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POLITICS: Campaigns

Commerce watchdog: There was no conspiracy to drop employment rate before 2012 election

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,2012 Elections,Darrell Issa,Campaigns,Inspectors General,Unemployment,Census Bureau

Thirty-five field representatives falsified unemployment data, but the problem was not widespread enough to manipulate the data in a way that would have helped President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, according to a new report from the Commerce Department inspector general.

“Addressing allegations raised in the media, we found no evidence that the unemployment rate was manipulated by staff in the Philadelphia Regional Office in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election," the new report says.

When the unemployment rate dropped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch suggested foul play.

"Unbelievable jobs numbers...these Chicago guys will do anything...can't debate so change numbers," Welch tweeted.

"It would have taken a widespread, coordinated effort — approximately 78 field representatives — to artificially depress the unemployment rate by 0.3 percentage points in September 2012," the inspector general report said. Of the 35 field representatives who did falsify data, only two were found to have done so in September of 2012.

Republicans focused on another finding in the report. “The Inspector General's findings identify serious shortcomings and highlight an uncomfortable truth: data quality assurance procedures across the Census Bureau are ripe for abuse,” said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. “Because of the widespread reliance on economic data, including for the unemployment report, the data collected by the Census Bureau must be unimpeachable. The Census Bureau must address the systemic deficiencies in preventing and identifying falsification of data revealed in the report, including inadequate employee training and data review processes.”

The inspector general found that "the quality assurance process ... creates the potential for conflicts of interest because the same supervisors who manage staff (and could direct the falsification of survey data) are responsible for reporting instances when their staff falsifies data."

Furthermore, "our investigation also found that Census Bureau employees suspected of falsifying data are sometimes allowed to continue working while their surveys are being examined, in part due to advice from the Department’s Office of General Counsel," the report says.

A subcommittee chairman on the oversight committee declared victory based on the quality assurance finding. “The Inspector General's report confirms our concerns about the process the Census Bureau uses to collect unemployment data,” Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said. “At a time when the Obama administration has shaken Americans' trust in the government, it is disappointing that the gold standard of statistical data in America, the Census, is being called into question. The census should not be political."

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