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.

NextGov: Census Director Robert M. Groves says computer problems are fixed

For weeks, we have reported on the serious PBOCS (paper-based operations control system) computer, tech, and software failures that have occurred in Washington and at local census offices throughout the country. According to NextGov, the problems are all solved:

By Dawn Lim 05/11/2010

The top Census Bureau executive said on Tuesday that the agency has fixed glitches that caused major outages in a computer system that manages information collected by census takers.

Census Director Robert Groves told Nextgov that the bureau enlisted developers to work with agency staff to solve the problem.

The problems occurred in the paper-based operations control system and could drive up costs beyond the $15 billion the bureau estimates it will cost to conduct the 2010 decennial count, according to a report from the Commerce Department’s inspector general that was released last week.

“In the past four days there have been dramatic improvements,” Groves said.

He did not disclose how much the repairs cost but added that investments in the system “cost a lot less money than it would have cost if that system didn’t work.”

He added, “The problem with the system created a backlog of completed work being checked in. The impact of these problems will be on the backend processing.”

The cost of sending out part-time workers to travel door to door to visit households that failed to complete and send back a census form remains at about $85 million for each percentage point of households that did not mail back a form, he said. That works out to about $2.38 billion because 28 percent of households did not mail back their forms by the April 27 due date.

On other topics, Groves said the next decennial census should offer an online option, which Congress has pushed the bureau to consider for years. “I can’t conceive 2020 without it,” he said. But he added that the bureau should proceed cautiously as it weighs procurement options because “nobody knows what the 2020 Internet will look like.”

“There are pressures in DC to lock into [software] designs very early and say how much you are going to spend on the 2020 [census] before you know what you’re going to do,” he said. “These pressures have to be managed carefully.”

Groves supported the Census Oversight Efficiency and Management Reform Act, sponsored by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., to make the job of the Census director a five-year, term-limited position to promote continuity across administrations and alleviate the fears of partisanship in the bureau.

Groves said it was problematic that so many census directors had been appointed in years ending with a nine – the year before the bureau began one of its largest undertaking, the decennial count. “To say that’s a good way to run this place, you must believe that the place is better off without a director,” he said.

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40 Responses to “NextGov: Census Director Robert M. Groves says computer problems are fixed”

  1. CliveEM Says:

    hahahaha….yeah right! More Census bullsh*t. What the hell were they doing for 9 years?????

  2. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Any reports of PBOCS still down?

  3. ACL Dave Says:

    We got another batch of 10 binders, so maybe it’s fixed. Now they need to fix payroll. I just checked my bank acct and the clowns paid me less than half of what it should have been. Now I’m waiting for the office to open, getting madder by the minute. I hope whoever answers the phone in payroll dept is not a temp. Dealing with people as pissed off as I am is above a temp’s pay grade.

  4. CLA Dave Says:

    re: short paychecks
    Spoke to person in payroll at my RCC who blamed it on LCO, saying they submitted only two of my six 308s.
    Apparently I’m not alone; she said it happened to a lot of people.
    I wonder how many workers will be quitting today. Not getting paid tends to cause that.

  5. Maiasaura Says:

    No new binders for my team again today. The new FOS said he was told the new policy is to only accept EQs from odd-numbered AAs on odd-numbered days and vice versa. Cutting the data flow in half WOULD relieve the data processing bottleneck.


  6. QC CL Says:

    PBOCS has been running better the past few days, basically keeping up with work flow in the LCO. Of course there’s a backlog from when it wasn’t running so well.

  7. LCO-AM Says:

    They’ve found a way to actually limit the number of users online at each LCO.

    Used to be the “honor system” now you can not have more than XX amount of people log in.

    There was a test earlier this week of 8 users per LCO, then 10 and the entire system bombed, crashed deader than dirt.

    Today it was slow, but functional as long as the set number of logged on users was not exceeded – as mentioned, you can not do it.

    But, with limited computers are the LCO’s, you do not have the tools to get the job done.

    Most idiotic comment from management – operate 24 hours a day! Why is that idiotic and a true sign of how totally clueless the RCC and HQ are?

    Because PBOCS in not usable between midnight and 6AM! We can keep caught up with all of the clerical work, it is the lack of PC’s that is killing us, and WE ARE NOT ABLE TO USE THEM 24/7!

    PBOCS is a true POS but it is just the tip of the iceberg. Whomever is in charge of this operation needs to be removed from any position of authority, as well and everyone else who has been involved for more than one year – from the RCC level on up to the top.

    And anyone who knows anything will tell you, the Department of Commerce will put out statistics galore and create the largest smokescreen ever to cover this all up, and you know what, I think they will succeed – there is too much money and power involved.

    I went into this position with an open mind and obviously grandiose expectations of what the government offered.

    Never in my entire life have I been so disheartened with our government.

    Never did I imagine it was this poorly run.

    We are in big trouble folks, time for change.

    Back to the census, for now, do the best we can to get the best possible results.

    That’s about all we can do.

    Oh, and to try and not take it personal.

  8. ACL Dave Says:

    Re: Never in my entire life have I been so disheartened with our government.

    This is nothing compared to the military. They’ve lost nuclear weapons.

  9. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Breaking News & MyTwoCensus Investigation: The Census Bureau has failed to pay thousands of employees! Says:

    [...] if not years — even though Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves said two days ago that the problems were fixed). Even though most of the 200,000+ Census Bureau employees who are out in the field this week are [...]

  10. FOS guy Says:

    What a joke. Computers are NOT fixed. Allowing only 5 people per LCO to use PBOCS at a time, does not qualify as fixed.

    And none of this even starts to address the issues with data integrity. The “reports” we’re getting are almost worthless. It seems whomever (whatever?) designed the database management functions in PBOCS had no idea how to design a relational database.

  11. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    We’ve heard from multiple sources that the computers are not really fixed…

  12. old amfo Says:

    Maybe its time to question the wisdom of our Founding Fathers and consider doing the Census every two years over a 20% area of our country. There is no way in this modern age that you can depend on technology that is developed and used once every ten years. There has to be an ability to learn from techno failures and redesign systems.

  13. outta my census Says:

    I worked as a CL on AddCan and have had bit parts in operations since then. Watched the Census Bureau struggle with the aftermath of the woefully inadequate HHCs that no one in the CB really understood, yet theoretically had helped design. Now, surprise! DAPPS software not keeping up with system demands.

    In training we are taught to reassure respondents that we would face hefty fines and jail time if we divulge their personal information. I am troubled by the shabbiness of this promise. It seems to me that the real weak link in the system is in the technology that is supposed to be secure. Who at the CB will step up to the plate and into the firing line if/when the system is breached and precious confidentiality leaked?

    Maybe I’m an alarmist, but I sense the CB lacks the IT savvy to be making credible promises about data confidentiality. I like having an income, but in my efforts at doing good work for the Census, am I really just being a patsy for the corrupt privacy invading powers that be?

  14. Geewhiznrfudude Says:

    Just in from Asheville office. NO EQ’s are being scanned. Everything is being entered by hand..LOL. Unreal. We check every EQ 2-3 times for x inside box and printing perfect computer readable characters and they enter by hand.

    The good news is that Sen. Hagen and Congressman Shuler are “Angry” with constituents not getting paid, security clearances being withheld without any explanation, and money being pissed away. let me quote from a senior staffer “Some folks are going to be fired. Everyone who violates ‘No Fear’ will be fired.”

    Gonna be an interesting week.
    Ya’ll be safe out there. OH and tell us your Pit Bull Dog stories.

  15. LCO-AM Says:

    Totally crashed today, dead in the water…..

  16. Anonymous Says:

    We had binders this week. No more binders until possibly next week due to computer problems.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    The computer glitches are not fixed.

  18. Embarressed Says:

    We were so happy, we have been PBOCSing away for the past few days. Today… Nada… Zip… Zero… Zilch… Funny thing, we were told up soon, then silence. No emails, phone calls… crickets. So we had a talent show instead. Not really, but what is a 24/7 office supposed to do? Our breakroom is so clean now and all the pencils are sharp. What a nightmare.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    It’s not just Census employees, the general public knows about our computer glitches and payroll problems.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Glitches fixed? “YOU LIE, YOU LIE!!!”

  21. Tired of PBOCS Says:

    PBOCS was really only useful for 2-3 hours today and only if you where in the lucky 8 RCC’s. This is a joke that gets worse by the day when you have thousands of EQ’s coming in you can’t process. At this current pace the Commerce Department better start budgeting money for the Census going into the next fiscal year!

  22. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Check out my latest post…I’ve called Dr. Groves out on his lies.

  23. My Two Census » Blog Archive » Census Director Robert M. Groves Lies: The Census Bureau’s software, IT, and computer problems are NOT fixed Says:

    [...] this week, Dr. Robert M. Groves told NextGov that the Census Bureau’s infamous computer problems with the paper-based operations control system (PBOCS) software were fixed. He even went so far as [...]

  24. Anonymous Says:


  25. LCO-AM Says:

    The final census tally will be justified by statisticians, smoke and mirrors.

  26. Stephen Robert Morse Says:

    Yeah, as I re-read this article, I become more and more sick of government spin.

  27. Tired of PBOCS Says:

    I heard today that the IT department quotes PBOCS as being up for 11 hours yesterday. In fact is was only usable for approximately 5 hours in our LCO and most of that is was slow. Today it went down this morning and as I left work there had been no emails on an eta for it coming back up. Fixed…..not even.

  28. TTT Says:

    Groves claims Census has fixed tech issues
    By Gautham Nagesh – 05/12/10 02:07 PM ET

    It’s already become a familiar storyline in Beltway tech circles: following a damaging report from the GAO or Commerce inspector general, the current Census director meets with reporters to claim that the Bureau’s computer problems have been fixed and no longer threaten the accuracy or cost of the 2010 count. Hearings follow, with plenty of scolding from lawmakers along with promises from Census officials to get it right. Then things die down for a few months until the next incendiary report.

    The latest example came yesterday when Census chief Robert Groves told Nextgov that the Bureau has made significant progress fixing issues with its computer systems over the past few days. Last week an IG’s report outlined major outages in the Bureau’s systems over two weeks in April, leading to increased overtime, ballooning costs and depressed morale among Census workers.

    Now Groves says the Bureau has the problems under control, a claim sure to be met with some skepticism given the Bureau’s track record when it comes to major technology projects. The 2010 census in particular has been plagued by systems development issues since shortly after the 2000 count when decennial census chief Jay Waite decided that the Bureau should switch from using paper forms to handheld computers to collect information from households that don’t return their census forms.

    Waite’s attempt to leverage technology ultimately resulted in one of the costliest and most embarassing government IT failures in recent history. In April 2008 then-Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez announced the Bureau would scrap its plans to use the handhelds to count households and revert to using paper forms. The late-game switch is expected to cost taxpayers an additional $3 billion, bringing the total cost of the 2010 count to an unprecedented $15 billion.

    But even more important than the 2010 census’ ever-increasing price tag is the potential impact on the accuracy of the count, which is used to determine everything from Congressional representation to the allocation of federal broadband grants. Experts and observers have warned that the Bureau’s frequent changes to the process and inability to harness technology effectively could make this year’s census less accurate than the 2000 count. Such a step backwards would also be unprecedented.

    Aside from updating the public on the status of the Bureau’s tech troubles, Groves also said he can’t imagine a 2020 count that doesn’t involve an internet response method, though he has no idea what that method would look like. He also supports a bill from Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., that would make the Census director a five-year, term-limited position.

  29. Bea Daug Says:

    In the NRFU RI D1091 (don’t remember page) it actually states that NRFURI should have two shifts: day shift for phone calls and night shift for PBOCS.


    I was told by one person that on May 13th and May 14th from 4PM-9PM Pacific Daylight Time it worked.

    Does anyone know if it worked from 9PM until 6AM on May 13th and May 14th?

    Could someone post what hours on the weekend of May 15th and May 16th PBOCS was up?

  30. Tired of PBOCS Says:

    Today May 15th it was up from approx. 7AM EST til around 11:00AM and then we where told to get out. It was staggered log-ins starting at 7:00AM one person at a time every 15 minutes for first hour. Then two every 15 minutes til you got to 10 log-ins. But at 5 users it started slowing down, by 10 it was useless. I can’t verify the overnight hours as our office is not working those hours YET, but I see it coming soon. Everything in our office is working great EXCEPT PBOCS. We have over 20,000 EQ’s to enter into PBOCS and ship. Can’t get it down with the way PBOCS is working now.

  31. Anonymous Says:

    No direct deposit by today. My crew will finish NRFU by this Wednesday, May 19. LCO has printed and distributed all binders.

  32. Tired of PBOCS Says:

    Anonymous how many cases did your LCO have? Just curious

  33. Anonymous Says:

    Tired of PBOCS, CL never told us. They just said we have printed and distributed all binders and all crews will finish by Wednesday.

  34. AxionJaxon Says:

    I don’t know where you’re getting your “information.” Groves never said it was fixed, I can’t imagine anyone w/ any knowledge of the offices would say such a thing.

    He said “In the past four days there have been dramatic improvements,” and there was, for a short period. It’s back to its usual non-availability now.

    You’re just making stuff up to try and join the “gotcha” school of blogging.

    There are vast problems w/ PBOCS & the census operation, you don’t have to make stuff up to just be snarky.

  35. GS-X Says:

    FOS guy,

    Noting, that Census Bureau Headquarters is not the only shop that doesn’t know relational database design,
    it has been evident for years that there is little knowledge of relational database at Census HQ.
    After the 2006 Census Test, I could not even join tables. After several attempts,
    I gave up trying to communicate the need for RDMS training to management.

  36. anonymous Says:

    The census bureau has actually invented a time machine. PBOCS runs backwards!

  37. anonymous Says:

    Seriously now, I was besides a person who was trying to
    checkin questionaires from the field, and when thing actually worked as they’re supposed to in terms of interaction with the server, she let out a ‘yay’
    of exultation! Now how pitiful is this, when the expected
    operation of office machinery becomes a stochastic exercise?

  38. AnonCLA Says:

    Working in the field, I don’t know what the computer problems are. Is this a matter of processing the CI EQs or a matter of producing the AAs in the first place? The major problem my crew finds is that a high proportion of NRFU addresses have already mailed in their forms. Surprisingly, when I search on the word “already” in these forums, nobody seems to have commented on this yet. Yet it creates a lot of angry interviewees, many of which becomes REs that require INFO COMMs and up to 6 visits as The Powers That Be keep sending us back to the same place to find elusive proxies. So am I conflating two separate issues?

  39. » The Census Bureau’s Recent History of Throwing Billions of Dollars Down the Drain - Big Government Says:

    [...] The 2010 Census is currently in the non-response follow-up (NRFU) stage of operations (to track down individuals who did not mail back their 2010 Census forms on time), which is the largest and most expensive stage of the 2010 Census. 635,000 workers are involved in this operation, and it is the largest peacetime civilian hiring effort in the history of the United States. Yet this operation has been plagued by failure from the get-go. Let’s first take a look at the now infamous handheld computer debacle: [...]

  40. The Census Bureau’s Recent History of Throwing Billions of Dollars Down the Drain - Whitley County Patriots Says:

    [...] The 2010 Census is currently in the non-response follow-up (NRFU) stage of operations (to track down individuals who did not mail back their 2010 Census forms on time), which is the largest and most expensive stage of the 2010 Census. 635,000 workers are involved in this operation, and it is the largest peacetime civilian hiring effort in the history of the United States. Yet this operation has been plagued by failure from the get-go. Let’s first take a look at the now infamous handheld computer debacle: [...]