Friday, April 02, 2010

Tales From the Census

Michelle Malkin has been performing an important public service over the past few days, publishing "insider" accounts from anonymous census workers. To a person, they report gross inefficiency and misuse of taxpayer dollars, all part of the national head count.

Here are some excerpts from today's installment, beginning with "Reader X," who has been trying to measure the homeless population in his area:

I have been working with the census for 2 weeks and everyday I shake my head at the blatant inefficiency, and deliberate misuse of taxpayer money. Specifically, we have been doing enumeration for those who do not have a home, the homeless in shelters, soup kitchens and in targeted nonsheltered outdoor locations, such as parks, subway stations, etc. I personally have been sent to check on shelters that were already determined to be day programs only during the preceding round of quality control, yet they pay me the mileage and hourly wage to go back and make sure that they are still only day programs. I walked through parks and parking lots looking for homeless people to enumerate, not even by talking to them, but just by observing their race, sex, and approximate age.

I have indirectly been told to not work too fast, that each operation is budgeted to last until a certain date and that there is no reason to move faster and end before the scheduled time.

And this from Reader K, a veteran of the first phase of the census operation, conducted last year:

I had the great pleasure of working for the address canvassing last spring. I was hired in early April for a job that was to be completed by the first week of July. I have a military background and a background in Human Resources, the whole process left me with blood squirting from my eyes.


I worked in the field for 4 days so that I would know what to do. The remainder of my time was spent setting in a McDonalds to have a daily progress meeting with each of the enumerators. I was paid from the time I left my house to the time I got home…plus mileage. I was told to pad the time or mileage to cover my McDonalds food, since I was camping in a booth all day. For all that I was paid $11.75 an hour.


We had a really good crew, and were done by the second week of May (rather than the first week of July!) Philadelphia was going nuts because our region was getting done so fast, but there was nothing we could do to slow it down another 2 months. So then we got the word to hurry up and wrap it up.

Our local crew wanted to know why were done so fast. I told them that government workers wrote the regs. If they had been doing the job it would have taken 3 months. We were just regular Joes who had a “get it done” work ethic.

I never saw such a mismanaged outfit in all my life. I just shook my head in total disbelief. Our work could have been done with half the people. We did have those that quit right after training, to the tune of $800 spent on nothing. I earned approximately $3000. I will say to be quite honest it was the easiest money I ever made.

Of course, readers of this blog are already familiar with such stories. Last October, we published a letter from a former colleague who worked as a Field Supervisor for the Census Bureau during the 2009 address canvassing operation. We asked "Bob" for his take on the latest horror stories; here is his response:


Like you, I've been following Ms. Malkin's "True Confessions" series from disgruntled census workers. Most of their complaints sound very familiar, and match my own experiences last year. A few observations:

--Training is excruciatingly repetitive and boring because of bureau requirements. I had several crew leaders with military backgrounds, or extensive expertise in education and corporate training. Collectively, we had almost 100 years' experience in education and training. We suggested distilling the training program into a series of PowerPoint presentations, but that idea was firmly rejected.

You see, the Census Bureau mandates the use of verbatim training, so supervisors spend a week reading out of manuals to their charges. We were told this technique ensures "standardization," and saves money, but that's a joke. Every census employee receives a stack of thick manuals; the printing costs alone must be outrageous. Compare that to a few PowerPoint briefings on the supervisor's laptop. But remember: this is the first census that actually used computers in the field! Maybe in 30 or 40 years, they'll catch on to the idea of computerized training.

-- Some of the enumerators almost gave away their locations, based on their rate of pay and the "lack" of new addresses in their region. The guy who was getting $15.25 (and had no address updates) had to be in New York, Philadelphia, or another major city in the northeast. In many parts of the country, the enumerators who went door-to-door made only $11.00 or $12.00. Heck, as a field supervisor in my region (in charge of canvassing in eight counties), I was only making $16.00 an hour.

And, in suburban areas, "correcting" the address database was a major headache. All those houses built over the last decade weren't in the 2000 Census database, which was the foundation for the 2010 effort. Making matters worse, the existing database contained errors from 1990 and even 1980; in many cases, enumerators, crew leaders and field supervisors simply pencil-whipped glaring errors, leaving it up to us to fix the problem.

I should mention that the Census Bureau could update their system by simply obtaining a copy of the local E-911 database, published by virtually every county in the nation. That address listing is continually updated, but officially, the Census Bureau refuses to use it, because they had no had in compiling the data. "Unofficially," I instructed all of my crew leaders to get a copy from local law enforcement or their county's emergency management agency. In many cases, the E-911 listing became our "Bible," and we updated the census address listing to match the local database.

--Finally, I was amused by the conflicting guidance given to personnel regarding the pace of their work. With the Obama Administration looking for any good news on the job front, I can see why they're trying to extend the current phase of the census. Last year, that was never a consideration, at least in my region. My bosses in (deleted) were determined to impress their bosses at the Charlotte regional headquarters. After the first week, I was told to spare no effort in finishing the canvassing process. They granted overtime to anyone who wanted to work, hoping to complete the job as soon as possible. I began with a team of almost 140 crew leaders and canvasssers; within five weeks, everyone was out of a job because we were pressured to finish the job early.

That might seem like a blow for common sense and saving money. But I also know that the big rush resulted in a lot of mistakes. One of my crews had an error rate of more than 15%. The Quality Control team was supposed to check our work and fix discrepancies, but many of those individuals were simply incompetent. In several instances, my enumerators found quality control personnel "checking" our work in the wrong area. Multiply that a few thousand times and you'll see the margin for error is absolutely mind-blowing.

--One final thought. I'm not surprised by the census form's "preoccupation" with race. It's obviously a priority for the administration and the bureau is trying to avoid a repeat of 2000, when many minorities (supposedly) went uncounted. I should also point out that the current "abbreviated" census form is an attempt by the bureau to increase its out-year manning and funding. Once the census is complete, the bureau's manning drops to about 2,000. But if you don't include all the necessary questions on the form, that gives the agency an excuse to conduct more surveys after 2010. And that will mean more full-time employees and a bigger budget. Trust me, the Census Bureau will not "disappear" in the traditional sense, once the current operation is complete.




Unknown said...

I find it insulting that for the census, I receieve a letter stating how important it is to fill out the forms when they arrive in two weeks.

Then getting the form I had it filled out in five minutes and in the mail in less than a Hour.

Then receive two letters stating how important it is to fill out the forms afterwards in two weeks. Yesterday.. I find another census form in my mailbox stating that I had better fill out my form and send it in.. Its the Law!

Screw them.. I filled it out and put it in the mail.. the rest is a waste of my taxpayer dollars too

chrisale said...

Had to laugh at this comment:

"Trust me, the Census Bureau will not "disappear" in the traditional sense, once the current operation is complete. "

Is that kind of like how the military didn't "disappear" in the traditional sense after WWII?

Something tells me the Enumeration Industrial Complex will have nothing on the Militaries.

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