Posts Tagged ‘University of Michigan’
Yesterday, a press release from the Census Bureau detailed the hiring of Roderick Little, who will join the U.S. Census Bureau as the new associate director for statistical methodology and standards. The report states, “Little is the Richard D. Remington Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and chaired the Biostatistics Department from 1993 to 2001 and 2006 to 2009. He is also professor of statistics and research professor at University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.” After speaking with statisticians and those familiar with Dr. Little’s work, I am confident that he is an excellent hire for the Census Bureau. My qualm with this hire is that Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves, who studied and worked at the University of Michigan, is bringing in his friends to work for the Census Bureau rather than creating the open, transparent, and fair government that President Obama promised long ago. In the short-term, this hire is fine, but if the Census Bureau starts to look like the University of Michigan faculty club rather than a government agency, my eyebrows will be raised, and yours should be too.
Interview With Robert M. Groves: Census Director focuses on putting IT to the test before the big countFriday, November 27th, 2009
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.
The following is a press release from the U.S. Census Bureau:
Seven former Census Bureau directors, as well as hundreds of members of
the statistical community and Census Bureau employees, witnessed Department
of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke publicly swear in Robert M. Groves today
as the 23rd director of the U.S. Census Bureau.
President Obama nominated Groves to head the bureau in April. The Senate
confirmed him on July 13.
Groves takes over the nation’s preeminent statistical agency just eight
months before Census Day — April 1, 2010. The 2010 Census is a count of
everyone living in the United States, and the numbers are used to apportion
congressional seats to states, to distribute more than $400 billion in
federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year and to make
decisions about what community services to provide.
“President Obama knew when he nominated Dr. Groves that the job of
directing the 2010 Census demanded someone with outstanding academic
credentials and management skills — and as it turns out, patience,” Locke
said. “We’re depending on Bob bringing his expertise and commitment to
sound science to the biggest civilian project this nation undertakes.”
Groves is the former director of the University of Michigan Survey
Research Center, and he was an associate director of the Census Bureau from
1990 to 1992. He is the author of seven books and scores of scientific
articles concerning the improvement of surveys.
“In a matter of months, we’ll begin the national operation we call the
decennial census,” said Groves at Census Bureau headquarters in Suitland,
Md. “It is a time-honored tradition. There is no other federal agency
charged with such a large undertaking. It is awesome in every bit of its
The first census — mandated by the Constitution — was conducted in 1790,
counting nearly 4 million people. A temporary census office conducted the
count every 10 years, with the Census Bureau becoming a permanent agency in
1902. The latest census in 2000 counted more than 286 million. The 2010
Census expects to count more than 310 million residents.
The former Census Bureau directors is attendance were Vincent Barabba
(1973-1976 and 1979-1981), John Keane (1984-1987), Barbara Everitt Bryant
(1989-1993), Martha Farnsworth Riche (1994-1998), Kenneth Prewitt
(1998-2001), Louis Kincannon (2002-2008) and Steve Murdock (2008-2009).
By Reynolds Farley, Ph.D.
I worked as a crew leader for address canvassing from March 23 to May 7. Reflecting the economy, five of the 18 members of my crew had post bachelor’s degrees. Several had given up lower-paying jobs to canvass for the Census Bureau. All had been told that they would have six to eight weeks of work. Canvassing took place from April 17 through May 6.
Our area was a rural one with numerous lakes and isolated homesteads not visible from unpaved roads. In many places, dirt roads lacked names, homes lacked numbers and residents claimed that the post office did not deliver their mail. The vehicles of three canvassers became stuck in mud. Maps on the hand-held computers bore no more than a remote relationship to what we found. Quite often we came upon an array of a dozen or two mailboxes sitting side-by-side at the end of a dirt lane. Some had numbers, some did not. Then there would be a dozen or two homes scattered about a lake, an estuary or a river front. Matching numbers with residences was extremely time consuming, if possible.
Address canvassing went well from April 17 through May 1. Our local census office was located in a suburban area adjoining a major metropolis. Officials there appeared to be unfamiliar with canvassing in a remote rural area. We were told that our district was the only one in the local census office not completed by the week-end of May 2.
Rather than letting us work for another week to finish the job competently, canvassers from urban areas were sent to our area in great numbers and at considerable cost. There appeared to be no interest at all in quality control. The emphasis was solely upon completing the canvassing before an arbitrary deadline.
The canvassers who started with this crew believed they would be employed for six to eight weeks worked three weeks at most. I suspect that the very many new canvassers who were sent in to complete the area had little, if any, familiarity with the rural area where we worked.For my entire career, I have used U.S. Census data in my teaching and research. The area we canvassed is one in which no address list could be complete and accurate. The canvassers working with me were serious and cautious. Two-thirds of the area was competently canvassed. One-third of the 29,000 address lines were canvassed in extreme haste implying that several hundred housing units may not receive a questionnaire when they are mailed next March 17. I hope that this emphasis upon speed rather than quality was a rare happening.
I had the good fortune of working with many excellent an dedicated canvassers in this brief period and a very competent Field Operations Supervision. I am, however, less sure about the dedication of some higher level local census office administrators to the important issues of minimizing undercount in the 2010 Census by getting an excellent address list.
Dr. Reynolds Farley is Professor Emeritus at the Population Studies Center and Department of Sociology at the University of Michigan, where he served as Chairman of the Sociology Department. Dr. Farley’s research interests concern population trends in the United States, focusing on racial differences, ethnicity, and urban structure. A recognized leader among social scientists who study race relations in the United States, Reynolds Farley is among the top echelon of social demographers, a leading authority on the demography of African Americans, and a penetrating and creative analyst of racial and ethnic relations over the past 40 years. His pioneering studies of the causes and implications of massive and continuing racial segregation have enlightened the national discourse on social policies concerning families, welfare, health and education. His current work includes an investigation of the residential consequences of revitalization in the Rust Belt. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and first worked for the Census Bureau in 1962.