Control System Software And The Nonresponse Followup Stage of The 2010 Census

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

At this writing we have completed roughly 62% of the nonresponse interview workload. Our field staff have done a wonderful job especially dealing with balky computer control issues.

I’ve blogged before on problems we’ve had with the software that we use for nonresponse followup.

We have about 500 local census offices that that assign addresses to enumerators for visits to conduct short interviews. These are the addresses that either did not receive a mailed form or did not return one. Close to 600,000 enumerators depend on these offices to provide them with work assignments, receive their daily report of hours, check over their work product, process payroll data, select cases for quality-control reinterviews, and oversee productivity of the work teams.

The “paper-based operation control system” contains a set of software functions that were developed starting in 2008, when the decision was made not to use handheld computers during the nonresponse followup stage.

In the first week of nonresponse followup, the system was giving very slow response times to users throughout the country. This didn’t hurt the assignment of cases to enumerators; they continue to conduct interviews at roughly the right pace. It did affect the checking-in of completed interviews.

Hour-by-hour study of the performance of the system led to some tweaks of the handling of the database, as well as the creation of work-arounds for some functions of the system. Over the past week or so, the performance of the check-in function has improved. We’re nearly through an excessive backlog of completed cases that piled up in offices and are approaching a checked-in total that we wanted at this point. Things are going much better than two weeks ago.

The staff in the local census offices and at headquarters have been stellar in their teamwork to identify problems and forward inventive suggestions to make real-time improvements in the work. I’m proud to have them as colleagues.

We’ve not achieved a trouble-free status and constant vigilance is needed. We are inventing possible work-arounds for the next operations in the census. We need wise management of the use of the software for those operations.

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

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27 Responses to Control System Software And The Nonresponse Followup Stage of The 2010 Census

  1. Chris Barry says:

    When we were trained we were told if a resident did not wish to provide names and DOB and we could not convince them to provide it, we noted the EQ as RE and move on, we were not to antagonize the respondent Now we have been told that we can not accept a a refusal. This is making the respondents even more upset with enumerators and the government. Now we understand that a new Operation will have us go back to all respondents who have 1 occupant or vacant on April 1. Will there be a media initiative explaining the need for this information and the benefits of providing it? It may be helpful for success of this operation.

  2. Peter Nickodem says:

    What the next operations in the census and will they involve those currently employed as enumerators?

  3. Chas says:

    Our crew have completed our assignments, and have been told by our CL about an additional phase starting up in the next two weeks. I am curious about the possibility of continued employment with the census bureau along with the nature of the next phase.

  4. J says:

    Can I or will I be able to track how well my Township specifically is doing in the nonresponse interviews?

  5. AM says:

    I had a census worker come to my door AGAIN today, this has to be at least the eleventh time. When are you going to answer my question about the number of times enumerators are supposed to be allowed to visit a home during NRFU? I have asked several times on this blog and not received a response. Your training manuals say “up to three” personal visits and three phone calls, and the forms you use only have space for up to six contacts. But on various other blogs where census workers post, they’ve been saying that the CL and supervisors are telling them to ignore the manuals and keep going back over and over and over. If you believe there’s nothing wrong with this, why not answer my question?

  6. Jay says:

    So you have to do this once every 10 years, and you still manage to have computer problems.
    Good grief

  7. Fred Agharokh says:

    my personal and family privacy was invaded by your staff this year. I get phone calls at 9:OO PM Houston, Texas time to answer question I have already given in the paper works. I should have done what others do, not to answer any and see what happens. No one told us that your staff calls us at home and asks us private information. How do I know and trust who is on the other side. Then the threats started coming that if we do not call back they will issue warrant for us and we have to go to go to court. Are you seriously kidding me, do I live in the 3rd. world country or USA????? Hello, what happened to individual privacy act you claim in your website?????
    I am fed up with you guys, I can get the records of how your people who work for your office called me and left me messages.
    Enough is enough, I am outraged even on Memorial day, they harassed us.

  8. Fred Agharokh says:

    my personal and family privacy was invaded by your staff this year. I get phone calls at 9:OO PM Houston, Texas time to answer question I have already given in the paper works. I should have done what others do, not to answer any and see what happens. No one told us that your staff calls us at home and asks us private information. How do I know and trust who is on the other side. Then the threats started coming that if we do not call back they will issue warrant for us and we have to go to go to court. Are you seriously kidding me, do I live in the 3rd. world country or USA????? Hello, what happened to individual privacy act you claim in your website?????
    I am fed up with you guys, I can get the records of how your people who work for your office called me and left me messages.
    Enough is enough, I am outraged even on Memorial day, they harassed us.

  9. Fred Agharokh says:

    my personal and family privacy was invaded by your staff this year. I get phone calls at 9:OO PM Houston, Texas time to answer question I have already given in the paper works. I should have done what others do, not to answer any and see what happens. No one told us that your staff calls us at home and asks us private information. How do I know and trust who is on the other side. Then the threats started coming that if we do not call back they will issue warrant for us and we have to go to go to court. Are you seriously kidding me, do I live in the 3rd. world country or USA????? Hello, what happened to individual privacy act you claim in your website?????
    I am fed up with you guys, I can get the records of how your people who work for your office called me and left me messages.
    Enough is enough, I am outraged even on Memorial day, they harassed us.

  10. PBOCS User says:

    The new shipping software for NRFU is awesome; however, PBOCS is still slow and needs these maintenance issues resolved. Supposedly, the office was slotted time to enter EQs, but that is not going to happen, since PBOCS is down. Hopefully, the 2020 Census will have better software after the problems with the current software. ;-)

  11. Chas, Contact your Local Census Office regarding future employment opportunities.

  12. DLS says:

    The problem was that the system was developed in *2008*. That’s because they had thought they were going to use handhelds for NRFU, but those didn’t work out. This is an incredibly short period of time for something so massive.
    And, chances are, if they had developed something before the 2000 census, it would have had to be upgraded a great deal, since we’re not using Pentium II computers anymore. Who knows, they might still have had problems.

  13. AM, Census takers are instructed to make the 1st visit to an address in person (not by telephone). After the 1st personal visit, census takers may then make callback attempts, by telephone or in person, in any order that they think will work best. However, the 1st attempt must be made in person, and the maximum number of personal visits per address is 3. Census takers may also make up to 3 telephone attempts to a household.
    If the housing unit appears to be occupied, the census taker should try to see if they can determine what the occupant’s name or phone number is from a nearby neighbor. Census takers are also instructed to leave a Notice of Visit form, indicating that they have visited the household.
    Census takers are instructed to vary the times of contact, in order to find people at home. For example, if no one is at home on a weekday morning, census takers are instructed to try on a weekday evening or on the weekend.
    If, after up to 3 personal attempts and up to 3 telephone attempts, a census taker is unable to get an interview from the residents of the housing unit, the census taker is instructed to conduct an interview with a proxy respondent (such as a neighbor or other knowledgeable person).
    However,
    It’s possible that your household is part of our quality control process.
    As we follow up with households who have not returned a completed census form or who did not receive one, we have quality control checks in place to ensure the work of our census takers is accurate.We systematically re-interview a randomly selected percentage of each census taker’s cases and match the data they collected to the data collected in the re-interview process. Local Census Office managers can also select additional cases for re-interview to further investigate census takers’ work.

  14. Jimmy O says:

    June 8 is Election Day in California. Polling places will have rosters of registered voters publicly posted. These rosters are public information in California, and could be a resource for enumerators. Given an address, one can determine the name(s) and phone number(s) of registered voters at that address. One would need to know the correct polling place for a given address. This information should be available at the county Registrar of Voters. I imagine similar situations may obtain in other states.

  15. Jimmy O., The Census Bureau cannot use voter registrar information in place of responses to the 2010 Census for several reasons. First, these data is not comprehensive and do not contain the data for everyone. Second, we cannot obtain all of the required data from the voter registrar. Third, data from administrative records may not be usable because of differences in collection periods. As you are aware the 2010 Census reference date was April 1, 2010 and not June 8, 2010.

  16. Jimmy O says:

    To clarify, the roster of voters is at the polling place. To determine the polling place for an address, inquire at the Registrar of Voters. To learn the voter name and phone, consult the roster at the polling place.

  17. Jimmy O says:

    That is true. On the other hand, learning a name and phone number **may** lead to an interview which you would otherwise not have obtained.

  18. Brenda B. says:

    I travel alot in upstate NY and noticed that Census employees tend to congregate at the Pulaski McDonald’s. I assume they’re going over their various reports and are given their marching orders, so to speak. This has been going on for at least a month. Given how small that community is, I’m surprised they’re not done with the local interviews. How long is it supposed to take? Is the hq for the Oswego County census workers in Oswego, NY or Syracuse?

  19. Ann Dalrymple says:

    Field Verification is one of the next operations. And, yes, the next operations will involve those currently employed as enumerators.

  20. An Enumerator says:

    A couple comments:
    First, computer issues absolutely impacted the enumerators in our area. We were starved for books during the first week of activity.
    Second, with regard to number of visits, we were told that an enumerator will make up to three personal visits. If unsuccessful and unable to locate a proxy, then the case could be re-assigned and a different enumerator would make another three visits and so on until the case is cleared.
    Finally, it’s clear that the processes and systems were not well considered. There are plenty of holes. There were several things stressed during training that were immediately dropped in practice. We have some truly incompetent enumerators who can’t write legibly or follow simple instructions. The fact that they are getting paid for garbage work is offensive to those who are doing good work and have to clean up the messes. Now, it is easy to understand how a massive operation that only happens once every ten years would be hard to get right. Even so, it should be better than it is.

  21. Harrassed says:

    I mailed in my original census form. It may have been close to the deadline but I sent it.
    Oe of your employees came to my house several weeks later. I told him I had mailed it in and I would not provide any info to anyone that comes to my door ever. I fulfilled my obligation. He became quite beligerent basically accusing me of lying. He then waited outside and began harrassing me as I was putting my children in the car. He indicated he would mark me as a permanent no response or something like that.
    Agents have continued to come to my door after I have already sent in the information and explained I would never provide more information.
    You obviously have no concern for wasting tax dollars by paying people to continue going to houses that you have documented will not respond.
    You clearly are inefficient and without the technology to update your field on people that no longer need to be harrassed.
    I have seen multiple news stories of criminals being hired, id’s and bags being stolen and other criminal activity surrounding the census. I turned in my documents as originally requested so I cannot trust that my information is being properly handled – why would I hand it over to some temporary worker on a bicycle?
    I am shocked that you codone harrassment and intimidating behavior. It seems like all of the American ideals have been tossed out the window.

  22. Lucy says:

    Although the Regional Office is in Dallas, our local office isn’t in Texas. Our Crew Leader received instructions that it was necessary to work the weekend through Memorial Day. It is a holiday that means a lot to us and needless to say, not many of us wanted to do it, but we did. We are temporary workers and do not receive any benefits. We didn’t earn extra pay for working Memorial Day. We were told that the big guy from the regional office came and told our local management that we had to have over 22,000 NRFU’s completed by the Tuesday after Memorial Day or our entire operation would be “fired.” In another matter, I viewed the video about Census Worker’s being paid for time not worked during training. Our team was supposed to get a 32 hour training, but our FOS completed it in less time, but we didn’t put 32 hours on our pay sheet. We only put the hours that we worked and that is how it should be. We do have a meeting each day for 15 minutes to turn in our pay sheet and get instructions for the day. At each meeting there seems to be a new “threat” of being sent home for various (made-up) reasons. At training we were told that acceptable performance was completing 1 NRFU per hour… based on the number of hours worked… then it became mandatory to get 5 per work day… last week it became mandatory to get 10 per work day. It seems like it would be fairly easy to accomplish, but doing so involves a cooperative public, finding the respondent home and not having to return to the respondent’s home numerous times. There is also the problem of individuals who have seasonal homes in one state and have their home in another state. It takes time and some detective work to find out the owners of these homes and complete the NRFU’s for seasonal homes. At first we could go out anytime from 8am to 9pm… then it changed to 12pm to 9pm… and now it is back to 8am to 8pm. If you don’t have an acceptable ratio derived from an analysis of the number of hours worked, number of NRFU’s completed, and the number of miles that you accumulate… then you are “fired.” If you don’t work all seven days in a week and are off more than two days.. then you are “fired.” If you don’t attend your meeting and turn in your time sheet… yes, you guessed it, you are “fired.” There are other reasons that have been mentioned in meetings, but I just assume that each meeting I will learn of another reason that I will be “fired.” It’s hardly ever mentioned the good job that you may be doing. I can’t remember working for any other organization where there is a daily threat of being “fired.” It is greatly demoralizing. One team member was fired for having too many miles on his pay sheet. Personally, given the opportunity to work for another Census operation, I wouldn’t choose to be a part of it.

  23. Cheryl says:

    Temporary Census Employees are not given an official office, and must find a place that will let them congregate day after day for about 6 weeks. Yes, it does take that long to enumerate an entire community. There are various reasons, such as people being away on vacation, never seeming to be home, refusals that need to be turned around, etc. At first the job seems easy to do, with many people cooperating and friendly. Once we have completed the easy ones, the only homes left are the difficult one that take more time. The reason we congregate is to turn in our work, and fix any errors on previous day’s work that our supervisor has found. We also turn in our pay sheets and receive back a receipt. There are also strategies and information shared from higher up, and problems from the crew. It is a massive effort, and I am amazed that there aren’t more problems! We should be done soon, our crew is winding down and only has a handful of difficult cases left to enumerate.

  24. Cheryl says:

    You should never feel stalked or harassed when an enumerator is attempting to interview you. That is an example of a bad personality at work, or poor training. However, being an enumerator, I am pressured to go back to people at this stage and reinterview those who say they mailed it in. I believe 99% of those who tell me they did. I tell them that I believe them, but in case it got lost in the mail, or destroyed by rain or other means, this is the last chance to be counted. We will not be in the field after the third week of the month. We need to get the information today, and if the original is received in the office, that is the one they go by. I am sympathetic with the resident, but I also need cooperation from them to do my job.

  25. WisconsinEnumerator says:

    Hi Lucy. Your working conditions sound awful! Going to the field takes physical and emotional energy, and a good supervisor will help the crew summon the positive motivation your work requires. Your LCO administrators sound like they need more training and better role models in Supervisory Management. It sounds like they’re reacting to a problem–cases not getting done as fast as expected–by punishing and threatening the enumerators, instead of trying to find out what would help and respecting field workers’perspectives on what level of productivity is even possible. Firing people who have already been trained and are now experienced is not a good decision. I think the Census Bureau should have done more to screen employees before hiring them.
    My own enumeration crew leaders have been very supportive, positive, and professional. Our workload is not as heavy and stressful as NRFU, as we are doing the quality assurance reinterviews.
    Just wanted to write back so you’d know somebody out here read your comment.

  26. jr says:

    Harassed, you yourself wasted government dollars. You know how?
    I heard a census taker then have to knock on doors in your neighborhood to find a proxy for your address (or find other sources of information like a landlord, etc). That takes more time and effort on the part of the census taker. In addition, the proxy might give inaccurate information or, worse, a neighbor/proxy may tend to give more confidential information than is needed when they know the census taker is sworn to keep the information confidential. And your neighbor(s) may not be thrilled that their time is being wasted giving answers to a questionnaire intended for you to answer once again.
    And by the way, I’m certain the census bureau can assure you that an overwhelming majority of the census takers are not criminals as you might have wished in order for you to have one more excuse to duck your civic duty. And temporary workers on a bicycle are not criminals either. Just being eco-friendly. And having mailed in your census form doesn’t mean you don’t ever have to answer the questions again on a follow-up call or on a follow-up visit. So, even without the harassment (which is unfortunate and irresponsible), you, with your refusal have, in effect, wasted taxpayer dollars.

  27. Chriss jones says:

    Field Verification is one of the next operations. And, yes, the next operations will involve those currently employed as enumerators.

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