Sorry for the long absence from the blog, but I’ve been doing enumeration for the NRFU (Non-Response Follow-Up) Operation. Oh sorry, perhaps you’re not familiar with the government’s insane use of unnecessarily long acronyms on the one hand, and absurd-sounding unabbreviated words on the other hand. So I’m going door-to-door (enumeration) and hounding people who didn’t send back their census forms (NRFU).
I can’t tell any stories from the road because it’s confidential (my supervisor said if I saw Osama Bin Laden I can’t tell anyone about it). And saying it’s confidential sounds much cooler than any story I could tell you anyway (I haven’t seen him). But I can tell you about training, which lasted four full days in late April. How could it take four days to go over a 10-question form? I went through it and I’m still not sure. I spent most of the time thinking about how much this was costing the country.
The first morning was all paperwork — I literally filled out 14 forms. We couldn’t take overtime, and yet we had to sign an overtime policy agreement. Same with the personal telephone reimbursement policy. This took three hours, at $16.25 an hour, times 600,000 census workers in training.
The day took a dramatic turn when we took the same pledge all Federal employees take, the Appointment Affidavit (“I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…). I also got to use a hand-held pencil sharpener for the first time since kindergarten. But the first training session ended in less-than-dramatic fashion when the entire afternoon was spent watching people get fingerprinted (that’s $16.25 x 2.5 hours x 600,000).
By far the most entertaining segment of the week was on safety. It seemed like everyone around me already had some kind of weapon (mostly mace). Our supervisor (“crew leader”) carries a knife with him at all times, and pulled it out in case we didn’t believe him. The best advice I heard came from an experienced enumerator — she said when going to a location with drug activity, get there in the morning because dealers don’t wake up before noon.
Less helpful was the Census Employee Handbook, which was written by someone who has watched a lot of horror films. Honestly, I wasn’t scared at all until I read these tips:
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. Those shoes may come in handy should there be a need to run.
- When entering a building, allow your eyes to adjust to the indoor lighting before proceeding.
- Never pick up hitchhikers in your vehicle.
- Do not run past a dog. The dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch prey.
- Learn to recognize the warning signs that a dog is about to attack; tail high and stiff, ears up, hair on back standing up, and teeth showing.
And my personal favorite:
- As you walk towards your vehicle, scan beneath the vehicle for persons wanting to charge out at your ankles. Check the back seat and floor for hidden persons before entering your vehicle.
And my personal favorite non-safety note from the handbook:
- Notes about a respondent being a nice person or having a beautiful pet are not appropriate and should not be printed in the ‘Notes’ section.
I’m thrilled to be a part of a 220-year-old process mandated by the Constitution, and it’s especially important in North Carolina since the final House seat is supposedly between the Tar Heel State and Texas. Also I get a cool bag (see above), although I’m told we don’t get to keep it. On the other hand, ever since I read the manual I’ve spent the last month looking under my car and watching the tails of people’s dogs. But as the handbook says, under Chapter 3: Preparing for Work, Topic 1: Plan Your Day’s Work:
- Smile and be confident. You are ready to work!