The census plan – proving bureaucracy does not work (Update)

Jim is also writing about the census today, but I’d like to highlight a post by Michelle Malkin concerning financial waste from within the US Census Bureau. Counting people is not that hard, but leave it to the bureaucrats to mess it up.

The letter comes from an anonymous census temporary worker making more than $15 per hour. As a matter of fact, he really is making upwards of $45 per hour since he can move three-times as fast as the Census Bureau wants him to.

During the address canvasing portion of the census project, workers were sent out to verify addresses the Census Bureau had already collected. From the letter…

My job was not to enter addresses so that these people could receive their form, but to make sure that the addresses that the first wave of people put into the system and appeared on the computer was actually there. 99% were.

Next, note his productivity as compared to the standard set by the bureau.

In an average suburban neighborhood where the houses are somewhat close to each other, it was no problem to do about 35-40 addresses per hour once you learned how to quickly enter data into the computer. The census said that I should be doing about 12-15 per hour. My direct bosses told me that I should NOT be doing 35-40 because it was making them and other people look bad. So instead of walking at a snails pace, I just did my 35-40/hour and doubled my time when I submitted my hours.

What a gig. Do go read all of Malkin’s post, but I have a couple of exclusive comments.

As usual, government bureaucrats display they don’t get it. Let’s say you are a manager of a 100 employee call center and you know that your customers expect someone to answer the phone in less than 120 seconds. Your customers are happy at 119 seconds and not happy at 121 seconds. Stick with me here.

You and your team work really hard, and after a period of four months you get the “time to answer” down to an average of 22 seconds. Awesome right? High-fives all around and my guess is you think a bonus is heading your way don’t ya?

You’d be wrong in the real world. If you went to leadership with an average of 22 seconds and the customer expects no more than 120 seconds, you’d be required to immediately lay off employees.

Welcome to the real world. Reality is reality, business is business. If you don’t make those lay offs, another company will pop up and offer the same 120 second service with less employees (lower cost).

In the parallel universe we call the US Census Bureau, they set extremely low expectations of their temporary workforce, and the workforce responded with … low performance. Those who excelled and moved quickly were “not team players” and told to slow down!

The right way to do this (IMO) was to pay based on the number of entries – depending on housing density – of the area covered and institute some sort of quality assurance audit.

Your government at work. Over-estimating the need for employees and setting low performance objectives.

By the way, didn’t I read something about the Census Bureau having some sort of issue with their hand-held scanners or software that required they ditch part of the program … wasting even more money?

Update: Michelle Malkin continues to get more letters from Census Bureau temporary employees, and Ed Morrissey at Hot Air notes more on incompetence and waste during the census project.

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Steve McGough

Steve's a part-time conservative blogger. Steve grew up in Connecticut and has lived in Washington, D.C. and the Bahamas. He resides in Connecticut, where he’s comfortable six months of the year.


  1. GdavidH on March 30, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Typical gov't work.

    Slow down, you're making us look bad…

  2. Gary J on April 5, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Maybe they made a mistake and hired a private sector worker for the job instead of a government worker. Is there a difference? Reread the article and tell me !

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