Monday, November 9, 2009

CENSUS NEWS BRIEF - No 81

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CENSUS NEWS BRIEF

November 8, 2009 No. 81

In this issue
Senate dispenses with Vitter amendment; approves 2010 funding bill
House oversight hearing focuses on address list, background checks, cost
Countdown to 2010: Update on final preparations and key operations

SENATE CLOSES OFF DEBATE ON VITTER AMENDMENT,
APPROVES CENSUS FUNDING IN COMMERCE BILL


PLUS:

Address list quality focus of House oversight hearing

House Republicans seek Director pledge on disqualifying criminals from census jobs
Countdown to 2010: Key operations update

SENATE VOTE ENDS CONSIDERATION OF VITTER-BENNETT PROPOSAL TO ADD CENSUS QUESTIONS
The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday (11/5) to end debate on the Fiscal Year 2010 Commerce Department spending bill, closing off further opportunity for the chamber to consider an amendment authored by Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Robert Bennett (R-UT) that would have denied funding for the Census Bureau unless the agency added questions to the 2010 census on citizenship and immigration status. (Sen. Vitter had said he planned to modify the amendment to only require a new question on citizenship, if the Senate considered the proposal.) The 60 - 39 vote to "invoke cloture" broke along party lines, with all Democrats voting in favor and all but one Republican voting against. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking minority member on the census oversight subcommittee, did not vote. After the cloture vote, the Parliamentarian determined that the amendment was not in order under Senate rules.
The Senate then gave final approval to its version of the Fiscal Year 2010 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill (H.R. 2847), sending it to a conference committee that will reconcile differences between the House and Senate measures. The bill allocates $7.3 billion for the Census Bureau, including $7.066 for the Periodic Censuses and Programs account, which covers the decennial census. The House of Representatives appropriated $6.91 billion for Periodic programs.

Sen. Vitter said he was disappointed by the Senate's failure to consider his "common sense amendment," which he said could prevent Louisiana and several other states from losing a congressional district in the post-2010 census apportionment. The senator said the census could not collect accurate information "unless we know whether or not we are counting actual U.S. citizens."

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights hailed the outcome, saying, "The civil rights community won an important battle today in the right for a fair and accurate 2010 census that counts every person in the United States as required by the U.S. Constitution." LCCR, whose Education Fund is heading a national census public education campaign, applauded senators for "sparing the nation from the damage the amendment would have done to the census."

The Service Employees International Union, part of a "Don't Wreck the Census" campaign against the amendment, called the Vitter-Bennett proposal "a misguided attempt to undercut 2010 enumeration efforts and mar this critical process with hateful, anti-immigrant politics."

At a congressional hearing on October 21 (see below), Census Director Robert Groves told lawmakers that the Census Bureau "will not deliver the reapportionment counts on December 31, 2010" if Congress required new questions on the census form. "We don't have enough time to make these changes," the Director warned.

HOUSE PANEL EXAMINES ADDRESS LIST OPERATION,
BACKGROUND CHECKS, CENSUS COSTS


The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) told House census overseers that last spring's nationwide address canvassing "generally proceeded as planned" without "significant flaws" or "major operational setbacks," but that the operation was over-budget and that the accuracy of the master address list would not be known until later in the census.

The House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives held an October 21 hearing to examine the quality of the Master Address File (MAF), a list of all housing units and group facilities that the Census Bureau will enumerate in the 2010 census. Census Director Groves reported that 140,000 field staff checked about 145 million address in the canvass operation. According to GAO, the field verification added only 2.4 million of the 36 million submissions from state, local, and Tribal governments participating in the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program; the remaining addresses were duplicates, non-existent, or non-residential. The MAF now includes 134 million records, in line with annual, independent housing unit estimates, Dr. Groves testified. (While Dr. Groves summarized early results from address canvassing, the Census Bureau had not completed its evaluation of the program at the time of the hearing.)

Dr. Groves said LUCA represented "a key both symbolic and real cooperation" with state, local, and Tribal governments. 11,500 (29 percent of eligible governmental units) participated in the 2010 census LUCA, fewer than in Census 2000 (18,000) but representing more of the nation's housing units (92 percent). A higher proportion of jurisdictions submitted proposed changes to their preliminary address list than in 2000 (79 v. 67 percent), the Director reported. (The 2000 census LUCA offered two opportunities to submit changes to the preliminary address lists; 48 percent of participating governments sent additions in the second round.)

The master file for 2010 blends both residential addresses and group quarters facilities, such as college and nursing homes, for the first time, Dr. Groves noted, to help reduce an unexpectedly high number of duplicates in the 2000 census list. The Census Bureau updated and spatially realigned all roads, streets, and geographic features in the related TIGER digital mapping system earlier in the decade, to facilitate accurate placement of each structure and its residents in the census.

The Commerce Department's Inspector General, Todd Zinser, said his office "has concerns about the overall quality of the address list," citing "consistent problems," such as the failure of census workers to follow procedures and errors on the preliminary file, his staff observed during review of the 2006 census field test, the 2008 Census Dress Rehearsal, and address canvassing. The department's top independent overseer encouraged the Census Bureau to use its housing unit estimates program as a check on the completeness of the Master Address File and to target areas where it might have missed living quarters. He also encouraged greater use of administrative records to identify missing addresses.

Ilene Jacobs, Director of Litigation, Advocacy and Training for California Rural Legal Assistance, a member of the 2010 Census Advisory Committee, told the panel that hard-to-count populations are deprived of adequate housing, educational opportunities, basic community infrastructure, and other programs that rely on census data when the address list is inaccurate. Ms. Jacobs highlighted what she called a "structural bias" in the Master Address File, citing hard-to-locate and "actively concealed" housing units such as chicken coops, illegally-converted garages, tool sheds, tarps strung between trees, and apartment units subdivided by one-room-per-family. (During the question and answer period, Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) pointed to living quarters "over the liquor store" and families living in "cramped apartments" in her district.) Ms. Jacobs, who also chairs the advisory committee's working group on hidden housing units, recommended that the Census Bureau use special procedures - such as Update/Enumerate, where census takers visit every home to ensure a correct and comprehensive address list, updating as they go and collecting responses from each household on the spot -- to count areas with high concentrations of hard-to-locate housing units. She also suggested that community organizations should be allowed to assist with review of preliminary address lists in the future; current law only allows governmental units to participate in the LUCA program.

A full set of statements and testimony from the hearing are available on the subcommittee's web site at http://informationpolicy.oversight.house.gov/review.asp.

Panel members question cost of census operations: Subcommittee members also expressed concern about cost overruns in the address canvassing operation and the cost of the 2010 census overall. GAO reported that address canvassing cost 25 percent more than its projected $356 million budget, for a total expense of $444 million. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), chair of the Republican Census Task Force, questioned the square footage cost for some local census offices in rural areas.
Dr. Groves said that cost overruns were "intolerable" and credited "flaws in the cost modeling logic" for the problem. The Census Bureau currently is implementing "two independent cost modeling schemes," he told lawmakers, to improve estimates for Nonresponse Follow-Up, the largest and most expensive census operation. He advocated a "bottom up approach" to cost modeling, starting with the cost of each component of the census and "aggregating it up." Cost overruns, he pledged, are "not going to happen on my watch."

Mr. Goldenkoff said that the Census Bureau's cost estimates "lack detailed documentation" and that assumptions affecting projected costs, such as the address canvassing universe and the mail response rate, and sources of information have been "very weak or lacking." He also noted, however, that lower-than-expected turnover among address listers resulted in cost savings and more efficient operations, factors that could help keep costs under control during door-to-door canvassing next spring.

Republicans seek assurances on criminal background checks: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) expressed concern about the Census Bureau's "practice of hiring known criminals." The congressman questioned the Census Bureau's policy of not precluding all applicants with criminal histories, if the offenses are not considered a threat to public safety, saying he would not have "any confidence in allowing somebody to go knock on grandma's door and invite themselves in to further discuss very pertinent personal information." He suggested that hiring some criminals "seems to be acceptable to the Census Bureau."

In response to a question from Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), the panel's senior Republican member, Dr. Groves said the agency is reviewing the process for checking the background of all applicants, which involves an FBI name-check (social security numbers are required) followed by a fingerprint check for all hires. "The safety of the U.S. public is paramount to us," the Director emphasized, noting that the bureau is working with the FBI to improve the readability of fingerprints. Many of the unreadable fingerprints during address canvassing, he said, were from older and female candidates. Inspector General Zinser said he believed the Census Bureau should make some judgments with respect to prior criminal offenses that might not disqualify an applicant from census work, citing the passage of time and the nature of the crime (violent or nonviolent) as appropriate factors to consider. Mr. Zinser agreed with the Census Bureau's practice of centralizing determinations on hiring eligibility and noted that the bureau is consulting with the FBI in setting hiring standards.

All four Republican members of the subcommittee subsequently wrote to Dr. Groves, "out of great concern over the issue of the Census Bureau's hiring of temporary workers that may have criminal records." In their October 26 letter, Reps. McHenry, Chaffetz, Westmoreland, and John Mica (FL) asked the Census Director for "a commitment in writing to us and on behalf of the American people that the Census Bureau will not hire anyone with any criminal record" for temporary census positions that "interact with the public." The lawmakers said that hiring people with criminal backgrounds "will have a seriously detrimental effect on the American people's confidence in the 2010 census and their behavior," and that the "safety and security of Americans in their own homes are at stake." The letter requested the Census Bureau's policy regarding crimes that disqualify applicants, as well as information on temporary employees who have criminal records.

According to the Census Bureau's web site, the names of all applicants are submitted for a pre-appointment check against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services Division's Name Index. "This means that the FBI database is searched to see if it contains a criminal history record file that matches an applicant's name, date of birth, and social security number. This criminal history record file contains records of individuals that have been arrested and fingerprinted," the site explains. Applicants with favorable name checks who are hired are then fingerprinted on their first day of training. "The Census Bureau takes public trust seriously and is working to ensure that temporary workers undergo the most thorough and accurate background checks possible," the agency says.


COUNTDOWN TO 2010:
Partnerships, QACs, Hiring, LUCA appeals, and more!


Census Bureau staff offered status reports on key operations at the fall meeting of the 2010 Census Advisory Committee (Nov. 5 - 6). Census Director Groves compared final preparations to "the beginning of a war effort," with most Local Census Offices open and peak recruitment for census taker positions starting in most communities. He acknowledged "this decade's challenge" posed by the foreclosure crisis, which has left more families doubled-up or living in unconventional housing such as RVs, circumstances the Director described as the "new face of homelessness." Dr. Groves said the Census Bureau will increase its advertising in an effort to educate doubled-up families about the importance of including everyone on that household's census form, with targeted ads in high foreclosure areas and along the Gulf Coast, where people remain displaced by hurricanes.

The Director told lawmakers at the October 21 oversight hearing that he worries most about public cooperation next spring. "I am most worried about the behavior of the American public, whether they will return this questionnaire at the rates that we hope they will, and that the leadership of this country ignites and energizes themselves to encourage that participation," Dr. Groves said at the conclusion of the hearing.

Following is a summary of other information from the meeting that should help stakeholders engaged in public education and mobilization efforts.

New 2010 census web site: The Census Bureau launched the official 2010 census web site that "will serve as a platform for a national dialogue about how the census develops a 'Portrait of America.' The on-line resource offers basic facts about the census process, historical information, and in-language materials to help reach households with limited English proficiency (http://2010.census.gov/partners/materials/inlanguage.php). The site also features a Director's blog, where Dr. Groves shares his impressions of census preparations and operations as he travels the country (http://blogs.census.gov/2010census/).

Local Census Offices open: Almost all 500 Local Census Offices (LCOs) across the country have opened. Go to http://2010.census.gov/2010censusjobs/how-to-apply/local-census-offices.php to find a list of LCOs in your state, including address, telephone number, and the starting pay for census takers.

Recruitment for census taker jobs starts this month: The Census Bureau begins its massive recruitment drive this month in communities across the country, in advance of hiring more than one million temporary workers to conduct the decennial count next year. Census officials said the high unemployment rate in many communities has eliminated the need for a national recruitment campaign. Many local offices already have lengthy lists of highly-qualified applicants from last spring's address canvassing operation, the bureau's Field Division reported. Instead, regional offices and LCOs will do targeted recruiting, to ensure that census takers are fully knowledgeable about and representative of the neighborhoods they will canvass during door-to-door visits to unresponsive homes in spring 2010 (Nonresponse Follow-Up).

Job seekers can begin by contacting their Local Census Office; go to http://2010.census.gov/2010censusjobs/ to get started and download a Census Practice Test, or call 1-866-861-2010. Regional Census Offices also have openings; go to http://www.census.gov/field/www/, where current openings, such as Regional Census Center administrative positions, are posted. Local Census Offices will announce testing dates and sites for positions that will support and carry out field operations in each community.

Veterans preference applies to test results, and all prospective employees must undergo a name-based background check and fingerprint check before they can start work. The Census Bureau strives to hire employees who live in the communities in which they will work. In addition to census taker ("enumerator") positions, the Bureau is hiring crew leaders, supervisors, and administrative personnel.

LUCA appeals office opening: The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will oversee the 2010 Decennial Census LUCA Appeals Staff, a temporary entity established each census cycle to review local government challenges to their address lists and block-level housing unit counts. State and local governments that previously participated in the LUCA program receive a "feedback file" from the Census Bureau, with the jurisdiction's full address list, recently updated during last spring's address canvassing. Census officials reported that 15,000 jurisdictions will participate in this phase of the LUCA program.

The feedback file indicates how the Census Bureau settled the locality's proposed additions to the list, submitted after local officials reviewed their initial address file in advance of the canvassing operation. For example, address listers may have determined that a proposed new address was already on the Master Address File or was nonexistent. Participating local governments have 30 days to appeal the Census Bureau's determinations to the independent staff. The Census Bureau began issuing feedback packets in mid-October and will continue through early December.

If the appeals office agrees with a local government's challenge of any specific addresses, census field staff will enumerate the housing units (if found to exist) during the Vacant Delete Check operation, which takes place after door-to-door visits to unresponsive homes end. During this operation, census workers also double-check all addresses identified as vacant or uninhabitable during earlier field activities.

Formal launch for Census in the Schools: Commerce Department chief Gary Locke and Census Director Groves formally launched the Census in the Schools program at a Baltimore high school on November 2. The "2010 Census: It's About Us" program, developed under contract by Scholastic, Inc., is part of the 2010 Communications Campaign. Secretary Locke noted that the census has historically undercounted children and said that including census topics in school curricula would "increase their awareness of the upcoming 2010 Census." Dr. Groves highlighted the importance of learning about the census as "an important constitutional responsibility." The Census Bureau hopes that students from homes where English is a second language can "help teach their parents about the importance of participating in this national, civic exercise."

Free curriculum materials designed for kindergarten through 12th grade include suggested lesson plans for math, social studies, and other relevant subjects; maps; broadcast, photo, and radio services; and fact sheets. The Census Bureau sent initial materials to principals and teachers at the nation's 118,000 public, private, and charter schools in August. Additional information about Census in the Schools is available at www.census.gov/schools.

100,000+ organizations sign on as 2010 Census Partners: 111,000 groups have signed up to be 2010 census partners, a number that includes 600 national organizations and 7,500 Complete Count Committees in states and communities across the country. 3,000 partnership program staff, including 1,000 professional staff and 2,000 partnership assistants hired with funds from the stimulus bill, are working out of regional and local census offices; for the 2000 census, there were 650 partnership staff on board at the start of peak operations in January 2000. Census 2010 partnership staff speak a total of 118 languages, with 20 percent speaking Spanish, Tim Olson, Assistant Division Chief, Field Division, reported.

The Census Bureau allocated $10 million to the 12 Regional Census Offices in Fiscal Year 2009 (which ended September 30) to give small in-kind grants to local census partners engaged in outreach and promotion activities; an additional $10 million is allocated for the current year. Local partners can apply for grants of roughly $3,000 (per organization) to pay for goods and services such as T-shirts or event space.

Census regions identifying assistance centers and Be Counted sites: The Regional Census Offices are working with partner organizations to identify Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QACs) and Be Counted sites for the 2010 census. The Census Bureau will set up 30,000 QACs in hard-to-count communities, to offer assistance in completing census forms and to answer questions. There will be an additional 10,000 unstaffed sites where people can pick up "Be Counted" forms - slightly modified questionnaires that can be used if someone believes their home did not receive a form or if they were not included on the form their household completed. The regional offices will finalize the sites in January or early February; the Census Bureau will post the location, address and telephone number, days and hours of operation, and any language assistance offered, for all QACs and Be Counted sites on its 2010 Census web site.

Super Bowl ads to mark launch of national advertising campaign: The Census Bureau and its Communications Campaign contractors are finalizing creative materials for $140 million worth of paid media for the 2010 census that will include advertisements during the Super Bowl, March Madness, and other events that attract a large television audience. The bureau has made $36 million worth of ad buys so far and expects to complete local media placement in December, spending 35 percent more overall on paid media than it did in 2000. The paid advertising campaign has a national component to reach a general audience (47 percent of ad dollars) and targeted efforts to reach historically hard-to-count populations (53 percent). The Census Bureau will be the top advertiser in the country during next year's enumeration, running ads in 28 languages.

Steve Jost, Associate Director for Communications, described additional creative opportunities that will be part of next year's communications campaign. Examples include Gerber Foods "shelf advertising," reminding parents to include their children on the census form (evaluations show that the census misses young children at disproportionate rates); TV bank census promotion at Best Buy stores for two weeks in March; arrangements with television meteorologists to "report" local census response rates next spring; and targeted promotion at 10,000 neighborhood bodegas, with cling-wrap signs on milk cases and cardboard signs and fact sheets at check-out counters. Mr. Jost emphasized the need for an "atomized approach" to reach a diverse population; there will be 300 - 400 different ads for the paid media campaign, reflecting messages and communications vehicles most likely to reach different audiences. The general message for all audiences, Mr. Jost said, will highlight how census data are used to benefit families and communities, empowering communities through an accurate count, and the ease of participation.

Mr. Jost said the Census Bureau is holding $4 million in reserve to address unanticipated events, such as natural disasters, a national emergency, or anti-census campaigns on the Internet, through additional advertising. The Census Bureau already is working with Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of the Catholic Church's Los Angeles Diocese, to help counter calls for immigrants and Latinos to boycott the census unless Congress enacts comprehensive immigration reform.

Census web site will track response rates: Starting March 22, localities can track their progress on the 2010 census web site during the mail response phase through an interactive reporting system that the Census Bureau will update daily (with a 24-hour delay).

The response rates, for all 39,000 governmental units in the country, will reflect the percent of all housing units (not people) on the master address list - occupied and vacant - that have returned a form by mail. Communities hit hard by the foreclosure crisis could experience lower-than-anticipated mail response because of high vacancy rates.

Dr. Groves emphasized that the Census Bureau is now working to estimate mail response rates reflecting various circumstances that could arise when the census starts. He clarified that a recently reported projected national response rate of 64 percent was used for budgeting purposes, but that "no one can estimate that number perfectly." The Director, a survey methodologist, noted that response rates to all surveys have been dropping every year, suggesting that a 2010 response rate below the 2000 level of 65 percent would not be surprising. The 2000 final response rate of 67 percent reflects telephone and Internet responses and late mail returns, in addition to the initial mail-backs.

ACS interviewing, data release, continue during 2010 census: The Census Bureau will modify the American Community Survey (ACS) advance letter, mailing envelope, and respondent letter starting in January, to remind households in the ongoing sample that they must fill out both the ACS questionnaire and 2010 census form. 250,000 addresses a month (3 million a year) will receive the ACS, which replaced the traditional census long form.

2010 also marks the first year that the Census Bureau will release 5-year average ACS estimates (2005-09) for areas as small as census tracts and block groups. That means there will be three sets of data (one-year estimates for areas with 65,000+ population; 3-year estimates for areas with 20,000+ population; and 5-year estimates) published only several months before the bureau issues the first 2010 census population counts (state totals for congressional apportionment) by December 31, creating the potential for confusion among the public and news organizations, Census officials acknowledged. The agency is working "to minimize the confusion," ACS Office Chief Susan Schechter said, and is preparing information to help Questionnaire Assistance Center staff and census takers answer questions from households that receive an ACS form in 2010.

The Census Bureau has prepared a series of handbooks to help a wide range of ACS data users, such as businesses, Congress, teachers, and the media (http://www.census.gov/acs/www/UseData/Compass/handbook_def.html). Ms. Schechter said the agency is developing an e-tutorial on using 5-year ACS estimates and considering workshops to help data users.

Looking ahead to 2020 census: Reflecting the long lead time needed to plan for a census, agency staff outlined a wide range of research projects that will help lay the groundwork for the 2020 decennial count. The 2010 census will provide a test-bed for alternative ways to collect data on race and ethnicity (2010 Census Alternative Questionnaire Experiment) and ethnographic studies on enumeration methods. Due to the significant amount of 2010 census information to report, we will cover some of these research activities in future Census News Briefs.


QUICK LINKS:


2010 Census Web Site: The Census Bureau's new 2010 census web site offers useful basic information on the census process, as well as sample questionnaires, information on job opportunities, and in-language materials. Add it to your "Bookmarks" bar to track mail response rates daily for your state and locality next spring.

2010 Census Jobs: Visit this web page to download a Census Practice Test and find information about the application process and a Local Census Office near you.

The Census Project: Visit the Census Project web site for previous Census News Briefs, fact sheets, and a weekly blog in support of an accurate 2010 census.

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund is spearheading a national 2010 Census Public Education Campaign, in partnership with the NAACP, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), and National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). LCCREF's census web site features talking points, fact sheets, information on census operations, advice on community outreach, and links to other organizations engaged in census campaigns.

Nonprofits Count!: The Nonprofit Voter Engagement Network has launched a campaign to educate nonprofits about the importance of the census and to help them mobilize their constituencies and clients to participate in the 2010 count. The Nonprofits Count! web site features a toolkit for nonprofits, fact sheets, web badges and widgets to help nonprofits customize their census outreach materials, and an interactive map to help nonprofits find state resources and state-specific information about the census.


Census News Briefs are prepared by Terri Ann Lowenthal, an independent legislative and policy consultant specializing in the census and federal statistics. All views expressed in the News Briefs are solely those of the author. Please direct questions about the information in this News Brief to Ms. Lowenthal at TerriAnn2K@aol.com. Please feel free to circulate this document to other interested individuals and organizations. Ms. Lowenthal is a consultant to the nonpartisan Census Project, organized by the Communications Consortium Media Center in Washington, DC. Previous Census News Briefs are posted at www.thecensusproject.org.

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