An inspector general's report released Thursday refuted claims that U.S. Census employees falsified unemployment data ahead of the 2012 presidential election, but it concluded some Census policies could encourage faking critical population data.
Among the findings: Census Bureau employees who are suspected of making up data in their surveys are allowed to continue collecting more data while under investigation.
The Department of Commerce’s Office of the Inspector General, however, said it found “no evidence” to support claims that data falsification was widespread or that the management of the Philadelphia office of the U.S. Census Bureau, “instructed staff to falsify data,” used to compile monthly jobless numbers.
The accusation against the Philadelphia office came more than a year after September 2012 jobless numbers showed a dramatic drop in jobless claims. The jobless rate fell from 8.1 percent in August 2012 to 7.8 percent in September 2012, just two months before the presidential election.
In November 2013, an employee of the Philadelphia office of the Census told the New York Post he was instructed to falsify the data. The employee, Julius Buckmon, said he was told to make up information for people he was unable to reach for an interview.
The IG report said that despite media reports, there was no systemic falsification of data in the Philadelphia office.
“Our analysis concluded that it would have taken 78 Census Bureau field representatives working together, in a coordinated way, to report each and every unemployed person in their sample as ‘employed’ or ’not in labor force’ during September 2012, an effort which likely would have been detected by the Census Bureau’s quality assurance procedures,” the report concluded.
The IG said the jobless rate drop that month matched other indicators, including payroll data.
But problems prevail in the Census, the report found, including a conflict of interest created by lack of an independent system to monitor for falsified data. Under the current system, the same manager that supervises data collectors is also responsible for reporting instances where staff are caught making up data.
The IG report also found that Census training material is outdated and does not prohibit or warn against serious consequences for falsifying data.
Republican lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said the report confirms their concerns about the trustworthiness of the Census Bureau.
"The Inspector General's findings identify serious shortcomings and highlight an uncomfortable truth,” panel chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said. “Data quality assurance procedures across the Census Bureau are ripe for abuse. 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."