2010 Census:

Census Bureau Should Refine Recruiting and Hiring Efforts and Enhance Training of Temporary Field Staff

GAO-07-361: Published: Apr 27, 2007. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 2007.

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The success of the 2010 Census depends, in part, upon the U.S. Census Bureau's (Bureau) ability to recruit, hire, and train over half a million temporary workers at peak. Under the Comptroller General's authority, GAO reviewed the extent that the Bureau's (1) recruiting and hiring processes for these staff are consistent with selected human capital principles and (2) training delivery and content take into account known challenges. To answer these questions, GAO analyzed relevant reports and past recommendations to select principles for evaluating these activities, reviewed related Bureau documents, observed the 2006 Census Test in South Dakota and Texas, and interviewed Bureau officials.

For the 2010 Census, the Bureau plans to recruit 3.8 million applicants and hire nearly 600,000 temporary field staff from that applicant pool for two key operations: address canvassing, where staff verify the location of all housing units; and nonresponse follow-up, where they visit households that do not return census forms to collect data in person. Meeting these goals will be difficult because, since Census 2000, the Bureau is facing increased challenges, including the automation of its field data collection and long-standing demographic shifts, whereby the population is increasingly diverse and hard to locate. For the 2010 Census, the Bureau plans to use a recruiting and hiring approach like the one it used in 2000, which Bureau officials considered a success. That approach is designed to ensure a sufficient pool of qualified applicants from which to hire, but the Bureau could recruit and hire more efficiently. Opportunities exist for the Bureau to improve and refine recruiting and hiring processes for the 2010 Census. It could better target its recruiting and hiring by analyzing the characteristics, such as education and work status, of employees more likely to be successful at census work and less likely to leave. This would allow it to seek workers with the skills, interests, and likelihood for success. Also, the Bureau does not collect performance data needed to rehire former workers, to whom it may give hiring priority. Officials said they try to exclude those terminated for cause. Conduct problems, such as selling drugs or striking another worker or unsatisfactory performance, can result in such terminations. The Bureau's training approach for temporary field staff, consisting primarily of verbatim lectures, is largely unchanged from previous decennials. The Bureau is providing some computer-based training on using the handheld computers in key operations. However, despite findings that we and others have made suggesting that the Bureau consider alternatives to its verbatim approach, it has not done so. Further, although the Bureau has found that its field staff face an increasingly reluctant population and other location-specific challenges, it has not substantially changed the content of training.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's recruiting, hiring, and training of temporary field staff, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to revise or modify training to enhance material on reluctant respondents so that field staff are provided with a realistic impression of the prevalence of respondent reluctance and strategies for convincing these respondents to participate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During July 2009, the Bureau completed its 2010 enumerator training manual and instruction guide for Nonresponse Followup.

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's recruiting, hiring, and training of temporary field staff, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to, prior to the 2010 Census, incorporate into training visual aids illustrating how to conduct census work.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During 2009 census field operations, the Bureau utilized visual aids for conducting work on address canvassing and group quarters validation. For address canvassing, the Bureau prepared and distributed poster-size screen shots for using the handheld computers that were posted on walls during training classes. The Bureau also developed quick reference guide for each worker. For group quarters validation, the Bureau provided four large maps in the training kits to make map training more efficient and easy to understand. On November 30, 2009, the Bureau announced the agency will is developing visual aids for workers conducting Nonresponse Follow-up during the summer of 2010.

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's recruiting, hiring, and training of temporary field staff, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to evaluate the effectiveness of alternate approaches for delivering training, including the use of video content, as compared to the current verbatim approach. If new approaches are found to be more effective, evaluate the feasibility of delivering this type of training during subsequent operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: On November 30, 2009, the Bureau said the agency continues to believe that verbatim training is the most effective method to train the trainers who will train short term census workers and will help ensure consistency among training. The Bureau does not believe using video training is feasible because of costs and logistics. The Bureau plans no new action.

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's recruiting, hiring, and training of temporary field staff, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to modify recruiting and hiring tools, including the skills test and phone interview, to better differentiate applicants with the skills and competencies needed by crew leaders from those who would be better suited for other field positions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Open

    Comments: During April 2011, the Bureau reported on actions taken to modify recruiting and hiring tools. In 2010 enumerator training for the Nonresponse Follow-up operation, the Bureau conducted testing at two local census offices to explore the need for new selection tools for 2020. The results of this test are not finalized but the Bureau plans to use the results to continue to explore the need for new selection tools. As of December 2013, the Bureau had not completed research and testing projects that would inform its decision in 2015 about the 2020 Census design. That design decision is expected to inform a variety of implementation activities, including Bureau resolution of appropriate field hiring methods.

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's recruiting, hiring, and training of temporary field staff, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the best way to gather employee performance data during the address canvassing operation in the 2010 Census to inform rehiring decisions during subsequent operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: On June 25, 2007, the Bureau outlined its plans to address our recommendations. The Bureau did not agree with this recommendation and plans no new action.

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's recruiting, hiring, and training of temporary field staff, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to, in order to refine its approach to recruiting and hiring, evaluate the factors that are associated with and predictive of employee interest in census work, performance, and commitment. These factors may include prior work experience and employment status. The Bureau should determine the best way to measure employee performance for the purposes of this analysis. The Bureau should also consider these findings for better targeting applicants in subsequent decennial operations. This effort could be conducted during address canvassing and other early operations during the 2008 Dress Rehearsal and during the 2010 Census. The resulting information will be useful when recruiting and hiring for the Bureau's largest decennial operation, nonresponse follow-up, and subsequent operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During the 2010 Census, the Bureau implemented our recommendation to better target applicants in subsequent decennial operations. Specifically, the Bureau made changes to their recruiting and hiring practices for employees for field operations conducted close to the end of 2010 data collection. For example, the Bureau used enumerators with nonresponse follow-up experience to conduct the Vacant Delete Check operation. The Bureau also conducted tests during enumerator training for the 2010 Nonresponse Follow-up operation to explore the need for new selection tools during the 2020 Census. During April 2011, the Bureau reported the project manager continued to work on finalizing the results of the tests. These actions taken by the Bureau represent a credible step towards addressing our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the Bureau's recruiting, hiring, and training of temporary field staff, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau to prepare training modules addressing prototypical location-specific challenges that may be selected and used by regional or local census offices. For example, modules on situations localities may face--such as enumerating apartment buildings or dealing with empty mobile home sites--could be centrally developed by Bureau officials to ensure the consistency and quality of such modules. Local or regional officials could then select those modules most appropriate to the local area for use in training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: During 2009, the Bureau developed job aids for location specific challenges such as hard to find multi-unit buildings, natural disaster areas for census workers to use during the address canvassing operation.

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