Census managers, employees take backseat-driver role in reorg

Wednesday - 10/3/2012, 3:26pm EDT

Part 1 - Nancy Potok, Census Bureau deputy director

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Part 2 - Nancy Potok, Census Bureau deputy director

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Leadership conceived the idea, but managers and employees have become the major drivers of progress in the Census Bureau's reorganization effort, the agency's deputy director said in an interview.

"And so for the various functions that we're realigning, we've put together teams of employees — managers really — who are looking at their own functions and trying to come up with better ways for structuring the workforce to better be agile and to be able to be more responsive," said Census Bureau Deputy Director Nancy Potok.

Census employees are working on an 18-month effort to realign headquarters functions and close half — six — of the bureau's field offices. The goal is to reduce costs by up to $18 million per year and improve survey data collection in the digital age.

"It's really led by the employees," Potok said. "I think the leadership here has been quite critical in putting out the vision and the goals of what we need to accomplish. But it's really been the employees themselves who have put together the nuts and bolts of how we go about accomplishing that."

The reorganization is the bureau's first major internal changeup in 50 years. In part, it aims to modernize Census' ongoing survey work.

"We actually do almost 30 demographic surveys and then a large number of economic surveys," Potok said. "We have a lot of other agencies that pay us to do surveys, so we wanted to provide better service to our client agencies, and therefore we also wanted to provide better service to the taxpayers."

The agency started closing its field offices in January and will finish by Dec. 31, Potok said. She did not provide a completion date for the headquarters realignment, which began in February.

Census leaders expect the closures to affect 300 employees. Some field workers will have the option of teleworking, and others may be reassigned.

In addition, the bureau offered buyouts and early retirements.

"We had 203 people who ended up taking the early outs, so it was a successful program," Potok said. "But that's not sort of our first line here. I think what we'd like to do is see how we can train people here and see if we can get the skill sets that they need."

To improve workforce performance, Census leaders have asked employees to assess their skills in areas deemed critical to the bureau's future. They feedback will fuel more robust training programs.

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