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Archive for January, 2014

While the current administration is the least transparent Executive office in U.S. history, Americans do seem to be getting some traction in the concerns over the Census Bureau.  As a result of the Congressional hearings held last year regarding the American Community Survey, Census social scientists have been busy little FTEs (Fed-speak for Full Time Employees) in attempting to address “testimony that the Census Bureau repeatedly contacted households that did not want to participate” (2013_Zelenak_01, p. iii).  The studies generated in 2013 are very illuminating, giving the American public a view into this agency’s mindset, methods, and what we, U.S. taxpayers, can expect in 2014 ACS harassment.

As one might expect, they COMPLETLY.  MISS. THE. CENTRAL. PROBLEMS.  Consider this statement from another in the memoranda series following the Congressional hearings:

“In Congressional testimony about the mandatory nature of the American Community Survey (ACS), it became clear that Congressional staff were advocating on behalf of constituents who felt “harassed” due to multiple efforts by the Census Bureau to obtain interviews. These repeated contacts with sample households is a consequence of multiple mailings, repeated telephone call attempts using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) methods, and potential personal visits using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI) methods. The ACS, like other household surveys, strives to maximize response to achieve the highest levels of quality by reducing the potential for nonresponse bias. In some instances, households could certainly perceive these multiple contacts and multiple modes of contact as harassment.” (2013_Griffin_01, p. 1, emphasis added)

Oh, why, don’t those unenlightened teeming millions understand the Census Bureau is acting for their benefit??

All the sarcasm aside, the *fundamental flaws* of the ACS consists of:  1)  the survey design; 2)  the ‘mandatory’ designation of the ACS; and 3)  the security of the data collected.  First and foremost, the design of the survey is seriously flawed.  The Privacy Act specifically provides that Personal Identifying Information gathered by Federal agencies may NOT be stored in a way that identifies any persons.  The ACS collects and then uses names attached to the selected addresses and the data is STORED BY NAME and ADDRESS. Such storage in easily-accessed databases are *prohibited* under the Privacy Act.  There would be fewer problems in this data collection if the ACS were to be modified to the survey number associated with the address.  DON’T collect names, period.  In this age of identity theft, DON’T ask for employer names and addresses, or the time an address leaves for work.  Come to think on it, you could cut out at least a third of the questions on the whole survey, which would increase a response rate, and probably generate some more reliable data.  As it is, there is simply NO method to really verify any of this data, essentially making this a busy-work endeavor to maintain a bloated and useless bureaucracy.  Making and intrusive and unsecured survey like this mandatory was the idea of social scientists (National Academy of Sciences) who were tasked with developing suggestions to increase the response rate of the ACS.  Making this worse are the new and ‘improved’ questions in the 2014 survey which demands to know about health insurance coverage.  Like Census isn’t gonna share this with the IRS.  Anyone want to buy a bridge?  Although Census claims they have a “97%” response rate for the ACS, other estimates indicate this is probably grossly inflated and the actual response rate is more around 40%.  But the program needs to publically demonstrate it is “effective” and so they are counting “partial interviews” in the completed category.  A “partial interview” usually contains even LESS accurate information than voluntary submissions, especially if it is based on neighbor interviews, trash scrounging, ACS encouragement of false responses, etc.  These abuses of U.S. citizens and their privacy needs to be stopped.  NOW.

There is no actual necessity to make this a mandatory survey, except that bureaucrats were unhappy that no one wants to answer these ridiculous questions.  We have private marketing research firms that already do enough of this stuff.  It also seems not much importance was attached to the survey, as the fine for not answering the ACS is $100.  Period.  (See my earlier Title 13 analysis)  The Census Bureau nattering on about a $5,000 fine attempts to scare people into answering the questions by trying to tie a completely different statute onto the actual statute involving Federal ability to request additional fines on conviction.  They think we’re idiots (another underlying fault of this waste of money)– the American people do not need to be ‘managed.’  We are free people, able to make both good and bad decisions– this is called LIFE.  Even if the Census Bureau ever attempted to prosecute anyone for not responding to the ACS, they could ask the Federal judge to impose the further fine following a conviction, but as they have NEVER brought anyone to court, it highly unlikely.  Also, the Bureau has absolutely *no* authority to impose the fine on its own, but must actually prosecute in Federal court in order to collect it.  For a statutory $100 fine, DOJ isn’t interested.  A 2002 GAO memo to Rep. Bob Barr stated that “[u]sing information provided by OMB, we found no other government surveys that respondents are required to fill out that request specific, detailed personal information similar to that required by the ACS.  The only information collections that met the conditions of being required or mandatory and affecting individuals or households for statistical or research purposes were those related to the 2000 decennial censuses, including the ACS.” (GAO to Congressman Bob  Barr, 4/4/2002, emphasis added)

Even more troubling is the apparent cavalier attitude taken to ACS data security.  A 2007 GAO report lists hundreds of laptops missing (What happened to the data?); and multiple incidents of survey information being published on public websites.  Who are the employees who allowed this to happen?  Who are their supervisors?  What were the punishments??  No mention of convictions or jail time — or even of firings — are mentioned.

Census is playing differently in 2014.  While they may have reduced the number of calls to a residence, I have the feeling the pressure and tactics of “personal interviewers” is going to be much nastier and prolonged.  This time, I’m ready.  I’m not playing.  Neither are my neighbors.

References I’ve cited above and much, much more can be found at this enlightening little page:  http://www.census.gov/acs/www/library/by_series/acs_research_evaluation_program/

The papers here are excellent material to gain insight into bureaucrats run amok.

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So, here’s the scoop on what you can expect on the new ACS process:

First– Census want you to answer all those instrusive, not-the-Feds-business questions online! Wow! They even send out *paper* instructions by snail-mail to ‘help’ you understand (’cause now apparently no individual or entity is capable of self-government) how important it is for you to share this information.

Second– Based on memoranda detailing studies Census did following Congressional hearings on the ACS, non-response will generate fewer calls from ACS call centers. In a breath-taking exhibit of common sense, ACS research discovered that, while obtaining complete surveys over the phone is difficult, the number of surveys obtained after the fifth call to a residence zeros out. The *fifth* call– their script used to mandate up to 25 calls! The bad news in this initial call reduction is that cases get referred to the ACS stalkers more quickly.

I’m still reviewing all the research that ACS assembled last year (2013)– but it is clear Census has no intention of making changes which would address citizens’ very real, substantiated concerns about the security (and eventual use) of the ACS information. They actually seem surprised that there are people who have a problem with a gov’t agency knowing what time they leave home for work, name, address, & phone number of employer(s), number of bathrooms in the house, if anyone in the home may have disabilities, etc. Imagine that.

A significant gap in their research (and perhaps I’ve not hit the memorandum addressing the “personal interviewers”) consists of the tactics that the field workers engage in when going to targeted residences. Apparently, Census is ok with their people going through trash, bullying citizens, interrogating neighbors and accepting that information, knocking on doors at all hours (my last ACS stalker had a habit of showing up after 9pm and hanging around for awhile), parking outside people’s homes for extended periods of time, and other criminal (yeah, CRIMINAL) behaviors.

More later…

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