Friday, April 30, 2010

Comment on the Belmont Club:
"As American as Apple Pie"

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence,
- Napoleon cited in a Wiki article on "Hanlon's Razor."

The Census is not part of some vast conspiracy to put your information in a super secret data base that will select candidates for the Billy Ayers Dude Ranch and Reeducation by Composting Center. This is not the government of the NSA that could potentially do such a thing, but would not. This is the government that aspires to be like the complacent idiots at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark who stick priceless treasures in a vast warehouse for "Top men" to write unreadable papers on.


There are virtues in the real Federal Civil Service. These include an exactitude in procedure, a devotion to communicating and informing all possible interested parties before implementing any procedure, a reverence for citing documentation and established practice, and caution regarding overtly self serving conduct. None of those are moral virtues but rather are the means of harnessing an amoral engine to achieve goals that may be moral or not. They do however give some protection against large scale reckless and arbitrary abuse, as opposed to a long steady campaign of incremental destruction.

The Census has none of those virtues. It is a temporary organization staffed with a leadership at the local level almost entirely by people who are not real Federal managers or supervisors. Managers posses full and arbitrary authority over the temporary workforce but lacks a firm grasp of the process or experience that could prevent error and waste. Given that the government should have been preparing to do the Census for 10 years the disorganization is inexcusable. The senior people are politically connected small businessmen and some unemployed professionals. They show little understanding of OPM regulations in how to handle staff. Real federal managers have absorbed some basic principles that come before not spending money. For example they will stress in training that one should never say or do anything that could create a liability for the government, that is why government workers, especially junior ones, are taught never to apologize. The Census has absorbed a few basic principles;
1. finish fast,
2. keep payroll costs down,
3. do it yourself and locally,
4. guard personal information.

The local civilian background of the leadership may be considered a good thing if the job really was a non-governmental short term job to accomplish a similar task. For example if a Big Six consulting firm was hired to inventory and organize a vast collection of medical records they might oversee a similar fast paced short term hiring training and task accomplishment cycle, although on a smaller scale. The process by which senior or junior people have been selected in the Census appears to be largely arbitrary. Some of the Enumerators, those are the ones who knock on doors to ask you questions, are retirees or housewives or recent college graduates or unemployed or underemployed professionally educated people. In my area at least it is a good crowd at the lower levels. They are certainly better than the entry level people working at TSA. Unfortunately the temporary nature of the job and the priorities of the leadership creates a sense of distrust and a separation between their goals.

If a Census worker knocks on your door, even if you had mailed the form in, do not assume a complicated plot. The simpler answer is that your answers are sitting in a box and they are under enormous pressure to fill in the blanks within the next two months. Would it have made sense to devise a system that more efficiently processed and verified all submissions in order to prevent wasteful duplication? Of course it would be but this is the government and the Census needs to be collected and tabulated now.

Our Lords and Masters have made the process even more painful by wrapping themselves in PC knots. The Census is beloved by three groups;

1. Politicians who use it to engineer districts,

2. Bureaucrats who use it to engineer programs,

2. Graduate students who use it to engineer time series studies.
The beauty of the Census is that it gives you numbers that can be compared over time.

Many of us may question whether the government has any reason to ask after anyone's race or if they are Hispanic. Remember that to the government Hispanic is not a race but an extra identifier. A person can claim to an Aleut or Swede (as their "race") and Hispanic. The book answer on that is the Voting Rights Act that mandates tracking group identification and tracking ballot access. The problem is that under PC pressure the ability of people to self identify has been pushed to the point that we are losing the ability to compare numbers over time. This may only matter to graduate students. A person can claim to be, or can be identified by the person answering for the household as anything. Anybody can claim to be Hispanic or not. Anybody can claim to be male or female or not. Anybody can claim to be Black or White or Asian or not. In fact people can claim to be Italians or Russians, or yes I mean this, Martians and report that as their race. Only the traditional choices are offered as examples to select from but the person writing the answers has to record what the person answering the questions tells them. The good idea behind this is that the Census really does try not to pressure people or guide them. The bad thing is that it reduces the clarity and simplicity of the results.

2 comments:

Adorenation said...

I had a big problem with the instructions for how to enter race. The manual says that you check, e.g., white if someone answers white, AND if they say something like Italian, Irish, German. Similarly with black, if they say Haitian or Kenyan. The language is tricky because it allows you to make this either/or assumption; yet we had a practice EQ where the respondent said Italian-American, and we were told the correct answer is that, and not white.

The Race category is as useless as the question for if you own, rent, etc, where you live. The government needs to know this information like it needs to know what your favorite ice cream flavor is. A mandatory DNA test for the 1st question would actually provide objective results. And who cares who owns what property, when the government has eminent domain?

Adorenation said...

I had a big problem with the instructions for how to enter race. The manual says that you check, e.g., white if someone answers white, AND if they say something like Italian, Irish, German. Similarly with black, if they say Haitian or Kenyan. The language is tricky because it allows you to make this either/or assumption; yet we had a practice EQ where the respondent said Italian-American, and we were told the correct answer is that, and not white.

The Race category is as useless as the question for if you own, rent, etc, where you live. The government needs to know this information like it needs to know what your favorite ice cream flavor is. A mandatory DNA test for the 1st question would actually provide objective results. And who cares who owns what property, when the government has eminent domain?