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 ‘whistleblower’

The latest update on the Brooklyn 2010 Census falsification scandal (Price Tag: $250K)

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

MyTwoCensus has been informed that Census Bureau employees have been lifting information off the Internet and falsifying forms at locations throughout the country. Whistleblowers should not hesitate to contact MyTwoCensus.com immediately. Your confidentiality will be 100% maintained.

On Monday, July 19, 2010, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing entitled, “Is Brooklyn Being Counted? – Problems With the 2010 Census” to examine a recent incident involving two senior managers at the Brooklyn North East Local Census Office who were fired for fraudulently completing census surveys.  The hearing examined the steps the Census Bureau is taking to ensure the accuracy of the 2010 count. The New York State Congressional Delegation has been invited to participate in the hearing.

The hearing was held on Monday, July 19, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. in the courtroom of Brooklyn Borough Hall, located at 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, NY.

The witnesses who testified were:

Dr. Robert M. Groves
Director
U.S. Census Bureau

Mr. Todd J. Zinser
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Commerce

Mr. Lester A. Farthing
Regional Director
U.S. Census Bureau NY Regional Census Center

Opening Statement of Chairman Edolphus Towns

Opening Statement of Subcommittee Chairman Wm. Lacy Clay

Opening Statement of Rep. Yvette Clarke

Prepared testimony of Dr. Robert Groves

Prepared testimony of Mr. Todd Zinser

According to the New York Daily News:

The bungling was first uncovered last month when two census managers were discovered faking surveys by lifting information off the Internet.

Brooklyn Northeast census manager Alvin Aviles and assistant Sonya Merritt were axed – and 4,200 questionnaires had to be redone.

Redoing the phony forms – which is almost complete – will cost taxpayers $250,000, Groves revealed.

To make matters worse, a whistleblower recently alerted officials that some of the new surveys also were fudged by workers who took their best guess when no one answered the door.

The workers estimated the number of people living in a home based on information such as names on mailboxes, Groves said at the hearing.

“This … is a clear violation of procedures,” he said.

Groves said the second snafu affected a few hundred households. He blamed the mistake on confused workers who misunderstood instructions.

The bureau is investigating whether information was faked in any other offices in Brooklyn or around the country.

He promised the bureau will come up with an accurate count and said that the recount of all 4,200 surveys will be done in a few days.

“I want to say how troubled I am that this occurred,” Groves said. “This activity violates all the principles for which the Census Bureau stands. It is an abhorrent act.”

According to Gothamist:

Census Recounters Messed Up Recount, Re-recount Planned

Those Brooklyn Census workers really don’t want to lose their jobs. After being instructed to redo more than 4,000 falsified Census forms, workers at the Brooklyn Northeast Census office botched the corrections and must complete the forms a third time.

One office worker recently alerted officials that some workers were fudging answers when people wouldn’t answer their doors—exactly what managers Alvin Aviles and Sonya Merritt did to get themselves fired and start this whole mess in the first place. The best part is the whole $250,000 SNAFU could probably have been avoided, since Census workers are allowed to leave questions blank if they cannot obtain the information by either first person or “proxy” interviews.

At a hearing yesterday regarding the first set of faked forms, Congressman Ed Towns said, “I represent a district that is comprised of a number of so-called ‘hard to count’ communities…These communities present challenges to the Census Bureau, but these challenges must be met.” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves says the second round of mistakes were caused by confused workers who misunderstood instructions, and that it should be worked out shortly. Still, he said, “I want to say how troubled I am that this occurred. This activity violates all the principles for which the Census Bureau stands. It is an abhorrent act.”

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Clarify Social Networking And Blogging Regulations

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

In a memo sent last week to all of its employees, the Census Bureau took a huge swipe at the first amendment of the US Constitution, the right to freedom of speech. The contents of the letter were as follows:

CONFIDENTIALITY AND ETHICS REMINDER

Social Networking and Census Employment

As personal blogging, tweeting, social network sites have become more common and popular, it is not unusual for Federal employees to have an opportunity to write about their work and their employer in a public forum. Please be aware that you cannot disclose any nonpublic information that is protected by statute. You also cannot receive payments for writing about Census programs or operations or about assignments you have been given as a Census employee. In addition, you must be careful to ensure that there is no appearance created that you are writing on behalf of the Bureau of the Census, the Department of Commerce, or the United States Government, when you are writing in your personal capacity.

These rules apply to all employees, as well as those who are professional writers and reporters, so please keep these considerations in mind before writing and publishing or posting an article or other writing about the census or your work as a Census Bureau employee.

As a Federal employee and a hard-working member of the Census Bureau, you have important responsibilities and obligations to the public which impose some limits on you that do not apply to persons in the private sector. Please be mindful of these responsibilities, even when engaging in personal activities such as blogging and posting on web sites.

These restrictions on writings and publications are in addition to the life-time oath you took to uphold the confidentiality of census information. Any wrongful disclosure of confidential census information subjects you to a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment up to 5 years, or both.

*The last part of the letter was underlined, not put in bold, but I put it in bold to illustrate a point.

Just like other government officials and people who work in the private sector, Census Bureau employees are subject to confidentiality laws. However, this does not mean that the government has the right to threaten employees, particularly whistleblowers, as they have in this situation.  The Census Bureau must make clear what workers’ legal obligations are and what are simply the goals of the Census Bureau’s management and public relations team who benefit greatly from problems being kept quiet and unreported.

FedEx-gate Investigation Continued: Census Bureau wastes $3 million…or more?

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

NOTE: We urge whistleblowers to contact us about this issue and any other issues that you may have experienced. MyTwoCensus staff will always protects your anonymity and provide resources and advice to assist you.

Soon after MyTwoCensus broke the story about the Census Bureau’s gross overuse of FedEx, readers (all of whom requested anonymity to protect themselves because they are afraid that they will be fired for speaking out, even though whistleblowers are protected by the law) contacted us with their personal stories.

fedexairbillspokane1

Below, please find one reader’s personal story (All details of this story have been fact-checked. MyTwoCensus will hereafter refer to this employee as Jane Doe):

“Please do not reveal my name.  A fellow census worker gave me your website tonight.  They do not have the courage to complain, and I probably should not, but I have always had more courage than sense.

Regarding Census Bureau use of FedEx – you will not believe the extent of it.  From November 2008, through late April 2009, every field employee was REQUIRED to FedEx a payroll form every day that they worked.  That is one page and a carbon copy of it.
I began working on December X, 2008, as a Recruiter, and worked 5 to 6 days per week through February X, 2009 when all recruiters in XXXXXXXXXX were abruptly laid off.  Not only did it cost them the FedEx rate everyday for my payroll report, but they required that I drive it to the nearest drop box every day and paid me $12.75 for the one hour round trip, plus $14.63 for the 25 mile round trip – every day!  For every recruiter!
If we had been allowed to use the post office, the envelopes/packages would have been picked up at my home.  I would not have had to drive to a drop box, and when I had a larger package the nearest post office is 25 miles (50 miles round trip) closer than the nearest FedEx store.”

After speaking with the Public Information Office at the Census Bureau’s national headquarters in Suitland Maryland, MyTwoCensus was told that FedEx was used to “protect confidential information.”

MyTwoCensus followed up with the 2010 Census employee (Jane Doe) who provided the above statement. She replied, “The information that I received was primarily not confidential information, but rather, it was instructions on how to perform my duties. The information that I sent was primarily my daily payroll report. It contained my name, my employee ID number, and my hours worked.”

This employee provided MyTwoCensus with FedEx package information/photos to corroborate what she told us.

Is this sensitive information or confidential information? Hardly! The names and ID numbers of Census Bureau employees are already highly visible on Census Bureau employees’ ID badges.

Just to clarify that MyTwoCensus isn’t looking to start trouble, Jane Doe told us, “On days that I sent more than one envelope, those packages did contain confidential materials with applicants identification information.”

Now that we have laid out the facts, we are awaiting a more thorough response from the Census Bureau…