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Bulk of census jobs won't come until late spring

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A majority of the roughly 1.2 million temporary jobs created by the U.S. Census Bureau this year will be created in the late spring, agency Director Robert Groves said Tuesday.

Groves told a Senate subcommittee that 600,000 to 700,000 census takers will be hired from May through early July to visit individual households that fail to return census forms. Some workers currently employed in temporary positions are expected to reapply for new positions and get hired, he said.

The agency hopes to recruit people directly from the neighborhoods in which they will work.

"We want people who know the neighborhoods they're working," Groves said. Recruitment officials have some concerns about finding qualified bilingual applicants and people to work in the nation's rural areas. The agency continues to use bilingual newspaper and radio advertisements to help fill the potential void.

"This is not what keeps me awake at night," Groves said of recruitment efforts.

But government watchdogs said Groves and the agency should pay closer attention to computer programs that handle personnel and payroll systems and the paper questionnaires. The Government Accountability Office warned again on Tuesday that the software has not yet demonstrated an ability to function at the necessary capacity later this year. The Census Bureau has conducted tests of the programs with limited success, the GAO said. Groves blamed computer network glitches and expressed confidence the system will work properly.

A quarterly report released last week by the Commerce Department's inspector general found that the agency trained workers who performed little or no work last summer for decennial census preparation efforts. Groves said the agency has adjusted its cost and hiring estimates accordingly.

"We over-recruited, clearly underestimating the labor market," Groves said, acknowledging that the nation's employment situation provided the Census Bureau with a wealth of eager applicants who, according to an agency statement, showed up for training at a much higher rate than they did during the 2000 Census.

He also pleaded with lawmakers and other officials to aggressively promote participation in this year's head count.

"For those worried about the federal deficit and spending . . . this is the one thing we can all do to save money," Groves said. "All you have to do is fill out the census form."

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