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.

Daily Sound Off: Census software violates federal law

This Daily Sound Off comes from Bob in Elgin, Illinois:

Until Tuesday I was the AMT (Asst. Manager for Technology) for the Elgin IL census office.

Around April 1st, a change was made to DAPPS (Decennial Applicant, Personnel, and Payroll System) so that it required us to ask employees for the last 4 digits of their Social Security Number to reset their passwords. This is a direct violation of the Federal Privacy Act of 1974, and placed me personally at risk of fines and jail every time I illegally requested this information of another employee. I immediately notified IT management of this issue, and opened a trouble ticket.

Despite my complaints, this issue was never fixed. A proper disclosure could have been added to the screen to be read to the employee. Or something other than SSN could have been used to verify identity. The system even asked new users 3 security questions (hobby,favorite color, pets name) when they first logged in, but these are NEVER used anywhere. Or we could have continued to reset passwords with no further authentication, since these users were all in the office and personally known. This was not a situation where passwords were being reset from remote requests over the phone or internet where verification of identity is an issue.

On May 4th, I was ordered by my area manager, Richard Earley (Chicago RCC) to do this in violation of the law, and threatened with termination if I refused to comply. I responded that he did not have the authority to order me to violate federal law.

On May 6th, Richard Earley stopped in our Elgin office, again ordered me to violate this law, and wrote me up twice on D-282 disciplinary forms. He indicated that he would provide me with copies of those forms, and indicate exactly what rules I had violated in refusing to violate the law, but never did either of these.

In late May a new NRFU Shipping application was rolled out to replace the severely performance limited PBOCS system. The new ship app was based on DAPPS, and had the same illegal SSN request to reset passwords. I immediately logged another trouble ticket to alert management of this issue.

Tuesday afternoon, June 8th Richard Earley again came to our office with a letter written by his staff ordering my termination, that he forced our local office manager to sign under threat of termination. Richard was the only one that spoke to me, terminating me on the spot, and walking me out the door. Although a D283 is required for termination, I never saw a copy of that form.

In addition, our Chicago RCC has issued an edict that we can’t terminate anyone for performance issues, we have to demote them to a lower position. This has been done to other employees in my office, but was not done in my case.

According to the rules on this web site

Both my discipline and termination are illegal actions.

I have contacted several federal regulatory agencies, including EEO, OMB, OIG, and OSC and filed complaints as soon as I was disciplined.

In addition the census bureau owes a $1000 penalty to every employee that has been asked for an SSN to have their password reset (probably 5-10K people at a cost of $5-10M), according to the Privacy Act. And those responsible for this illegal system should be fined $5000 per the same law.

I would be more than happy to provide additional information on this issue, and would really appreciate it if you would publicize the census violations of the law.

The computer systems have so many bugs and performance issues, that I question that this census will produce a true and accurate count of our population.

Our RCC manages by intimidation and harassment. They have gone out of their way to create a hostile work environment for all involved in this operation. I don’t know if this is a local issue (IL, WI, IN) or national. In my 35 years of work history, I have NEVER seen so many illegal actions in a place of work as this one experience of working for my own government. I find it disgusting.

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25 Responses to “Daily Sound Off: Census software violates federal law”

  1. Census CL Says:

    While I feel bad for Bob losing his job on a moral stand. It is very common for the last 4 digits of an SSN to be used for all sorts of identification purposes in the private sector. If you walk into almost any of the national wireless phone retail stores (AT&T for one) this will be the first question asked of you when you want to get information about your account (over the phone also).

    It is also required in many of the government forms you fill out (EEOC paperwork you fill out on your first day of work, for example). It is Bobs opinion that it is a violation of law, after checking, his employer assured him it was not.

    He does not say that he received any legal advice or opinions, but he still insisted he would not do the job required of him. So he was let go. I’m not sure what he expected the census to do about it.

  2. TXlcom Says:

    Being moral + US Government = FAIL!!!

  3. Census CL Says:

    ooops hijacked, lol

  4. pranita veeria Says:

    Our RCC manages by intimidation and harassment. They have gone out of their way to create a hostile work environment for all involved in this operation. I don’t know if this is a local issue (IL, WI, IN) or national. In my 35 years of work history, I have NEVER seen so many illegal actions in a place of work as this one experience of working for my own government. I find it disgusting.

    Bob……it happens in NYC….

  5. JAG Says:

    Can you point out where in the privacy act it says someone can’t use the last 4 digits of the social security number for this purpose? I looked it over and it didn’t see it.

  6. Enumerate this Says:


  7. ArmChairLawMan Says:

    There are exceptions. Fired AMT should have reallty read the law. Title should be: AMT’s cant’ read law.

  8. JAG Says:

    Section 7 of the Privacy Act provides that: “it shall be unlawful for any federal, state, or local government to deny any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual’s refusal to disclose his social security account number.”. This is listed under social security number usage.

    I’m not a lawyer but complaint wouldn’t seem to violate the law. He sounds more like an insubordinate employee who was terminated… I see it!

  9. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    Not sure who’s right here. The aggrieved AMT might be on solid ground, or they may have badly miscalculated.

    I looked up the text of the federal Privacy Act (AKA 5 USC 552A) online (here) and found this:


    Section 7 of Pub. L. 93-579 provided that:

    “(a)(1) It shall be unlawful for any Federal, State or local
    government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or
    privilege provided by law because of such individual’s refusal to
    disclose his social security account number.

    “(2) the (The) provisions of paragraph (1) of this subsection
    shall not apply with respect to -

    “(A) any disclosure which is required by Federal statute, or

    “(B) the disclosure of a social security number to any
    Federal, State, or local agency maintaining a system of records
    in existence and operating before January 1, 1975, if such
    disclosure was required under statute or regulation adopted prior
    to such date to verify the identity of an individual.

    “(b) Any Federal, State, or local government agency which
    requests an individual to disclose his social security account
    number shall inform that individual whether that disclosure is
    mandatory or voluntary, by what statutory or other authority such
    number is solicited, and what uses will be made of it.”

    Since IANAL (I am not a lawyer), I’m not sure I would’ve risked termination over insisting that the Census has to justify their use of the last 4 digits of SSNs.

  10. JustAClerk Says:

    Nope, Bob’s right on this. The LCO I work in does the same thing.
    Not supposed to but they do.

  11. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    @JustAClerk: “Not supposed to”. According to what? Please cite chapter and verse.

    Why? Because that’s exactly what “Bob” will have to do if he plans on fighting the CB on this. No, it’s not enough to repeat something you read on the internet here …

    Me, I’m agnostic on the issue (meaning I don’t know who’s right here).

  12. Eun Kim Says:

    If My Two Census had contacted the Census Bureau before posting this false claim, we would have confirmed that numerous government experts, including those from the Census Bureau’s Privacy Office, have reviewed the use of the last four digits of Social Security numbers for confirming identity during computer log in and found it to be in compliance with the Privacy Act. It is not a violation of law. Further, we disclose to all our employees at the time of hiring that their Social Security number will be used to confirm their identity.

  13. anonymous2010 Says:

    Bob – I understand what you are saying. I want to remain anonymous. Can you contact me?
    [email protected]

  14. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    But you see, that’s not the kind of “journalism” that S.R. Morse practices. What he does is he just takes anything bad anyone, anywhere, says about the Census or the Census Bureau and throws it against the wall, hoping it’ll stick.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    The CUNY School of Law uses the last 4 digits of social security numbers as default passwords for all their faculty and student accounts.

    As CUNY Law is a public institution AND a law school, I’m confident that the policy is completely legal.

  16. Embarressed Says:

    Gimme a break. I agree zzzzzzzzzz x1000

  17. Enumerate this Says:

    Let’s talk about something important: Who is still working? When is the fun going to end?

    My crew wound down a week ago — no more binders — but I finagled a transfer to another crew in the same district with more to do. There is a big military presence here, and the maps in my new district were all fucked up. So there’s been plenty of work.

    I’m told that the order here was to finish by today, Saturday June 12. But we’ve got so many addresses that we missed during last year’s address listing operation — acres and acres of apartment buildings — that we’ll be working through next week. Or so I’m told. No offers to go to NYC with a fat per diem.

  18. Yet Another Enumerator Says:

    Got a small barrage of emails yesterday from 2 different crew leaders I’d worked for saying there was a chance that our LCO (Oakland, CA) was going to send a crew of 17 or so up to Alaska for NRFU. The Census would’ve paid for airfare, lodging and per diem in addition to regular (and overtime!) pay.

    But today came word that they had reconsidered, and that the “higher ups” decided to use people closer instead, from Washington state, which actually makes more sense, but too bad for us …

  19. CLA Dave Says:

    re: “Who is still working?

    I’m still working. This week I was given a stack of about 50 rejected EQs to re-work. They want me finished by next week. I don’t think I’ll make it.

  20. California FOS Says:

    My FOSD finished yesterday. Actually, our entire LCO finished yesterday. No word on whether any of us will be sent to other areas to catch people up, but I have about 85 willing, able and ready enumerators and CLs who would jump at the chance, and my AMFO knows it. :-)

  21. Amanda Says:

    My CLD is 95.8% complete (or so I should say that’s what the office had us down for this AM), who knows if that’s totally accurate, but I’d say fairly close. The enums who didn’t have any work (and haven’t for over a week now) were sent to another CLD in our FOSD to help catch them up – they’re currently at 67%…not sure exactly WHAT happened there?! We’ve been given June 22 as a “due date.” We’ll see…not sure that other CLD is gonna make it.

  22. PM Says:

    Bob, pranita: “They have gone out of their way to create a hostile work environment” Seattle does the same. Cowards.

    “Although a D283 is required for termination, I never saw a copy of that form” Our AMFO and OOS, who have bullied just about everyone who gets in their way, have misrepresented reasons on 283- and the employee doesn’t see a copy here, either.

  23. D283 Says:

    The employee does not receive a copy of the 282 or 283, not required. Just an SF-50.

  24. Enumerate this Says:

    @Yet Another Enumerator: Alaska? That would have been sweet! I’m still holding out hope that I’ll get to travel, but it seems bloody unlikely. Maybe we’ll all be shipped to Omaha.

    @California FOS: You seem like good people. I hope you get picked up. I’ve been loving live with my new CL and CLA. Easygoing people but focused on the mission. The CL brought in pizzas and Cokes on Friday for his enumerators at our daily “office hours.” His dime. That, friends, is leadership.

  25. Anonymous Says: