I love my country and enjoy everything it has to offer as a natural born citizen. America is by far, the greatest country in the world which is why people from every corner of the globe flock to our shores. I am an Airline Pilot, a believer in what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution, and a census taker.
As an airline pilot, I have some down time to pursue other endeavors. And like others during this weakened economy, I’m looking for ways to create income to ease the burden. When I noticed an online advertisment for census-takers, I filled out the application. Within an hour, my phone rang. A cordial man explained the job and gave me instructions to where to take “the test” to see if my aptitude matched what the position required.
“The test” is a joke. Anyone with an elementary school education could pass it easily. I was hired in November of 2009. I was told that I would start in January. In April 2010, I finally got the call to come to training, umm…only five months late.
The training was conducted in a church building just a few miles from my home. All census work is performed within the area of the workers residence. I expected a ‘formal’ experience, possibly a toughly regulated program within strict guidelines. The kind of experince that one would expect upon entering a ‘government position.’
But instead, I was exposed to pathetic government bureaucracy. Rumors have always surfaced about the wasteful spending habits of our nation, the taxpayer-funded programs that our elected leaders in Washington fight and cry over, well, I’m here to tell you, the rumors are all true.
I’d never worked for our government previously. And since it was the ‘government’, I never expected anything less than a stringent work ethic. So, when I plopped into my seat for a weeks worth of training, I was all eyes and ears. After all, I wanted to do a good job for my country.
The instructor, a pleasant enough, retired (from the government) woman began by having us raise our right hands and take the same oath that our military, members of Congress and the Senate, even the President take while being sworn into office. Our fingerprints were taken, so the FBI could check our criminal histories. ID badges were dispersed and bulging folders of training materials were handed out. The retired woman read from a scripted training booklet. Boredom seeped in fast as I soon wanted to drift off to sleep. Her words were repetitive and redundant. I felt like I was in some kindergarten hell, but kindergarten was more fun.
We were being hired to knock on doors of those who had yet to mail in their household questionnaires. Ask 10-15 simple questions using pencil and paper, not some high tech encrypted super computer one might expect of an FBI or CIA agent along the front lines of a war zone.
Each interview, we were instructed, would last approximately thirty minutes. I could only imagine dragging some poor soul through about five. After all, this wasn’t brain surgery. The questions were non-evasive and basic, so when she began teaching us about interview techniques, reading each question ‘exactly as written’, having us pair up and practice interviewing each other, going through the use of maps and charts to find homes around our own neighborhoods, how to fill out uncomplicated daily pay sheets, how to handle reluctant responders, and how to deal with everything from a dog trying to chase us down and bite us to being met with a gun at the door, my mind realized this was going to be a long and painful experience.
Some took everything seriously, hanging on every word like their lives depended on it. Myself, and two others, turned to humor as a way to pass the time, even discussing the weather as we sat near-by the exit doors to freedom.
After close to forty hours of mind-numbing, excruciatingly boring conversation, finally, it was over. My certification as an official census taker was about to begin. I had been blessed, sworn in, and was ready to pound the pavement doing the official work of the U.S. Government.
I had several days off in a row from flying, so I dove in eagerly and with enthusiasm. My first “cases” were within walking distance of my home. I started at a townhouse complex with twenty addresses on my list. The first three weren’t at home. The next ten were surprisingly open to my simple instructions to collect their information.
I used humor while interviewing. Doing so, seemed to ease any potential of conflicts that might arise from someone standing at a doorway wearing a government ID badge.
Within my first three hours, I had completed fourteen interviews. My signature was scrolled at the bottom of each one, giving them my official seal of approval.
My group had fifteen interviewers for the assigned area. We were told to meet each day and to turn in our completed forms. Each group had a Crew Leader and an Assistant Crew Leader, both there to accept the paperwork and hand out new cases as needed … or so I thought.
When I walked through the doors of McDonalds, ten members of my group were sitting around talking furiously about disgruntled responders, the weather, comparing interview results, and waiting in line for their turn to face the leader.
When my turn came, I placed the completed stack of forms before her. She counted each one and scanned them closely, making sure each “I” was dotted and “T” was crossed. She grinned and asked when I was working next. I told her the following day. We then scheduled a time and place for my “required” observation session. Just to make sure I had everything down pat. Hmm, okay, talk about overkill.
She arrived late the next evening then walked beside me as I rang doorbells. I moved between each one efficiently and with purpose, scoring three interviews within thirty minutes. It was about this time that she tugged on my arm and said, “You haven’t worked for the government before, have you?”
“Nope, my first time.”
“Well, let me give you a little advice.”
Surprised, I responded, “Okay, I’m open.”
“You need to slow it down, I mean, slow down a lot, otherwise you’ll work yourself out of a job.”
“I don’t understand?”
She shot me a stern look. “Slow it down, okay? We’re all wanting and counting on this thing lasting a full eight weeks. If everyone works like you do, we’ll be done sooner than required. I’m counting on this income to last and you’re working it at a pace that’s well above what’s needed.”
I didn’t say anything as I thought of my other job where efficiency and productivity are the keys to getting promoted and appreciated. What I was being told by this woman was foreign to me and certainly not my style.
“I don’t think that I can work any slower.” I spyed the swimming pool in the distance. “Would you rather I lounge around that pool for a while between interviews?”
She giggled. “No, all I’m saying is to learn to play the game, okay? Help us out a bit here.”
I nodded as I thought, ‘Damn!’
I walked her to her car, then resumed interviewing pondering what she’d said. Are most government employees like her? Surely not! After all, the taxpayer’s money is paying the salaries. I completed another five interviews with little effort.
The next morning was another “required” meeting. Even if you didn’t have any completed forms to turn in, you had to make the meeting, if for no other reason than to sip on some cheap coffee and fill out an hour, or so, of time on a pay sheet. They wanted you there. I turned in my forms from the night before, which were the last of what I was assigned.
Proudly, “I’m ready for some more. I completed all I was given,”
The ‘Crew Leader’s’ jaw dropped. “You’ve finished them all?!”
“We don’t have any more for you just now.”
“You mean that’s it?! That’s all to be done for an eight week job?”
I couldn’t believe it. I sat through five days of the most mind-numbing training experience known to man for only two days of actual work!!!
“Go on home now. If we have any more, we’ll give you a call. But, don’t forget to keep coming to the meetings when you’re in town.”
“If there’s no more work, why come to the meetings?”
“To keep you updated.”
She looked a me as if I must be clueless. “Just come, okay? It’s another hour or so of pay plus your mileage.” She leaned toward my face. “It’s the government’s money, buddy. Don’t you want some of it?”
I walked out thinking, ‘Damn! Is this for real?’
Just back from a trip, while unpacking my suitcase, the phone rang.
“We’ve got more work for you,” announced the ‘Crew Leader’.
“Sure, I’m ready to go.”
At the next meeting, the ‘District Crew Leader’ sat among the crew. He pulled me aside. “I hear you’re doing a great job.”
“Thanks”. I responded.
“I’m going to recommend you for the next wave. The census keeps going after the initial work is done.”
“What will I be doing?”
“Pretty much the same, although the questions go a bit deeper. We ask about income levels and stuff like that. And there are three more waves after that.”
He slapped me on the back and belly laughed. “You betcha, it’s easy money, boy. Might as well take advantage of it all, everybody does.”
I’d become friendly with the ‘Assistant Crew Leader’ during training; a retired IBM employee who was just as amused and disgusted by this as I was. He winked from across the room as I approached. “Call me after the meeting?” he whispered as he handed me a folder with twenty cases inside.
When I called, he answered laughing.” You won’t believe what’s been happening.”
“This is the biggest joke I’ve ever seen, man. Apparently everyone from myself all the way to the boys in Washington think things are going too quickly. The budget is around a hundred million for this thing, and it looks like it’ll be completed with forty million to spare and three weeks early.”
“So, that’s great then for the taxpayer.”
“Man, you don’t get it. I overheard them talking at the district office. They want all the money to be spent, otherwise, they won’t get as much when the next census rolls around, get it?”
I felt sick inside as I responded. “The Government at its finest, huh?”
He chuckled. “You got it, man. They love it when everyone turns in eight hours of pay for only doing one or two interviews. There are people sitting around in offices everywhere not doing a damn thing, just clocking the hours and the miles. I know that half on our team sit at home and do nothing. Then claim, they’re out knocking on doors and saying no one is home just so they can justify the hours. You’ve turned in more interviews than anyone.”
“Hard to believe, I’ve been gone the last few days.”
“Doesn’t matter, everybody’s gotten the talk to slow down.”
“Then why are they giving me more work?”
“Because you’re helping to balance the workload, it’s all just one big game. We have to have someone work with work turned in They need a few like you as the deadlines draw near. I’ll tell you, the inflated pay sheets I’ve seen lately would blow you away. They don’t seem to care when I bring it up. It’s like how much the expenses and bills are don’t matter.”
Again I exclaimed, ‘Damn!’ to myself as I put on my badge and went about the job feeling good that, at least, I was getting the job done. I was proud to do a good job for my country. But isn’t that the goverment way, ‘one’ works for the benefit of ‘many’.
I didn’t care what my ‘Crew Leader’ thought. The census has existed since our country was founded and it needs to be done so that the correct amount of money is appropriated for schools, roads, and political seats in the Congress and Senate.
The problem is that when the government is involved in anything, its inefficiency is unbelievable as evidenced by my short-term experiences. Our government programs are basically given a blank check with no one looking out for the taxpayer’s dollar and many exploiting this fact. From the Presidential level all the way down to a simple census employee, corruption and greed are everywhere, like a cancer that doesn’t stop.
I’ve continued doing the census work. Another “wave” begins next month; each one has been as inefficient as the last. But, I am proud to do my job with integrity. The American taxpayer gets value from workers such as myself. Can the current President or any elected politician in Washington make such a claim? I seriously doubt it.
From my experience, I think that our government needs a serious overhaul. They need accountability to the people for every dollar spent, term limits for elected officials to prevent career politicians and the “good ole’ boy network” of Washington corruption, and a simpler way of handling the budget without needless earmarks.
Happily the elections in November are an indication that America, as a sleeping giant, has awakened again as it did during the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
I was captured under the Obama spell and I voted for him. It wasn’t long before I knew that I had made a terrible mistake.
Vote wisely in 2012.