Over the past several weeks, I've received e-mails from census workers across the country describing the directive from their managers to slow down, stall, waste time and stretch out their work unnecessarily. As a counter-public service announcement, I'm reprinting some of their letters:
-- "…I have been working with the census for two weeks, and every day I shake my head at the blatant inefficiency and deliberate misuse of taxpayer money. Specifically, we have been doing enumeration for those who do not have a home, the homeless in shelters, soup kitchens and in targeted non-sheltered outdoor locations, such as parks, subway stations, etc. I personally have been sent to check on shelters that were already determined to be day programs during the preceding round of quality control, yet they pay me the mileage and hourly wage to go back and make sure that they are still only day programs. I walked through parks and parking lots looking for homeless people to enumerate, not even by talking to them, but just by observing their race, sex and approximate age. …
"…The way the process has been set up by government bureaucracy is so backward and prevents a person who is industrious and efficient from being able to work freely… This is the first job where I am encouraged to be slow and inefficient."
-- "Last summer I participated in the 'address canvassing' (AC) project. What this entailed was walking around a neighborhood, literally door to door, with a little handheld computer. 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 were actually there… Mostly, it was me getting paid $15.25/hour plus mileage to take my dog for a walk and push a few buttons.
"In an average suburban neighborhood where the houses are somewhat close to each other, it was no problem to do about 35 to 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 to 15 per hour. My direct bosses told me that I should NOT be doing 35 to 40, because it was making them and other people look bad. So instead of walking at a snail's pace, I just did my 35 to 40/hour and doubled my time when I submitted my hours. Again, sorry for the tax dollar grab, but I was told not to be so darned efficient or else I'd be cut!"
-- "I had the great pleasure of working for the address canvassing last spring. I was hired in early April for a job that was to be completed by the first week of July. I have a military background and a background in human resources, and the whole process left me with blood squirting from my eyes… I worked in the field for four days so that I would know what to do. The remainder of my time was spent sitting in a McDonald's to have a daily progress meeting with each of the enumerators. I was paid from the time I left my house to the time I got home … plus mileage. I was told to pad the time or mileage to cover my McDonald's food, since I was camping in a booth all day. For all that, I was paid $11.75 an hour. …We had a really good crew and were done by the second week of May... Philadelphia was going nuts because our region was getting done so fast, but there was nothing we could do to slow it down another two months.
"… I never saw such a mismanaged outfit in all my life. I just shook my head in total disbelief. Our work could have been done with half the people. We did have those that quit right after training, to the tune of $800 spent on nothing. I earned approximately $3,000. I will say, to be quite honest, it was the easiest money I ever made. On the exit interview, I was asked if I wanted to be called back for further work. I wrote 'NO' in big letters. I didn't want to take any further part in what I saw to be a racket."
What would Madison think now?