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.

FOIA Request: Give us the e-mails of the following people who should be held responsible for tech failures is hoping to get to the bottom of the Census Bureau’s IT woes:

Dear Ms. Potter and Staff:

Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. ยง 552, I am requesting all e-mails sent to and from Brian Monaghan, Barbara Lopresti, and Marilla Matos from February 4, 2010 through February 12, 2010.

As you probably already know, I run, the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 Census. My work has also appeared on,, and other publications. Since this is a non-commercial request and the release of these documents will serve the public interest (because analyzing these documents is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government), I am requesting that all fees be waived.

I am also requesting expedited processing of these documents under the clause on your web page that states I can do so if this information is “urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity.” With the 2010 Census just around the corner, and recent reports by the Associated Press and other organizations that language translations have been inadequate and sub-par, this request deserves your prompt attention.
If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your withholding of information. Notify me of appeal procedures available under the law. If you have any questions about handling this request, please feel free to contact me.


Stephen Robert Morse

PS – I’m not sure why, but you never responded to my FOIA request for hotel information from February 25, 2010. Any updates on that situation?

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One Response to “FOIA Request: Give us the e-mails of the following people who should be held responsible for tech failures”

  1. RG Says:

    With a respect for the agonizing need to know thing, I would fault first the constraints of a system which demands little or no, and then sudden, preparation (this based on expense as it is), taking much anyone and throwing them into the blender of turning out a professional staff in a week’s time (from the individual’s point of view).

    As goofy as a recent directive from Mr. Monaghan may sound- one advising disposition (recycling bin, for the most part) of recruiting materials- hence two dumpsters’ worth of yet-unopened brochures and other forms- yet in the same directive an admonition that peak recruiting isn’t over yet, and each office will be responsible for keeping adequate supply of these for that- and for unforeseen circumstances (how about just saying “throw it out, and keep it all”?)…

    Imagine the stress he’s under to make some sense of the whole cluster jam of limited training for lower management, in turn directing people essentially fresh off the street in some at times complicated operations. Of course we’ll overhire and overtrain- the imperative is time with a degree of quality, not applying a dedicated and knowledgeable force.

    He’s faced with such brilliant tomes as the D-503 Security and Logistics Manual (I hope he didn’t pen the thing), which on one page says that pallet jacks are expendable, and on the adjacent page that they are not, or in one paragraph says “Do not use the term confidential; this applies only to matters of national security” while the label we affix to envolopes bearing Personally Identifying Info says what? “Census- Confidential”. In the broader sense, and my gripe overall, is that the whole stew is founded upon a bunch of people unskilled in what they’re doing leading a bunch of others in the same fix. Some of these folks, while capable in something else, can turn into perfect jerks when put under the stress of having to call shots they don’t know how to otherwise. A post from a “CL newbie” hits it on the head. People who might perform well with adequate training and experience can turn into dummies when they start pushing others around, while some really don’t need to be here at all.

    More on IT, there was a test systemwide called DALT (Decennial Applicant Load Test), in which we logged on all terminals at once to test the servers under maximum load. Of course the whole mess just said “gone fishing”. When it was suggested that nowhere in reality is every station going to do such a thing at once, the new, improved DALT 2 came along, with staggered starts. Again, muck, but slightly more navigable. The office was stuck waiting for any inroad to the FDCA portal, and then into DAPPS.

    What did the Voice o’ God on the conference call say to do? Keep clearing the local cache and retrying. Why should the VOG not have had his job?

    Because it wasn’t the local cache, but the server, that was overstacked. One person I talked with got into both services before anyone else: a lowly clerk who doesn’t even use the computers there. How? This person said they just waited their place in the queue, while the ITdiot was running around the office clearing caches and putting everyone further back in line. Same clerk was tracking logs and printing screenshots at the glitches, pinpointing the server that was hanging, and then working, in their own case.

    VOG said “take screenshots” just as DALT 2 was closing, at the END of the second episode of DALT in two days spaced days apart. Local ITdiot, while everyone was awaiting the gum to undo itself, was going around saying “do another one, we want to keep the system loaded”. But it’s already stuck, dummy. Isn’t the idea to see what makes something work instead of “This way ain’t workin, so do more of it”? (The IT people are hard pressed to make a copier run smoothly anyway, and this holds a clue to my observation). And this after reams of 11×17″ paper were wasted on printing one version of script after another, ’til these IT experts finally ran the programs they were supposed to know how to run and got the steps straight…

    Mr. Monaghan and company are stuck with an entire army of people who say “Do this while doing the opposite.”.

    No, it isn’t the government way. It’s the out of control while under the gun way. Everywhere you turn we have a problem. If we reduce the blind leading the deaf, we might have a chance. This “Just in Time” approach, as the Bureau calls it, might work well for teaching Russian farmers how to use a rifle, but probably not so good for leaders in such a complex system. The stress is on on-time performance, by whom? A crew directed by auto mechanics, career office slaves, even dancers who turn into tyrants presuming a position of authority over others, when their spots should be peopled with strong, knowing personalities instead. One clerk said “It’s a $xx an hour temp job.”- EXACTLY the thinking of someone who just doesn’t care for the whole thing (this clerk is now a manager- great leadership attitude!).

    As for “held responsible”- that’s just what people here do best. Many of them can’t address something directly, but they’re overqualified for writing criticism from their own high point of in-the-darkness. Some management is open to improvement; some can’t hear, and has to smack down any suggestion, disqualifying the progenitor over anything it can in its otherwise ignorance and defensiveness (vid the story of the employee dismissed for addressing a matter of safety in TNSOL).

    A solution might be to restructure the system. Chop a zero off of some of the high poobahs’ salaries, and train management in depth for a month-a week about the whole census thing, a week for ADD_CAN, the GQ’s, etc- and at the end have a core of people who know that contradicting oneself in the course of one paragraph doesn’t work, while refining what does work instead. If people can look to leadership that knows what it’s doing, we might have more of an environment of focus, and less one where even some part-time junior clerk is presuming to push others around (as at the office I was at before).

    Of course, this is only one idea out of the woodwork. Many people on here are experienced and have valid points. I’d just like to see more of us on the same page, and hopefully one that doesn’t say two opposite things at once…