A field supervisor in the Census Bureau’s Denver region has informed her organization’s higher-ups, the head of the Commerce Department and congressional investigators that she believes economic data collected by her office is being falsified.
And this whistleblower – who asked that I not identify her – said her bosses in Denver ignored her warnings even after she provided details of wrongdoing by three different survey takers.
The three continued to collect data even after she reported them.
When I spoke with this whistleblower earlier this year as part of my investigation of Census, she told me that hundreds of interviews that go into the Labor Department’s unemployment rate and inflation surveys would miraculously be completed just hours before deadline.
The implication was that someone with the ability to fill in the blanks on incomplete surveys was doing just that.
The Denver whistleblower also provided to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform the names of other Census workers who can spill the beans about data fraud in other regions.
Census is broken up into six regions. Cheating has already been proven in the Philadelphia region. And with this whistleblower’s letter, Census authorities now have allegations that the same kind of nonsense was going on in Denver – that office covers Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming
The Oversight Committee recently completed a report along with the Joint Economic Committee of Congress that verified one case of falsification in the Philly office. But the committee said it couldn’t prove or disprove that there was a nationwide pattern of data fraud because Commerce – which oversees Census – had “obstructed” its investigation.
“There are serious issues within the Census Bureau Denver regional office management and I feel it’s time that you are made aware of them,” the whistleblower wrote on Sept. 30 to Penny Pritzker, the head of Commerce, and Wayne Hatcher, associate director of Census Field operations.
That same information, along with about a thousand e-mails and other documents, was also sent to the Oversight Committee.
The case of falsified data in Philly – by a surveyor named Julius Buckmon – resulted in a lengthy investigation by Commerce’s Inspector General as well as the probe by the Oversight Committee and the Joint Economic Committee.
The IG’s investigation resulted in widespread changes in the way data is collected and checked. One of the key changes is that supervisors can no longer conduct what are called “re-interviews” of their own workers’ surveys.
By conducting a re-interview, Census can often spot a fraudulent survey. The problem is that the supervisors conducting the re-interview weren’t motivated to report fraud because it reduced the number of completed responses they could report toward their quota.
I asked recently the Denver whistleblower her opinion on the surveys Census is providing. “When the question is asked about data quality, my answer would be simple, there is none,” she said.
“I wouldn’t trust any data from the Census Bureau,” she added.
Last Friday, for instance, Labor announced that a healthy 248,000 new jobs were created in September, when the unemployment rate dipped to 5.9 percent from 6.1 percent.
Those 248,000 new jobs are determined by a survey of companies – the Establishment Survey, it’s called – that is conducted by Labor itself. So while some people rightly take issue with the quality and temporary nature of many of those new jobs – and the fact that not enough have been created in the current economic cycle – the tabulation itself isn’t really in doubt.
The 5.9 percent unemployment rate comes from the Household Survey that Labor hires Census to conduct. There are big concerns about the truthfulness of the jobless rate, especially since this is the last report before the November congressional elections.
For instance, in September the rate fell to 5.9 percent mainly because 315,000 more people told Census they stopped looking for a job.
In fact, about a third of the recent decline in the unemployment rate can be attributed to a decline in the so-called Labor Participation Rate, which is now at a 36-year low. Ninety-six million Americans no longer consider themselves in the labor force.
Some think there is a logical explanation for this: baby boomers who are leaving the workforce because they simply don’t want to work anymore. But the data doesn’t bear that out.
There were 230,000 more workers aged 50 or older in the Household Survey released Friday. So how did the workforce decline by 315,000 people, if aging baby boomers were increasingly looking for jobs?
It’s either a miracle or someone’s pulling our leg.