- - Thursday, November 21, 2013

Top House Republicans are demanding are seeking an investigation into new reports that the Census Bureau manipulated surveys that showed a steep drop in the U.S. unemployment rate shortly before the 2012 presidential election, even as the bureau said a key suspect in the matter left the bureau more than two years ago.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, sent an angry letter to the bureau this week demanding that it investigate a “shocking” report in the New York Post that field worker Julius Buckmon and other unnamed bureau employees faked figures that were used in the monthly unemployment report, resulting in a dramatic and puzzling plunge in the unemployment rate from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent just before last year’s presidential election.

However, the bureau said that Mr. Buckmon left the agency in August 2011, long before the election, apparently because of questionable procedures that he used in gathering data when he worked at the bureau’s Philadelphia field office. Since the bureau has more than 7,000 field representatives like Mr. Buckmon, it would be close to impossible for one employee to have a significant effect on the overall report, the Census Bureau said in a statement Tuesday.

“We have no reason to believe this isn’t an isolated incident,” she said, adding that she could not discuss Mr. Buckmon’s specific reasons for leaving because of privacy laws. “This was an employee who was willfully disobeying Census procedures and disobeying the law.”

The spokesperson said that when the bureau discovers inappropriate activity, the matter is referred to the Department of Labor’s inspector general. The field representative would be subject to disciplinary action if the IG finds any wrongdoing, including termination, the publication Business Insider reported.

Asked about the reports at his White House press briefing Tuesday, spokesman Jay Carney called the Post story “obviously misleading.” The original New York Post story, which set off Mr. Issa’s inquiry, cited what it called a “knowledgeable source” who claimed that the data manipulation “escalated at the time President Obama was seeking reelection in 2012 and continues today.”

The Post’s anonymous source said that an unusual and headline-grabbing jobs report in September 2012, which came out just before the election when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared to be closing in on President Obama in a very close contest, was “faked” to produce the dramatic reported decline in the unemployment to under 8 percent for the first time since the recession.

Former General Electric chairman Jack Welch and many Republicans at the time questioned whether the numbers had been manipulated in light of the weak job growth reported by businesses in a separate survey by the department.

The Post story, which cited confidential documents dating from 2010, said Mr. Buckmon and other census employees were pressured by their supervisors to fudge surveys to fill in data gaps when they did not get the 90 percent response rate sought by the Department of Labor in compiling its monthly household survey, from which it derives the unemployment rate.

The Post story triggered a letter to the bureau from Mr. Issa demanding information about Mr. Buckmon, including his e-mails, his list of supervisors and any material related to a government investigation of Mr. Buckmon’s actions after he left the agency. Mr. Issa asked for the requested information by Dec. 3.

“Since the bureau relies on the American public for its data, it is important that the Census Bureau cooperate with all investigations into this matter,” Mr. Issa wrote. “Any erosion of trust by the Census Bureau would have an immediate impact on other important census surveys, such as the American Community Survey, or the planning and implementation of the 2020 decennial census.”

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