Can the Census Bureau Survive a November Election Surprise?

It is very troubling that according to Crudele, “more than a hundred data-gathering computers were missing from the Philadelphia region of Census the month before the last Presidential election. Some were supervisors’ computers that could have easily been used to change economic results, including the unemployment rate. Census has refused to explain how the computers went missing.”

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By Jay O’ Callaghan | January 20, 2016

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Members of the international network of activist hackers Anonymous hacked into the U.S. Census Bureau

This year’s election has been hailed as a close, monumental one that may decide the future direction of American politics. In part, this is because no incumbent president is running who would normally be favored to win re-election. Like two other non-incumbent elections, 1960 and 1988, it falls on November 8th, which is the last possible date for a general election.

This means that there will be much more time than usual for a last minute election surprise by an event, which usually favors the incumbent party.

One significant event could be the unemployment report which is based on surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau.  Unfortunately the Bureau has been plagued by numerous recent glitches and scandals suggesting that it may not do well under the same intense nationwide scrutiny that the Florida state elections system suffered in the 2000 presidential election.

In fact, according to New York Post columnist John Crudele, the Bureau is again under investigation by the Commerce Department’s Inspector General (IG) “for data falsification and financial mismanagement” and the “Justice Department has a private company looking into doing a ‘companion’ survey” to check up on one done by Census.

Crudele recently reported that he has “spent the last two years looking into data falsification by Census Bureau workers who are pressed to meet quotas in order to achieve higher personal ratings. There have also been accusations that some of the falsification was done for political reasons — to make the economy and crime situation look better than it really is. Up until now whistleblowers inside the Census have detailed cheating in five of the six Census regions. The last one — Atlanta — continued to achieve an unusually high number of completed surveys compared to the rest.”

After Crudele’s initial reporting, there were investigations by the Commerce Department IG and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committee said that “its probe was ‘obstructed’ by the Commerce Department, which is in charge of Census, so it couldn’t look into the full scope of the cheating.”

This cheating “has probably led to incorrect readings of important data, including the national unemployment rate that is relied upon by the Federal Reserve and used by the White House for political purposes.” After these investigations, several high Bureau officials retired and Commerce Department IG Todd Zinser “also left office under pressure, partly due to” these investigations.

It is very troubling that according to Crudele, “more than a hundred data-gathering computers were missing from the Philadelphia region of Census the month before the last Presidential election. Some were supervisors’ computers that could have easily been used to change economic results, including the unemployment rate. Census has refused to explain how the computers went missing.”

Congress has not looked into this possible 2012 election scandal but it is looking into the Commerce Department’s refusal to turn “over dozens of Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests for emails concerning that incident.”

This is not the only scandal which seriously questions the credibility of the Census Bureau. Last September, the Commerce Department IG reported that 40 employees in the Bureau’s employment office stole $1.1 million in pay they never earned, broke government rules by hiring friends and tried to intimidate whistleblowers. The IG report said supervisors even “led” the misconduct.


U.S. Census Bureau Regions

A guilty employee held a knife to cut a cake at an office party, made a stabbing motion and warned, “This is for who went to the OIG.” “In light of the widespread misconduct committed by CHEC employees identified in this report, the apparent lack of internal controls on the quality of CHEC employees’ work and deliberate bypassing of the unit’s existing controls is disturbing,” the IG supported firing nine of the worst-behaving employees. The investigation also reported that employees hired friends’ relatives, and also engaged in time and attendance fraud.

In another mishap for the Bureau, an internal Census Bureau review reported on September 30, 2015 that last year’s test of how the 2020 Census could reduce its survey costs failed, because its project team did not gather useful cost estimation information.  The teams ignored their original guidelines and did not document cost savings estimates, according to bureau assistant inspector general Carol N. Rice.

The U.S. Census Bureau also confirmed to IBTimes UK in an emailed statement that a successful cyber attack took place last year on information which was stolen but was “non-confidential.”

The many mishaps listed above should make anyone very skeptical of reports released just a few days before the upcoming 2016 election by the Census Bureau.  The unemployment report is released usually on the first Friday of the month which would be on November 4, 2016. Hopefully, congressional committees, the Commerce Department IG and the media will thoroughly investigate them so that the public’s confidence will be restored by election day.


Jay O’Callaghan has worked extensively with issues involving the U.S. Census Bureau including serving as a professional staff member for the House Government Reform Census Subcommittee, as a senior legislative analyst for the Florida House of Representatives Redistricting Committee and for two U.S. House members. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.