Computer-Assisted Data Collection

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

We have a variety of software systems that are used in the 2010 Census. Three of them are central to the conduct of the census—a personnel and payroll system, an operation control system, and an optical scanning system to process the completed form.

Two of these systems are doing just fine – the payroll system and the optical scanning system.

The third is a shaky system that caused us serious concerns when the nonresponse follow-up stage began on May 1. The system performs the functions of assigning work to crew leaders and enumerators, checking in their completed work, and preparing it for shipment to the three optical scanning processing centers. In the first week of nonresponse follow-up, the system was not reliable; work was assigned to enumerators through a manual backup to make sure that the no harm was done to completing the field work. Questionnaires were completed by enumerators in the field at about the rate we expected, but since the control system was not supporting checking-in the work as desired, completed questionnaires backed up in the census offices, waiting to be checked in to the database before being shipped for scanning.

For example, by Monday of this week we expected to have completed about 15% of the nonresponse follow-up workload and to have checked in about 10%. We completed about the expected amount but checked in only 5% or so.

We reorganized the management of the team overseeing the software somewhat, bringing in some outside experts on databases and the operating system. Developers visited census offices to see users actually using the system. Changes were made. Changes made about May 7 or so had dramatic positive effects on the performance of the system. So, the past few days have been better, but not perfect.

Several times in my career, I have experienced first-uses of complicated survey data collection systems. The first use is rarely a pretty affair, mainly because of the difficulty of designing testing regimens reflecting all the combinations of steps that occur in real production with thousands of diverse users. The challenges with the 2010
Census operational control system brings back those memories to me.

For the 2010 Census we are by no means out of the woods with the operation control system software. There will be other problems, if my past experience is any guide. Our goal is to make gradual improvements in performance to complete the work. Failing that, we have contingency backups in place for key functions, and we’re blessed with great staff in the local census offices who are committed to working around day-to-day problems. I can pledge that all of us at headquarters are focused on making this tool as strong as possible for our colleagues in the field.

Please submit any questions pertaining to this post to ask.census.gov

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28 Responses to Computer-Assisted Data Collection

  1. An enumerator says:

    So the payroll system is working just fine? The other systems must really be screwed up then. A huge number of census workers were either not paid at all for their first week of work or were paid for only a few hours. This has created a terrible financial crisis for those of us who went off of unemployment to work as enumerators. Not only did we not receive unemployment checks for the last two weeks, but have now received paychecks that didn’t even cover the cost of the gasoline we’ve spent while doing enumeration. The payroll problems are not just a few isolated incidents. They are widespread from all parts of the country. Please look into this issue and do something to make amends to your 600,000 new colleagues.

  2. John says:

    Thanks for the update. Very informative.

  3. gene says:

    Mr Graves, If the payroll system is doing fine, then why did myself and other enumerators in the field not get paid the proper amount and some not paid at all last week on our payday???? I called the LCO and they told me to fill out a D-225 Info Com and give it to my Crew Leader, that’s a delay tactic!!!! I sure hope we get the right amounts this week payday along with the backpay owed us, if not I think alot of enumerators might be bailing out, sure hope you get the problems taken care of. Unpaided Enumerator…

  4. Mike Ryan says:

    I am an enumerator working a rurql Colorado area what is our authority to enter into private property which is posted? MikeRyan

  5. Mike, Bring your issues to your crew leader’s attention. They should know the standard operating procedures for a complete enumeration.

  6. An enumerator, Individual complaints can be directed to the Personnel/Payroll Hotline that rings in each RCC administrative area. Each RCC administrative area is staffed to handle calls over the hotline and with voicemail for after hours calls. The nationwide toll free number is 1-877-233-4776. This telephone number is also located in the Employee Handbook that each DAPPS employee receives. The telephone number is found in Chapter 3, Personnel and Payroll.

  7. Frustrated enumerator says:

    In reading through your response to many of the questions on this blog you say “bring your issues to your crew leader’s attention. They should know SOP procedures for a complete enumeration.” I tried this and not one time did I get an answer. The LCO said that I shouldn’t contact him; that it was to be worked out between the CL and me. You also mentioned the chain of command in another response. After months of trying to find out why there was so little communication admixed with wrong answers, the LCO said that information was passed along on a “need to know basis.” If Dr. Groves latest posting, on 5-14-10 concerning the glitch in the optical system and explaining why NRFU was in jeopardy from its May 1 startup date, why didn’t this get passed on to the LCOs, the CLs, and the enumerators when it was first known? Trying to produce quality work with enthusiasm and pride is tough when you feel in the dark and without support. Just b/c this is temporary and short term work doesn’t mean it’s not important to us. Please treat us accordingly with support and respect.

  8. Enumerator says:

    Paul,
    Thanks for the response. My pay problems were immediately brought to the attention to my LCO, and I should eventually be paid (although there will be at least a two week delay for my overtime pay due to the 308s being entered into the system in the incorrect order). The LCO admitted that they were completely buried by the number of 308s, and failed to get many entered prior to the pay deadline. This is not an isolated incident. All of my crew were affected, and I’m seeing reports from states all over the country. Of the 600,000 new employees, I’d like to know how many received less pay than they were due. I suspect it is over 500,000. I call that a massive failure of the payroll system (regardless of whether it was due to data entry issues or computer malfunctions). Good luck in solving this issue. (by the way, the first step in solving the problem is to admit that the problem exists).

  9. Enumerating in Aventura Florida says:

    I know my team members are feeling disrespected, because no one knows if there is going to be more work. We were told we had a set territory of multifamily buildings, which was large enough to keep the team busy for the next six to eight weeks. Since we had time on our hands, we called some of the buildings and found out that other census workers worked what we thought was our teritory. Now our team has no work and the CL does not know if there is going to be any, and that is only because his boss doesn’t know either. Some of the team did not even get 15 hours in the first week. There just wasn’t enough work. Now the job appears to be over. We were enumerating in one of most densely populate areas of Miami Dade. It seems unreasonable to believe the job is over already after two weeks unless they hired more people than I thought or brought them in from other areas. Is it really over for our area, and if it is, will we be redeployed in another neighborhood or are our jobs finished after two weeks?
    Thank you

  10. New Yorker says:

    The hours problem is common for instance, during the 1st week which was our training week I worked 33hrs but only got paid for 22.50 hrs. One of my friend said that his CL told him that it would hopefully be sorted out when you get next week paycheck. Let’s hope it does.

  11. Threatened by a census worker in California says:

    Where do I complain about your extremely rude and disrespectful workers?
    And even more troubling – an implied threat of violence by one of your workers
    I’m in the public library in Citrus Heights Ca. where I’m actually trying to do something unique … which to read.
    I’m on the board of directors of one non-profit, and the steering committee of another group of concerned citizens, and I’ve been trying to analyze and comprehend a recent court order which affects thousands, if not tens of thousands of citizens (which I’m assuming is something you value also). I’m using the wifi to bring up the pdf and in order to fully understand the ramifications, I have to read the decisions cited throughout the court order in order to assess the impacts on the public.
    I use the library a few times a week, and I’ve got to say that that is very difficult when your workers are constantly making phone calls and laughing and joking in – did I mention this? – in a public library. They’ve been coming in here for weeks. Eight, ten people at a time, acting rude and disrespectful to the other patrons and finally today, after forty minutes of virtual nonstop carrying on, I asked them if they could hold it down. I mentioned that I was trying to read something important, and even asked them to “Please hold it down?”
    I asked “please?” about three times, and as I was walking away, one of the workers made the implied threat of physical violence to me. As I was walking away he commanded/challenged me something to the effect of “GO AWAY!” It wasn’t so much what he said, but, the way he said it
    Needless to say I was shocked
    I was very close to walking back and asking him to step outside, but I thought better of it
    I was shocked that someone could be so prone to anger for something so trivial as asking them to be respectful of others – as I said, this was in a library. Not a fast food restaurant. Not a Park. Not in a bar. In a public library
    Am I wrong in thinking that this is abhorrent behavior?
    Where do I complain about this threat?

  12. e says:

    I am an enumerator one problem that is becoming a bigger problem is multiple
    visists to these homes. I am thinking that maybe having a spread sheet with all addresses for a particular area would help.For instance all addresses for Anytown,USA 12345 would be in folder (whatever works) crew leader gets one and NRFU would get one. while checking binders for correct maps and EQs CL could cross check with binders as well as NRFUWs as they receive binders and comparing at meeting especially when a binder is going out to an area that has been worked before ,may appear to be a lot of work but could possilbiy keep down a lot of confusion .

  13. geneo says:

    Good Morning Mr Graves, Well I received my second direct deposit pay check today for Enumerator field work… it is also low just like last week’s. I will wait to get my Earning Statement on Friday and then will report it again to my Crew Leader. I can speak for myself, getting the payroll correct needs to be corrected. I had no problems getting paid correctly in all the previous census operations, why is the NRFU such a problem???
    Enumerator not paid correctly…

  14. Hungry CLA says:

    “Paul@censusstaff said in reply to An enumerator…
    Individual complaints can be directed to the Personnel/Payroll Hotline that rings in each RCC administrative area. Each RCC administrative area is staffed to handle calls over the hotline and with voicemail for after hours calls. The nationwide toll free number is 1-877-233-4776. This telephone number is also located in the Employee Handbook that each DAPPS employee receives. The telephone number is found in Chapter 3, Personnel and Payroll.”
    For your information we received a memo on May 17 telling us NOT to call any of these numbers when we haven’t been paid but to “contact your crew leader or FOS” who are the only persons allowed to call payroll now. Think they might have been anticipating the response to this week’s non-payment fiasco?

  15. Well then that memo only came from your LCO, because I work in an RCC and take calls all the time from individuals. In fact, when a CL calls in for an employee we raise our eyebrows and question as to why the person didn’t directly call in for themselves.

  16. Sid says:

    Hi there. I have some ideas about improving PBOCS, and am going to submit them to my OOS, but would like to know if you have any suggestions as to other appropriate people to contact. Basically, I wanted to throw together a few process flowcharts, maybe some record definitions, and an overview of an idea that would resolve the EQ check-in backlogs. If there is some interest, I could prototype the thing in Visual Web Developer and MS SQL Server in a few days. Any suggested points of contact? I am concerned that the local office folks might not have the technical knowledge or interest that others might possess.

  17. Sid, Thanks for thinking forward. I suggest that you share your ideas with Local Census Office.

  18. geneo says:

    Good Morning Mr Graves, Well I rec’d my Earnings Statement on Saturday and I wasn’t paid for all the hours worked and mileage for the previous week… however I did get the back pay and mileage for the prior week, that was good. I know my pay will evenually get caught up, it’s just a shame that something as simple and important as payroll can’t be depended on in during these hard economic times, especially for some of the Enumerator’s who went off un-employment to work for the 2010 Census!!!! Thank you for your time.

  19. Hungry CLA says:

    Dear YouAreMisinformed,
    Of course the memo came from our local LCO, how else would it get to us? And I quote from this Local Memo:
    “The Payroll Department and Field Operations are working closely together to ensure that all employees are paid in a timely manner. We realize that some employees received little or no pay this week and we sincerely regret that fact and are working hard to make sure this does not happen again. To make sure that everyone is paid on time we ask that all of you pay special attention to these common problem areas.
    Part A of the D-308
    Part B of the D-308
    Part C of the D-308
    Finally, if any employee has a payroll problem we ask that only Crew Leaders and FOSs call the Payroll Department. This helps to minimize the number of calls and helps Payroll deal more effectively with Payroll problems. Enumerators should call their Crew Leaders with any Payroll problems.
    Thanks for your cooperation in following these instructions,
    Your AMFO and Your LCOM”
    Perhaps your eyebrows will now understand why persons don’t directly call for themselves. Are you suggesting that we should ignore these instructions?

  20. I stated “only” your LCO, in regards to the memo, meaning it didn’t come from higher up. When a CL calls in for a employee, we could only give general information anyway, we wouldn’t be able to discuss that particular employee’s personal information, so yes, if there is a payroll problem we need to speak directly to the person that it effects. I understand that the LCOM and AMFO are trying to be proactive and helpful, but if there is a problem with your pay you need to speak directly with the payroll department.

  21. Also, I have no idea what Region you are in, but as far as I am aware, no memos of that sort have gone out in my Region. A CL or CLA or FOS is not going to be able to fix an error on payroll such as a wrong checking account number etc…the only thing they could do to help is if a 308 was incorrectly submitted. That would still be up to the employee to make sure the form was filled out correctly and then given to the CL to submit. My main point being that there is no rule out there that only a CL or FOS is allowed to call the payroll hotline. That would be absurd and pointless as far as getting things resolved.

  22. geneo says:

    Good Morning Mr Graves, Thing’s in the payroll area might be getting slightly better for us enumerators in the field, I got my 3rd direct deposit today and it was higher than before, so I hope I got all my back pay owed me plus the correct amount for the week’s pay. I will know for sure when I receive my Earning Statement this weekend. Thank you.

  23. MotleyCrewLeader says:

    Sounds great in writing. In reality its different. when I was missing hald my paycheck for my first two checks I calked the hotline. It was answered by a girl, who sounded like she hated what she was doing and didnt want to be there. She told me she couldnt help me with my problem because the hotline is only for lost or missing paychecks not accounting errors. I was informerd that I needed to call my local LCO. I kept getting a recording. I was very lucky and patiant as they fixed my first two paychecks with my third one. I had a feeling it would all balance out in the end…we should not be having these issues. We only had 10 years to learn from the last census mistakes.

  24. geneo says:

    Mr Graves, Well I got my Earnings Statement and I was still shorted for hours and mileage. This is three weeks in a row…. at this rate the NRFU Operation will be over before they get the weekly payroll right just once!!!! I know it’s late in the game now, but thing’s could of been done better. Have a good day.

  25. geneo says:

    Good Morning Mr Graves, It’s me again concerning Enumerator pay… I’m sounding like a broken record. Well I got mt 4th direct deposit today and it appears to be lower than it should be. I will confirm it when I receive my Earning Statment later in the week. Bottom line, the payroll system still has problems. I got a call from the LCO yesterday concerning a call I made OVER 3 weeks ago about my pay not being correct… wow, sure does take them along time to respond!!! anyway I told him it still was problem and he said to inform my CL, now that won’t do a thing, because my CL doesn’t have a clue. Why in the world didn’t the Census use a electronic method for payroll instead of the paper 308′s?? we used the Handheld Computer’s way back in the Address Canvasing Operation and it worked great and no problems. I know it’s too late in the game to do it electronically from the field, just needed to let you know alot of us enumerators in the field are really upset with this problem. Thank You. Underpaid Enumerator….

  26. Ed says:

    If there are problems (documented problems) within a census office, how would you go about reporting that to the main office. I did report to local office, but reporting the problem to the office that creates the problem is without results (what a surprise)… Thank you

  27. geneo says:

    Mr Graves, Well now I haven’t even received my weekly Earnings Statement… WHAT NEXT!!!! I called the LCO and ofcourse had to leave a message about it, let’s see how long it takes them to call me back. Come on Payroll people get things taken care of.
    Frustrated Enumerator…

  28. geneo says:

    I finally got my weekly Earnings Statement and it look’s like I’m finally paid up to date. Thank You, Thank You.

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