By Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel7:39 p.m. EDT, July 29, 2010
As the 2010 census winds down, three Volusia County census takers couldn’t wait for the latest phase of the headcount to end. They walked off the job three days after they started, adding to the complaints that the effort is wasteful, inefficient and frustrating.
Andy Miller, 54, of Daytona Beach said he quit after being told by his supervisor to return three times to a vacant house that he verified with a real-estate agent had been empty for more than six months.
“It was clear to me the Realtor had the information, but I was told, ‘No, go back. You might find someone who was living there that the Realtor didn’t know about,’” Miller said.
The same instructions — go back three more times — applied to an apartment above a store; the owner said the apartment was used for storage and was unoccupied. Miller also was told to go back another three times to a home where a relative of the homeowner provided all the information by proxy.
“If you get the person who lived there, you don’t have to go back. But if you get a proxy, you had to go back,” Miller said.
A Census Bureau spokeswoman said the check-back-three-times routine is standard procedure to make sure the census takers get the best information possible.
“That is the policy we expect people to follow,” said Pamela Page-Bellis. “We don’t want people to take the easy way out. They are to gather the most accurate information possible.”
Miller was told the same thing by his supervisor when he appealed what he considered absurd and illogical instructions. That was when Miller and two others in an eight-person crew walked out July 10 — three days into their summer job of checking for vacant houses and addresses that should be deleted.
Jeanne Tanke said she walked out with Miller because she was frustrated with the policy of going back to a vacant apartment or condo three times before being permitted to talk to the building manager about whether anyone was living in the units. In some cases, the same addresses had been visited three times by the door-to-door enumerators in the previous phase of the census.
“It didn’t seem logical to me that we kept knocking on the door when nobody answers, but we can’t ask the manager until we’ve been there three times,” said Tanke, 71.
The third person who quit said he objected in particular to having to go back three times to empty houses that are verifiably empty.
“It’s just inefficiency. That’s all it is,” said the 68-year-old retired sales manager who didn’t want his name used for fear it would jeopardize any future employment by the government.
All three former census takers worked during the manpower-intensive, door-to-door part of the census that ended in May. Thousands of enumerators were laid off, but they were among those chosen to continue in the slimmed-down follow-up efforts that started June 28 and are scheduled for completion by Aug. 25.
What the Census Bureau defends as being as thorough and accurate as possible, Miller and the others regard as a system designed to take as much time as possible. The attitude of managers, they said, was that the three-visit rule was a good way to make the job last longer.
“They alluded to this can take three days or three weeks. It’s up to us,” said the retired sales manager. “I don’t feel right about padding hours.”