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Census Tech Makeover Includes Innovation "Oasis" 62

Posted by samzenpus
from the fancy-name-for-break-room dept.
CWmike writes "The US Census Bureau is in the midst of a tech makeover following criticism of its technology deployments leading up to the 2010 Census, ranging from problems with its payroll processing system to its handhelds. The problems resulted in soaring costs and caustic criticism from lawmakers. The makeover aims to consolidate operations as well as enable the bureau's IT staff to be more creative and inventive. One effort includes establishing a place for its IT staff to generate ideas and test technologies. The Center for Applied Technology, as it's been named, will serve 'as a focal point for bringing entrepreneurial-minded staff, emerging technologies, and pressing business problems facing the Census together,' said the agency, in response to written questions from Computerworld about the plans, following Grove's testimony. 'Once the physical space is redesigned, it will serve as an oasis that will inspire Census staff to think creatively at an enterprise level to solve some of the more pertinent issues facing the Bureau,' the agency said. The center 'employs a 'think tank' concept where Census staff can work directly with corporate leaders in technology, key members of other government agencies, and academia.'"
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Census Tech Makeover Includes Innovation "Oasis"

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  • Hummmmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ExploHD (888637) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @05:48PM (#35812672)
    Just because you have a redesign of your interior does not mean that they'll be better enabled to "be more creative". I'd say quality assurance and constant retesting/redesign leading up to the next census will be much more beneficial.
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Palmsie (1550787)

      Not necessarily. Functional ascetics are critical when it comes to organizational behaviors. For example, if you work in a startup company that requires quick decision-making and on the fly meetings and discussions to bounce ideas around, if your organization is build hierarchically with lots of cubicles, no open spaces, isolated rooms or floors that limit access to people or resources... it makes the job of every single worker much more difficult across many tasks.

      Ultimately, work environments should be co

  • The Census was one of the bigger cuts in the latest round of budgeting. And their job can be done on an iPhone.

    And, anyway, techies don't think in think-tanks. They come up with their best stuff when they're ass-deep in alligators and wondering why the swamp was built in the middle of the I/O library.

    Looks like an infestation of administratus runamokus.

    • by Entrope (68843) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @06:05PM (#35812820) Homepage

      Either that or it's a Boondogglus enormous. When I read "Census staff can work directly with corporate leaders in technology, key members of other government agencies, and academia", the first thing that came to mind is that the Census people in question will get to spend as much time as they want, respectively, (a) receiving Enterprise Ready Widget sales pitches, (b) schmooze with counterparts in other agencies, and (c) travel to universities in pretty places to do grant reviews.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by OzPeter (195038)

      And their job can be done on an iPhone.

      This just in from Fox news "Government to buy iPhone 9's for every worker. 'Will Democrats stop at nothing to waste your tax dollars?' says [Nameless Republican shill]"

    • by harrkev (623093)

      The first thing to realize is that when the Census Bureau decided to go the route of a hand-held unit for field workers, the iPhone had not even been announced. The "smart" phones at that time were primitive. At that time (say, 2004), you could ASSUME that cell technology would march forward, but what platform do you develop software for? Who knows what the winner will be in six years? No iPhone yet, no Android yet. Blackberry was the biggest thing going at this time. Would they still be in business i

      • by blair1q (305137)

        Android is the best bet. It's open-source, and not beholden to the fortunes of a single corporation, the way Blackberry and the iPhone are.

    • by jd (1658)

      I/O swamps are caused by techies spilling coffee. It drips down the keyboard cable, through the computer and into the I/O ports where it pools up.

  • How come I think that the technology coming out of this place will never see the light of day:

    The Center for Applied Technology, as it's been named, will serve 'as a focal point for bringing entrepreneurial-minded staff, emerging technologies, and pressing business problems facing the Census together'

    Well, one manager folk told me and my manager in a call, when we asked about some features: "We are currently implementing plans to size the effort."

    • by Obfuscant (592200)

      How come I think that the technology coming out of this place will never see the light of day:

      Because they are trying to design systems that will be used in ten years (nine) in a technological world that changes on a yearly basis and the lifecycle of an electronic product is six months or less.

      In historical terms, they'll be producing a system that runs great on a Palm Pilot when the rest of the world is adopting iPads.

    • by Tackhead (54550)

      The Center for Applied Technology, as it's been named, will serve 'as a focal point for bringing entrepreneurial-minded staff, emerging technologies, and pressing business problems facing the Census together'

      Well, one manager folk told me and my manager in a call, when we asked about some features: "We are currently implementing plans to size the effort."

      Hey. That's not even thinking out of the box, let alone thinking creatively at the enterprise level. Your organization should redesign the physical sp

    • by jd (1658)

      Translation: "We aren't quite sure how to put all the census data into Excel, and we're not allowed to use anything else - not that we'd know what the anything else was or how to use it."

  • I worked on the 2010 Census as your typical door-to-door person. From the bottom up, it's unorganized. There's reams of paper for each task and work is somewhat uncoordinated. Despite what some may think, the people who worked it were generally capable and intelligent, but the lack of technology and stacks of paperwork were just begging for errors (which occured often). I wouldn't go so far as to say the collection process should be abolished in favor of statistical inference, but it could be done far m
  • "The problems resulted in soaring costs"

    That's weird, I thought the census was $1.6 billion under budget.

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/federal-eye/2010/08/2010_census_was_16_billion_und.html [washingtonpost.com]

    • Re:Soaring costs? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PickyH3D (680158) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @06:43PM (#35813134)

      From the article:

      Congress appropriated $14.7 billion over 12 years for this year’s headcount. Preparations for the 2010 count began in 1999 with early planning meetings, but more than half of the money was spent this year.

      The 2010 Census was still the most expensive in American history, but census budgets have climbed every decade since 1950 as the American population and number of households increases. The Census Bureau managed to return $305 million from a $7 billion total budget in 2000.

      I would say the soaring costs came from doubling the cost to do the exact same operation with 10 years worth of newer technology to assist them.

      $6.7 billion versus $13.1 billion screams soaring costs.

      • by AuMatar (183847)

        Now factor in inflation and the increased number of people in the country. Doubling the cost 10 years later seems quite reasonable to me.

        • by PickyH3D (680158)

          Calculating US Inflation [usinflatio...ulator.com] from 2000 to 2010, one would be left with a 26.6% increase. Since I am feeling friendly, going from 1999 to 2011 brings it to 32.8%.

          $6.7 billion * 1.328 = $8.9 billion

          The population changed from 281,421,906 [wikipedia.org] to 308,745,538 [wikipedia.org] (a 9.7% increase).

          $8.9 billion * 1.097 = $9.76 billion

          We're still left with ~$4 billion (~30%) looming around to qualify as soaring costs.

      • by jd (1658)

        I'm not sure why it should cost anything in the range of billions. You know (roughly) how many properties there are in the US. You have a census form delivered to each property, whether occupied or not, to be mailed back. There's 360 million people in the US, so in the worst possible case you've 360 million forms. You can't have any more than that and the chances are you'll have about a fifth since the average family size is about 5. That's 72 million forms. It should be possible to have the key information

        • That's roughly how it's done in Australia, in OCR-readable format, and we do a census every 5 years. Someone comes to collect the form after "census night", but that's about it.

          • by jd (1658)

            Australian censuses are the easiest to fill of any country I've lived in, the information is of very high quality, and the coverage seems to be exceptionally good. If any nation wanted to rework their system, I'd consider it to be one of the best examples of how to do it right - or, at least, as right as censuses ever get (they're never going to be perfect). The UK system comes a close second. The black hole at Cygnus X1 is second to last, followed by the US.

        • by Skater (41976)
          Ever notice not everyone sends back their forms? Also, did you ever notice that there are lots of addresses that don't actually tell you where the house is ("RR 2 Box 3")? You clearly don't understand the complexities involved.
          • by jd (1658)

            Oh, probably better than you do. People have failed to return census forms for almost two centuries. So? Why should that matter? In reality, the only ones who give a damn at the individual level are genealogists a century later. You'd need more than 50% to not return the form before it would make any practical difference at the statistical level. And if that many can't be bothered to post the form back, it's probably an area not worth knowing about.

            Second, I said properties not houses. For a reason. You kno

            • by ral315 (741081)

              You'd need more than 50% to not return the form before it would make any practical difference at the statistical level.

              Except that the census isn't designed solely for macro-level statistical information. One of the most important roles of a census is determining a city/county/state's population, which is used to allocate funding, and determine the number of representatives in the US House and state houses/senates, which does have a significant impact on the makeup of those bodies.

              Return rates are not

              • by Luyseyal (3154)

                Thanks, I came to say something similar to your first paragraph which is arguably the most important reason as far as politicians care.

                -l

    • by Rantastic (583764)

      "The problems resulted in soaring costs"

      That's weird, I thought the census was $1.6 billion under budget.

      http://voices.washingtonpost.com/federal-eye/2010/08/2010_census_was_16_billion_und.html [washingtonpost.com]

      I live in the DC area and I was offered the job of lead architect/consultant overseeing the building of the datacenter for the 2010 census. In fact, I was offered this job six times in various forms over the last 6-8 years. I turned it down because I already have a good job. Not to mention the long ass commute out to the boonies of MD everyday. From what I understand, they had a lot of trouble finding good talent for the job.

      Also, the various offers told a tale:

      • Deploy Red Hat
      • Finish incomplete Red Hat depl
      • Also, the various offers told a tale:

        Yes. Sounds like you wisely avoided a major can of worms. And as we all know, the only way to re-can them is to use a larger can.

  • Cut out the PHB's they get in the way of generating ideas and makeing test technologies take along time and BAN golf course meetings as they just lead to sale men selling stuff to bosses who have no clue about IT.

  • I wonder if they intend the Oasis metaphor to extend out to the desert around it.
     
    Or, to mix metaphors, are they basically saying "Nothing will change around here, but we'll build you an enclosed sandbox to shut you up. SURE we'll listen to ideas."

    • by jd (1658)

      I think they were more referring to the rock group that split up over their personality "problems".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They need less innovation and more limitation of scope. The census should only consist of two basic pieces of information: address and the number of residents.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How about we just fix and then test the Census PDAs we already bought. We had to go back to paper and pencil for the Census because some Goverment contractors couldn't deliver a PDA that took surveys. If the government gets working on the problem RIGHT NOW, maybe we'll get workingPDAs in time for the next census. Oh, here's a tip order new batteries no earlier then a year in advance.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was a manager in a Census office. The technical desktop support was OK. But they built an in-house system to track all the data input and it never worked, ever.

    We ended up, in many cases, putting data into Access DBs which would be downloaded by HO overnight. Complete and utter flustercluck.

    I spend hours writing up a report, as did all the managers, detailing everything that went wrong. Funny thing is, the people that had worked the prior Census said it was the same issues. Guess that report wont do much

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