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.

A letter to Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves from an employee in Florida

The following opinions are those of a Census Bureau employee, not, and concern the letter below from Robert M. Groves::

Dear Robert Groves:

I am writing this editorial in response to a letter you wrote to all your local census office staff thanking them for their hard work and late hours dedicated to the census. I know that you will read this personally or someone on your staff will bring this to your attention. In your letter you assure us that you and Census Bureau employees at the highest level are focused on improving the Paper Based Operations Control System (PBOCS) and its performance. As this website has pointed out, PBOCS still has outages and bugs in the system are not fixed.

In the past few weeks we have seen a huge backlog in processing questionnaires. When headquarters and RCC set strict production standards and goals without flexibility and evaluate offices strictly based on that what you will find is managers react and make wasteful decisions. The Census needs to stop a common practice of  “throwing” bodies and resources at the problem in offices across the country. The staffing levels in some offices are now triple what the staffing authorizations originally allotted. Some offices are running three shifts 24 hours a day and those who are working 6pm to 6am are getting night differential pay. The number of staff in these offices has become simply impossible to manage effectively. The bureau may want to hire more staff in lieu of paying overtime. However keep in mind that there is a learning curve. Managers and supervisors can’t give new staff the same organized verbatim training. In some offices the NRFU operation is ahead of schedule, yet enumerators are still being trained as replacements when it is clear there is going to be no work. The most effective management decision is to find a balance using a marginal cost/benefit analysis: hire just enough additional staff to complete the task in a reasonable time, reward controlled overtime to your quality employees and spread out the staff. For example on Saturday May 15th our LCO was required to bring in ten staff for PBOCS over the weekend, even though most of the staff were not trained and the system couldn’t handle the users. So most of these employees sat around unproductively.

Also when production goals are set with no flexibility there is corner cutting and low quality work. When PBOCS doesn’t work and questionnaires need to be shipped we’ll just throw them in the box. When enumerators are held to strict production standards in hard to count areas we’ll simply resort to non-knowledgeable proxies or marking them as vacant or uninhabitable. (and remember vacant and uninhabitable units are difficult to be re interviewed in the quality control process) The Census Bureau’s quality assurance checks try to find low quality or falsified data however there are flaws. We won’t add housing units as we are supposed to and no quality assurance check that the bureau has can pick that up.

The solution is work smarter and more efficiently. If the Census fails to do this they will go over budget and run out of money. Most people will agree the crux of your staff are the enumerators and the clerks in the office who process questionnaires and payroll. We are the ones who are being paid the least amount of money and suffer the most from intimidation, constant demands of unattainable production goals and threats of being fired. Some of these forms of intimidation come from constant reminders that overtime is strictly forbidden. However if we don’t work fast enough headquarters and RCC staff will bring people in to take the food out of our mouths and pay the overtime to other employees either from other offices or even other regions. How demoralizing it must be to bring in people from other local census offices or even flying people across the country and putting them up in hotel rooms to help local census offices.

In these tough economic times, local census office employees like us may swallow their pride and work beyond their hours without claiming them simply because we want to be viewed as productive employees and keep our jobs. However when the Census ends the bureau is setting itself for another lawsuit from disgruntled employees. Your headquarters and regional census office staff must be more constructive in its criticism and not just threaten. The fact is your career census employees had ten years to get this right and didn’t. Now to blame local census offices for not processing work fast enough or to be inflexible in its deadlines is unacceptable.

I am proud to be part of this great endeavor, working for the 23rd census of population and have forged the greatest of friendship and camaraderie part of it as a result of the recession which has attracted a talented employee pool. Nevertheless I am disappointed in how we are treated by the regional census center and headquarters employees. I am simply asking that your career census employees treat the temporary employees with the respect and support we deserve and need in this tough time.


A Concerned Census Office Employee

6 Responses to “A letter to Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves from an employee in Florida”

  1. enumeratingirl Says:

    Thanks for posting this letter. It rings true in every regard for my LCO in CA.

    I once had a brilliant manager in another job. He managed his dept like an inverted pyramid. The support people were at the very top. Then the sales people. Then the managers. Then upper management at the bottom. Everyone’s success depended upon those people “above” them… It worked like a well-oiled machine.

    We had the opposite experience here. The LCO gets beat up by Mr Bureau who comes to visit. They take it out on their FOS who take it out on the CLs who call a meeting and beat up and threaten and put the pressure on the hardworking enumerators who are the ones in the field going door-to-door with daily threats of shotguns and attack dogs.

    Seems the census bureau could learn a thing or two from a good manager.

  2. Former AMFO Says:

    The Census Bureau is not looking for more efficient ways to get the job done. Remember this is not the private sector. The Bureau will do what ever it takes to count the population. That is it. If you have dedicated managers who suggest or try to implement cost savings ideas they are quickly told that their plan won’t work or is not permitted.. It has already cost the taxpayers at least 15 billion dollars so far. I’m sure it will be close to 20 billion before it is over.

  3. Senseless Says:

    Thanks for a great letter. I am also in Florida and it sounds like my LCO. You are absolutely right about people working and not claiming it. They are afraid to tell the truth about how much they are working. You will be intimidated and threatened if you do try to claim it. Of course they can also fire you for manipulating hours so you are always in a bad situation.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with all 3 of you.

  5. Current CL Says:

    Things are also like this at my LCO in Texas, things are constantly changing, we are told to do things one way today and told something opposite a few days later, and just the amount of work a CL is required to do is more than what can get done in a 40 hour week, especially when your crew goes from 11 enumerators to 21 enumerators near the end of the pay week and your trying to watch your hours, i am constantly working and have to always have my phone with me because i never know when my FOS or one of my enumerators will call with a situation… i am really enjoying what i’m doing, but this is more work than i had envisioned when i took the job.

  6. rosalind martin Says:

    I am a NRFU-RI in Manhattan. The work is nuisance work. My contacts treat me like a nuisance or a subpoena server… yelling that they already spoke to the census. And they did and I don’t really blame them.

    I’ve observed for over 5 months in Recruiting and QAC and now, enumerating … how poorly run and ridiculously micromanaged most of this census operation is being carried out. I am dismayed and embarrassed by the stupidity and mismanagement…
    in one small case: a fancy memo from the NY RCC describing the BC QAC project stated the size of a BC box to be 54.96745 inches tall–over 4 feet tall. (BC was a huge project to station Census Questionnaires and some workers in high traffic places to provide replacement questionnaire forms for people who hadn’t returned their household forms for one reason or another. What a troublesome farce! The BC box held about 30 questionnaires in different languages, had a footprint the size of a notebook paper, and stood about 14 inches tall. I had asked the size of the box to tell to a prospective placement site and was handed a 3-page memo which showed the box specs as more than 4 feet tall.)

    that small kind of mistake as well as much more disruptive mistakes occurred by the hundreds multiplying errors exponentially … which errors of course had to be corrected.
    That kind of erroneous work abounded in general office procedures.

    How can the outcome of the final census counts be trusted? I surely don’t trust it.