind of organization’s a little tougher in rural areas.
At the same time, in some of those areas, there are language impediments. The Texas/Mexico border, a whole lot of those areas got a bilingual questionnaire, but not all of the areas, and that’s an impediment. So, these are not surprises. If you looked at the 2000 census, or the 1990 census, this is a fact that is replicated over censuses.
CAROL MORELLO: So what impact do you think that politically the opposition to the census has had?
DR. GROVES: Actually, this is a topic of press commentary right now. And the City University of New York has just done an analysis that’s kind of interesting. We’ve done our own analyses. We can’t find empirical support for that, but I can tell you no one has the right data. We can look at the characteristics of counties that are returning the questionnaire at different rates. We see no evidence that some counties that may have voted in one way are lower than other counties. But we actually don’t know individual level attributes of people returning the form or not returning the form.
I can say one other thing, and that is the rate of forms that are being delivered with partial completes that force us to actually go back, they’re so incomplete that we have to go back and call on people’s houses, those are within or below the kind of tolerances we expected from our prior studies. So, we don’t see the evidence there for the impact of that on behaviors.
MR. BUCKNER: Carol, I’m going to have to go to the telephone here and then I’ll come back. All right, on the telephone, I believe we have a question? Please state your name and organization?
STEPHEN ROBERT MORSE: This is Stephen Robert Morse at mytwocensus.com. I have a couple of questions about the questionnaire assistance centers operation. Today, I posted an article on my website that was written by an assistance center employee that suggests that not all of the QACs are listed on the census bureau’s website. And it also suggests that all the organizations and corporations that are listed partners are not necessarily cooperating and working with QACs as they– and are not necessarily partners anymore. Please talk about this?
DR. GROVES: I don’t know anything about the second question. The first question, we’re doing the best we can at getting the questionnaire assistance centers posted on the web and updated. This is a big challenge for us because they’re, as you know, these 40,000 units are moving around cities for different days and different hours. But we’re doing our best on that. (more…)
There were some technical glitches during a media conference call last week with Census Bureau director Robert M. Groves about the status of the 2010 Census.
Stephen got dropped off the call, and we wrote an editorial criticizing the Bureau’s technical problems with the conference call and failure to make a transcript available.
Some highlights from the end of the call:
- In response to a question on the economy, Groves said the recession has led to a larger applicant pool for Census workers, but the vacancy rate (due to foreclosures) means forms will be sent to addresses where no one lives.
- According to Groves, self-identification questions (such as about ethnicity) change on almost every Census form. The Bureau wants people to write-in how they identify themselves if none of the provided options apply.
- And some upcoming key dates: Census road tour begins Jan. 4, media kickoff event in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 14, paid media ads start airing Jan. 18, Groves travels to Alaska for the first enumeration of a remote village on Jan. 25.
On Monday, December 14, Dr. Robert M. Groves, Director of the Census Bureau, attempted to hold a press conference about the status of the 2010 Census. However, after only a handful of questions were asked during the Q&A time, the phone line for the conference call mysteriously died. I, like many other journalists, could see from my phone that I was still connected to the call, meaning that the audio from the Census Bureau’s end had simply gone dead. I called back in to the conference call and was re-connected to the event. Once connected, the phone line again remained silent. This was particularly annoying because prior to the glitch I was in line to ask a question, as were dozens of other journalists from across the country. I waited on the silent line for 15 minutes before realizing that this gaffe had effectively cut short Dr. Groves’ press conference, which is only the second one of this type (other than monthly operational briefings) he has given since taking office in July.
After this incident occurred, I e-mailed the Census Bureau’s public information office to inquire about how I could ask Dr. Groves my questions and and why the line went dead. I received the following reply, “Stephen — unfortunately the line went dead for everyone. We don’t have a transcript and are researching how to get one. Do you have specific questions we can answer?” Since replying to this e-mail, I have had no response from the Census Bureau.
In the year 2009, failures of simple technology like are completely unacceptable. It is our hope that such operations issues are not indicative of the way that the 2010 Census will be run on a day to day basis. Making matters worse were the Census Bureau’s failure to apologize to the journalists who were dropped from the call and failure to provide a full transcript of the event, particularly after the audio breakdown.
We are still waiting for the transcript, an explanation, and an apology…
Editor’s Note: Last week, I live-blogged Census Director Robert M. Groves’ first monthly press conference to discuss the 2010 Census. I was able to ask a question to Dr. Groves at the meeting, but unfortunately, it wasn’t answered in the comprehensive way that I’d hoped for, in part due to a poor telephone connection. The transcript from this press conference is below. Starting tomorrow, MyTwoCensus will be publishing the results of our investigation into what we believe are lax human resources procedures at America’s three 2010 Census data capture centers.
National Press Club
September 23, 2009
Stephen Buckner: Good morning everyone. My name is Stephen Buckner. I’m in the Public Information Office at the U.S. Census Bureau. I’d like to welcome everybody today to our first 2010 Census Operational Press Briefing.
To run down how the day is going to proceed a little bit, this will be the first in a series of operational press briefings of which the Census Bureau will provide, as we get closer and closer to the 2010 Census – as of October 1st, we’ll be about six months out.
Right now we’re currently looking at doing them every month. As we get closer to the census, we’ll be looking at increasing frequency as operational milestones approach.
Today we’re lucky to have the Director of the Census Bureau, Robert Groves, who will be talking about his assessment of the 2010 Census operations, both from our address canvassing operation and looking ahead in terms of some of the challenges we have heading into the 2010 Census.
So after his presentation, I’ll come back up and will be moderating a question-and-answer period, of which we have here in the room as well as on our telephone line that media are listening into. So we’ll alternate between in the room and on the telephone.
So if you could just hold your questions until after the presentation, then we’ll have ample time to do that. For the television in the room, we’ll have media availability afterwards where you can do interviews with the director as well.
At this time I’d like to introduce our Director, Dr. Robert Groves.
Robert Groves: Thank you, Stephen. Good morning. I’m going to have two parts of my comments today and then take questions. The first part is really just an update on where we are. As Stephen said, we’re six months out. The April 1, 2010, date is looming ahead of us.
And we are on target for the major operations that plan this event, which is a gigantic mobilization of people and resources to enumerate the American public.
We have just completed over the summer an effort called Address Canvassing whereby hundreds of thousands of workers visited every address in the U.S. to verify that we knew where it was, that we had an appropriate mailing address, and we entered those addresses into a massive file that we call the Master Address File.
That is a big milestone in the planning of the census, because it’s from that address file that we mail out millions of forms. That was completed on time. We’re examining the file right now. It’s a big deal for us to get this right. And within a matter of weeks, certainly at our next conference, we can give you evaluations of that.
In just a couple of weeks we’ll do a follow-up operation on that. One of the problems in doing a census in a country like ours, when we have large multi-unit structures, things we call group quarters, things like dormitories and assisted living facilities and things like that, that it’s easy to miss one of the residents of those things unless we make sure we have the address information and the characteristics of the units correctly documented.
We’re doing something special this decade to cover those well and we’re doing a big operation just in a couple of weeks visiting all those around the country. We are in the middle of opening about 500 local census offices spread throughout the country. These are small offices where enumerators at the last phase of our work will be supervised and trained and guided in their work. That’s on schedule, on time. We are printing questionnaires. We are using a good portion of the printing capability of this country. We will print 183 million questionnaires, plus 15 million bilingual questionnaires, getting them ready. This is going on right now. You can sort of feel the presses whirring away. We’re on schedule on that as well.
We have opened three very large processing centers; one in Baltimore, one in Phoenix, and one outside of Louisville and Jeffersonville, Indiana that will receive these forms and scan them in and extract the electronic data from those questionnaires. That’s going pretty well.
And we’re in the middle of opening up call centers that will be used, incoming call centers, for questionnaire assistance, when people need it. We’re also at the first stages of a pretty massive communications campaign that we could talk about later, if you want.
So to sum up that, things are looking pretty good. All the steps that need to be in place have been done at the right time. We have much to do. This is a massive effort. And we’re happy to share with you our progress on that.
And indeed that takes me to my second major point. I pledged when I was nominated to run a transparent Census Bureau. And what I did following that pledge is also promise that I would do an evaluation, a personal evaluation of where the Census Bureau planning effort was. I’ve completed that. I’ve reported to the Secretary of Commerce those results and just yesterday we had a hearing on the Hill that reported that.
And I want to report through you to the American public the same sort of assessment, because I’ve promised it. And there’s sort of three parts to this: One is, as a survey methodologist, comparing the design of the 2000 Census to the design of the 2010 Census. And here the headline I’m very comfortable to say is really that I would prefer the 2010 design. And I’ll tell you why that’s the case.
This is a short form-only census. If people don’t understand that term, you can look inside your packet and see an image of the questionnaire that we will send out. This is one of the shortest questionnaires we’ve done in a decennial census. Why are we doing it this way? We’re doing it this way because we learned in prior decades that long questionnaires generates more burden on the American public, and cooperation, participation in the census goes down.
So we’re trying to reflect the busyness of the American public’s lives and reducing the questions to the bare minimum. We’re very hopeful that will act to increase public participation.
Secondly, as some of you know, we’re sending out for the first time bilingual questionnaires to targeted areas where Spanish-only speakers are prevalent. On one half — I think you may have that in your packet, too. On one half of the questionnaire is an English version, and the other half is a Spanish version. Our research over the years has shown us that that improves participation in Spanish-only households. And that’s an important and growing component of the country and we’re proud of that design. I think it’s a preferable design to the 2000 design.
Thirdly, in a large portion of the areas, if you don’t turn in your questionnaire the first time, you’ll get a replacement questionnaire in the mail, just as kind of a gentle nudge that you haven’t done your part to make the census successful.
We’ve studied this process in survey methodology for some decades, and that works. Most people who don’t turn in the questionnaire immediately aren’t deliberately doing so. They just forgot about it. They put it over on the desk on the side with other papers they have to work on. And that replacement questionnaire helps.
Thirdly, there are things that are going to make this a stronger census if they work properly. We have a couple of questions on the questionnaire that address a problem that we have and that’s relevant to today’s world, and that is it’s a question about whether there are people staying in your home who also have a residence elsewhere.
You and I both know we’re going through a recession in this country where houses are doubled up in ways that are unusual. That question is going to be an important way to help us evaluate and follow up to help people follow the rules of census residency appropriately. And we have another question about whether the people living here also might stay somewhere else at another point.
So those questions should improve the differential undercount of the 2010 Census.
There are a couple of other operations that should improve the master address file. And for those of you following this story routinely, you know that the Census Bureau was given about a billion dollars in stimulus funds that we’re using to good goals, I believe, in improving the advertising, the paid advertising program and a massive outreach for partnerships at a very local area to improve our access to trusted voices in small communities that have the credibility we need to tell people that it’s an important thing to do. It’s really easy, and it’s a safe thing to do for communities that have those concerns.
So on this first part, if I as a survey scientist, put the design features of the 2000 design next to the 2010 design, I’m really quite comfortable that we have planned in this country a better census than we executed in 2000.
And then there are two sets of challenges in my professional judgment that the Census Bureau faces. I want to go through those briefly, by way of informing the country of those judgments.
First, on the internal side, we have a new leadership team at Census. As you know, the terminated development of hand-held computers for non-responsive follow-up produced a change of leadership. This is a new team. It’s a team that’s structured quite well in terms of identifying management risks and planning risks. And that’s a great benefit to them. To bolster that team, I will continue the use of a set of outside advisors that I’ve brought in when I entered. This includes Former Director Ken Prewitt and Principal Associate Director John Thompson, as well as drawing on Nancy Potok, Former Principal Associate Director, now the Deputy Undersecretary for Economic Affairs.
The second thing that worries me about the Census Bureau is something that I worry about for all federal statistical systems and that is there’s been a set of key retirements of senior mathematical statisticians. This is true of a lot of federal agencies. This is a weakness I’m worried about. And my reaction on that, too, is to bring in advice from the outside when we need it on those sorts of matters.
Third, the problem with the hand-held development led to the Census Bureau taking on a big programming development operation. We’re in the middle of that. It’s a group of people working night and day to finish up a set of software that we need for the non-response follow-up phase. Things are on schedule on that. But the schedule is very tight. We’ve developed a set of outside review groups, who have been giving me advice on that. We’ve made some changes in that process with the intent of integrating their activities with others and addressing IT security issues.
We’ll continue to do that. Fourth, I’ve referred to already, I can’t wait to see the quality of the Master Address File. I’ll be able to tell you about that in a few weeks. That’s an important building block. And, finally, I’m worried and concerned about cost estimation and cost control in the Census Bureau; but this, too, is a problem shared by many federal agencies.
We’re beefing this up with more real time data to watch the process of spend-down of our rather large budget. There are four principal challenges in these external challenges that I want to mention. I think the most important thing for you to remember is that the behavior of the American public is the keystone of a successful census.
Estimating what percentage of American households will complete their questionnaire and mail it back in is a very important burden and challenge for the Census Bureau right now. For every one percentage point reduction in the mail return rate, scores of millions of dollars are going to be spent by the taxpayers to send people out and knock on doors.
For the American public who are worried about the national deficit, here’s something you can do. If you return your questionnaire, you save the federal government money. And I can tell you right now I would be overjoyed as the Census Bureau to give back money to the U.S. Treasury because the mail response rate was overwhelmingly large.
This is a big challenge. It’s a challenge that we’re focused on very intently. But we need your help. As voices to the American public we need the help of all social, political and religious leaders to get the word out that the census is a nonpartisan event.
It’s a safe event for everyone to participate in, and its success depends on the behavior of each of us. That’s the biggest challenge. There are some other challenges that are worth noting. The new media environment is a challenge for us. The blogosphere produces hourly minute-by-minute news articles on the Census Bureau by people from around the world.
Getting the facts out about the census is a challenge in that environment. We’ve organized an internal group to work on that. We have Web-based media outreach plans that will be launched within the next few weeks. Thirdly, the same environment challenges our desire to remain a nonpartisan apolitical organization, and to run a nonpartisan census.
There are tugs on us daily to get into the political fray. It’s my firm belief that the basis of credibility of the census rests on the belief of the American public that we are nonpartisan and we’re apolitical and we’re a professional statistical bureau, and I need to fight that battle daily, I can tell you.
Finally, we are not collecting data via the Internet in 2010. It’s an important story to get out. But we expect that at one point or another someone will put up a Web site that will wrongly say that they’re from the Census Bureau and attempt to deceive the American public and collect data from them. We’ve established a group that’s going to look for this, troll the net looking for these things and bring down these sites as fast as we can.
We don’t want that deception to harm the basis of the census. So those are my remarks. I’m going to make four changes to the census design that are really looking forward to the 2020 Census. They are that we will build what’s called a Master Trace file that allows us to track the characteristics of cases throughout their whole lifecycle.
This is really a cost/quality trade-off tool, research tool. We will mount a small Internet re-interview study for purposes of studying how people respond to Web versus paper.
We will mount in one fashion a post-hoc administrative records census. We’ll match census records to the administrative databases we’ve acquired in cooperation with other federal agencies to see, if we did an administrative records census, say, in 2020 what kinds of people would be covered and what kinds of people would be missed, what kinds of data would be well reported in the records, which would not.
Then finally the fourth change that we’re making is I’ve looked at the tool that we call Census Coverage Measurement. This is a large sample survey that’s used to measure the quality of the census.
And when I look at the design of that and read evaluations from other scientists on that design, there are features of that that I’d like to improve. I think we can do better on that design. We’re beefing up the measurement and the match procedures on that tool at the risk or at the cost of reducing the sample size of that evaluative tool. So those are my remarks. I’m happy to hear questions, if you have them.
Question: Could you discuss a little bit your decision to sever ties with ACORN? Was it the video, or was that the last straw? Or could you give us your thinking on that?
Robert Groves: Let me first set the context. I think it’s important to understand what our goals are in this thing we call the “Partnership Program.” Every western country has learned that doing a census in a diverse country requires outreach to trusted community members. Running the census out of Washington D.C., running our census out of Washington D.C. alone doesn’t work.
So the effective way to get participation from diverse American publics is to use voices in their community that understand the facts of the census, the importance of it, the simplicity of it, and the safety of it, and to communicate that message directly to their relevant groups.
ACORN was one of those groups. These are groups that are not paid. These are volunteer groups. Their commitment to us is that they’ll help us get our message out. That’s about it. They are not paid employees. We don’t have contracts with them.
We’re going to seek to have over 100,000 of these groups around the country. I’ve been traveling the country, talking to some of these groups and they are fundamentally good ideas. These can be as small as a few-block neighborhood, a community neighborhood organization that’s worried about the beauty of the neighborhood. But they have ties to the houses in that neighborhood.
Now, how do we decide who is a good and who is a not good partner? Our decision on that is the effectiveness of their communication to one of the groups that we care about.
We’re most interested in what we’ve labeled as hard-to-count groups. These are people who normally participate in the census at lower rates. And through our studies over the years we have a fair idea about the characteristics of those people.
ACORN served people that fall in those groups. We care about those people participating in the census. But when one of our partners produces problems in the overall mission of the census, then we have to rethink that.
I just came back from the Chicago region, and I talked to partnership specialists, and they were telling me: The existence of ACORN as a partner and the negative press and the actions of the local groups affiliated with ACORN were actually impeding their getting other partner agreements in Chicago.
So I want to carefully say that the people served by ACORN are important to us. We need their participation in the census. The press on ACORN and the actions of these local affiliates of ACORN became a distraction for us and it was actually hurting our overall effort of getting the census facts out.
Question: I have a question and – Sheila Buzzard with Fox News. You talk about transparency as one of the very important things for your Bureau. What assurance, talking about ACORN, can you give to the American public that your efforts will not be motivated politically, because you said that you get pressure every day?
Robert Groves: My efforts at what? I heard your question but I don’t understand your question. What do you mean by “efforts”?
Question: Your efforts and your cooperation with local organizations such as ACORN in your work.
Robert Groves: Let me say a bit about the Census Bureau and what we’re all about. This is an organization that is explicitly apolitical. So I am protected and all my colleagues are protected by certain legal infrastructure that gives us great courage and strength. If political officials want to see data that we have collected confidentially and we’ve given a pledge of confidentiality to the person who gave us the data, we can refuse this. In fact, if we don’t refuse it, I can go to prison for five years and I’ll have a $250,000 fine and all my colleagues have that.
We take that really seriously, because we also have a culture and a belief system that is completely consistent with that. We know that our business, our organization succeeds only if the American people believe the numbers we put out. I know of countries in the world where there have been political interference into numbers from statistical agencies and the people lose faith in those numbers. Rebuilding the faith in those numbers takes decades.
I took this position not because I needed a job, but because I believed this thing very strongly and I want to strengthen that feature of the Census Bureau. So up and down our organization, we are apolitical, nonpartisan, and we are fiercely so.
Question: Were you already – just a follow-up. Were you already thinking of dropping ACORN when the video came out?
Robert Groves: We’re evaluating – we’re constantly evaluating things. One thing about statisticians is they do something and then they stop and they say: How well did we just do with what we did? We’re obsessed by this. We’re always evaluating our partnership effectiveness. We have partnership specialists that reach out to individual partners to help them succeed. And that is also an evaluation step. So it’s an ongoing process.
Stephen Buckner: We need to take one from the phone. We’ll open up the phone line for our first question, please.
Operator: First question is from Amos Brown, WLTC Radio.
Question: Good morning, Director. A couple of questions from the heartland of America - Indianapolis. I heard you talking about the importance of these smaller groups working with the census, what you all are calling Localized Complete Count Committees.
But here in Indianapolis there’s been a lot of confusion and a lack of direction from census staff in terms of what are the responsibilities of these Complete Count Committees. When census employees have gone into neighborhoods, the neighborhoods think they’re coming on behalf of the city Complete Count Committee. That’s one issue.
The other thing is it just seems – and this will be my fourth decennial working with the Census Bureau. It just seems that there’s a lot more confusion and disconnect this time. As you evaluate how this census is working, how are you evaluating the level of communication out at the local level, out in the real heartland of America?
Robert Groves: Well, thank you for the question, first of all. And, secondly, I’m glad for the information. This is also a useful way to evaluate how we’re doing.
The risk – one comment on what you’re saying, we do run a risk when we have hundreds of thousands of partners that the message get conflicting unintentionally. We’re on this problem. It’s a trade-off decision between reaching different groups and having the same group reached by multiple people. It’s one that we’re constantly monitoring something that concerns us. On this difference between the Complete Count Committee and other census activities, let me do by way of a little definition.
Complete Count Committees are often established by local communities, often have government officials and community leaders populating them as a formal way to get their message down and sometimes they sponsor their own events to get the word out from the census and it sounds like in this particular case there’s a little mixed messages going on. And thanks for the input.
Question: My name is Matt [Inaudible] from the Tribune. Senator Bob Bennett introduced legislation last week that would add a question to your form that would require the person to identify whether they were in the country legally or not.
The purpose of this, he said, would be to back those people who were here illegally out of the count for apportionment purposes. He thinks that’s inappropriate. My question to you is, is it feasible to add a question to the form at this time? And, two, do you think that’s a good idea?
Stephen Buckner: We’ll take this question, then go back to the phone lines. Dr. Groves.
Robert Groves: First, I think as I said when I was doing my introduction, a lot of the forms are already printed and that train has left for the 2010 Census clearly.
The good idea, question I think is best answered by going back to history. Why are we doing what we are doing? In March of 1790, Congress passed the Census Act. The Census Act said that the census, the decennial census every 10 years should count everyone living in the country where they usually reside. That applied to every census since 1790.
The proposal to back out noncitizens where you could imagine – well, you could imagine such a census design, would break that tradition that we’ve had these many, many decades. Whether it’s a good idea or not, I think the answer to that is that if you read the Constitution carefully, you will see that the decennial census is done in a manner that Congress, by law, shall direct. It is a creature of Congress in the Constitution.
So the introduction of new laws about how the census might be done, if you study the history of this, come up routinely. They tend to come up a lot around the decennial census time. That’s true. But they come out – they come up throughout the history. This is the proper role of Congress to discuss these things. But it would be a change from our history of many, many, many decades.
Question: Do you think it would impact who would respond?
Robert Groves: I have no idea how people would react because of that question. That’s a really hard question to answer. I don’t know.
Stephen Buckner: Just for clarification, we do not ask the legal status of an individual on any census survey or decennial census.
Any questions on the phone?
Question: I have a follow-up. You spoke about all these addresses and the completion of the process of collecting all the addresses. Did ACORN work in that effort? And if so how confident are you in acting –
Robert Groves: ACORN didn’t work on that effort. All those employees were paid census employees. They were screened through FBI checks about their criminal background. They were trained in how to do their work. They were supervised. There were quality control procedures, and if they didn’t follow those procedures they were terminated. They took this oath that I just described to you. They were held to that oath, because we treat their work as subject to the same confidentiality law as when people knock on doors and ask questions of people.
Question: Deborah Berry with Gannett Washington Bureau. Senator Ritter and Shelby and have raised concerns about sampling. How do you balance that with the concerns raised by civil rights groups that many groups, particularly minorities, are undercounted?
Robert Groves: Well, we at the Census Bureau must do our work under the law as passed by Congress, as acted on and interpreted by the Supreme Court. And for the 2010 Census, it’s absolutely crystal clear what our guidance is. The Supreme Court ruling that said that statistical adjustment, I think that’s what you mean by sampling, statistical adjustment of the census for reapportionment purposes is not permitted.
We are not planning, and I testified on this, and Secretary Locke is very clear on this as well, we’re not planning – we’re not prepared to adjust the census for any purpose. We’re not planning it for reapportionment or redistributing.
Question: Meredith Simmons, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau. You said you faced pressure every day to politicize the census in some way. Could you be more specific about –
Robert Groves: Gee, I hope I didn’t say that.
Question: I those that’s what I heard.
Robert Groves: I hope I didn’t use those words. I’m glad you asked your question. But finish your question and let me respond to it.
Question: Maybe you used the word “tug.” But could be a little bit more specific about what sort of tugs you’re experiencing and how you respond to them?
Robert Groves: This isn’t unusual, first of all. And you would only know that if you – it would be an interesting exercise in your spare time to go back to your paper, your medium 10 years ago and read the stories that your colleagues wrote. The same thing happened 10 years ago. The same thing happened 20 years ago. The census is really important. It really is. It’s important because we reapportion the House of Representatives on it. We distribute over $400 billion a year based on the figures. We redraw the portrait of the United States every 10 years. We tell ourselves what we’re about.
So people care about this. One of the purposes of the census is inherently explicitly political, the reapportionment of the House. That is proper. That’s constitutional. The Founders thought about it. It’s a great idea. Because it is political, people with very strong political viewpoints care about the census. That’s the tug.
And what we have to do as statisticians, as a nonpartisan group, is to acknowledge that the product of what we do has political uses. But the process can never be politicized. And that’s the thing I have to focus on as the Director every day. And so while these voices that you hear and you write about care about the census for political purposes, I have to keep a deaf ear to that side and make sure that we’re focused on a census that is right down the middle, and that’s what we do.
Question: Voices, do you have people calling you – when you say “voices,” do you have people calling you and asking you to add questions, or are you talking about what you read and what you –
Robert Groves: I do the same thing you do, right? So we’re constantly seeing what people are saying. That’s your job. And I have a little bit of your job of watching what people are saying about the Census Bureau. That’s part of my job, because I want to make sure that the facts are represented right. So I read the same things you read, and that’s what I mean by that. So people aren’t calling me on the phone or anything like that.
Stephen Buckner: We’re going to try to take just two more questions, then we’ll have media availability afterwards. In the back row.
Question: I’m Libby Casey with Alaska Public Radio. And some officials up in Alaska have said that Norvik, a village up there, will be the first. There’s been some back and forth. And could you describe the length you’ll be going to in rural parts of America, like rural Alaska, what sort of efforts you’ll be making that may be different than 10 years ago or that you learned from 10 years ago?
Robert Groves: This is the most damaging leak that has occurred. Norvik, Alaska, a very small village in Alaska, will be the first village, the first population that will receive the census forms. This is in a way a ceremonial event. But it’s an important event. We have to, it turns out, enumerate Alaska early, because there are some parts of Alaska that get really inaccessible later on. So Alaska is first out of the blocks on this one, and it is true that Norvik is our selection this decade.
Your other question was broader. And that is what do we do in rural areas. I’ve been emphasizing, I think in my remarks so far, about mailing out the census. There are some parts of the country that don’t have mailing addresses. They don’t get their mail at home. They drive into the Post Office, pick up their mail.
In areas like that, and in some areas where the address system and change in the area has been quite dramatic. For example, the Gulf Coast and areas that Katrina hit hard, really badly, we’re going to actually hand deliver questionnaires. And we will drop them off and people will fill them out and mail them back in.
In some areas we’re actually going to go out and immediately enumerate people. So the one-liner on this is we figure out the best way to enumerate depending on the area and we’ll tailor our methods to the area.
A recent change on this, we’re very interested in customizing our methods to language groups, groups that don’t speak English. And we’re studying where we could effectively actually give out in language information in groups, small geographically clustered groups that are non-English speakers to be an effective outreach, too.
The big moral is we sort of try to figure out the best way to get people to participate and then we’ll change our methods to fit their situation.
Stephen Buckner: Max in the back.
Question: Thank you. Max Tackus from WTOP and Federal News Radio. Dr. Groves, you sort of weren’t here for the whole situation with the hand-helds kind of falling apart for the Census Bureau. Can you give us a readout of sort of what you know about how the address survey canvassing has been going with the use of the hand-helds? And with the benefit of hindsight, what do you think the Census Bureau could have done better to have made for a better outcome in terms of being able to use the hand-held computers also for the census, for the follow-up surveys, the nonresponse follow-up surveys?
Robert Groves: You’re right. I wasn’t there when that decision was taken or the developments went on.
I can report on the address canvassing side because I’m terribly interested in the product of that. So I’ve studied that and got briefed on that. And all the reports there are there were some glitches, operational things that people found workarounds on.
We removed some things that are called large blocks. So if an enumerator went to a place where there might be a thousand or 2,000 housing units, say places around here where they’re densely-filled apartment buildings, we didn’t use the hand-helds there, we used another method.
So one of the things the Census Bureau does well, in my opinion, and I thought this before I got this job, too, is when they hit a little glitch, they get workarounds developed pretty quickly. With those workarounds, these hand-helds worked well enough for address canvassing. I don’t see anyone critiquing that.
They are not ready and explicitly not ready for other uses of them, and indeed those other uses were the problematic developmental glitches that led to the decision to turn the nonresponse follow-up into a paper operation.
Your other question is what would I have done differently? I haven’t even looked at that decision process carefully. I view that as sort of water over the dam. I’m worried about the product now and going forward. So I’m not very good at answering that question.
Stephen Buckner: Okay. We had just a couple late additional questions on the telephone. We’re going to take those, then we’ll go to media availability.
Operator: We have a question from Stephen Morse of mytwocensus.com.
Question: Hi, can you hear me?
Robert Groves: Hello. Good morning.
Question: Hi. Dr. Groves, my question actually, census processing centers in Phoenix, Baltimore and Nevada, and I was wondering how well the workers are being screened at these processing centers, the subcontractors? The screening process in terms of getting background checks on the people who have access to very sensitive information. I was wondering if you could talk about that. I know there are people who have misdemeanors and people accused of felonies working at these processing centers.
Robert Groves: You know, Stephen, are you on Skype?
Question: I am right now.
Robert Groves: I’m having trouble understanding you. I got about every third word.
Question: Let me try one more time.
Robert Groves: Let me try to paraphrase. Are you asking whether we screen the workers of the contractors in the processing centers, is that –
Question: I want to know about that process, exactly.
Robert Groves: They go through the same process that our Census Bureau workers do, I mean our employed, our Census Bureau employees do. There’s a reason for it. They’re handling the same protected confidential information that our workers are. And so that process is the same, if that’s your question.
Question: I wonder, if these people have access to very personal information from millions of Americans, and if the person, say, commits a crime [indiscernible], and they start working six months later, they might [indiscernible] for the Bureau, are there any checks in place to prevent that kind of action from happening?
Robert Groves: I’m sorry, what is it?
Stephen Buckner: Stephen, we’ll follow up with you. I believe the paraphrase was whether or not those employees within the contracted facilities that are processing the forms as they come back in are under the same employment conditions and quality control procedures that are employed in the field. And the answer is yes. They are census employees via the contract mechanisms to process those forms. So it is a lifetime confidentiality. The same penalties apply. They cannot share any of that personal information. They are census employees via the contract that is set up to process those questionnaires over 130 million of them as they come back to those data processing facilities.
All right. Do we have any more questions on the telephone? Okay. We’re going to end the question-and-answer period. Right now we’ll have a brief media availability. I know the television cameras want to do a couple of interviews. Thank you so much for coming. We’ll try to set up a schedule for these and send out notices to you in the near future about our next one, but probably every month or as we have developments around the 2010 Census. But thank you for joining us here today and thank you for joining us on the telephone. Have a nice one.