IG Report Finds Flawed Process for Census Unemployment Data Collection

Published: May 1, 2014

WASHINGTON – House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), U.S. Postal Service & The Census Chairman Blake Farenthold (R-TX), released the following statements on the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General’s report on the Census Bureau’s Philadelphia Regional Office collection of unemployment data for the Current Population Survey (CPS).  The report found that, “survey supervisors do not consistently use the tools available to them for detecting and preventing survey data falsification.”  In November 2013, Chairman Issa, Chairman Farenthold, and Joint Economic Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) sent a letter requesting information on data collection by the Census Bureau for the Current Population Survey (CPS) following allegations that some survey data had been falsified.

“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 Chairman Issa.  “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’s report confirms our concerns about the process the Census Bureau uses to collect unemployment data,” said Chairman Farenthold.  “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. Census data influences decisions made from Main Street to Wall Street, in Congress and with the Federal Reserve. As Chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Census Bureau, I can assure you that my subcommittee will continue investigating this issue and demanding answers from Census officials on its procedures for collecting survey data.”

Among the report’s recommendations to the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • Implement a formal policy that prohibits employees suspected of falsification from collecting survey data during the investigative process.

Under current Census Bureau policies, employees suspected of falsifying data are sometimes allowed to continue working during the falsification investigation.  A policy prohibiting suspected data falsifiers from collecting survey data will prevent them from submitting additional inaccurate survey results.

  • Update procedural manuals and training materials to reflect current Regional Office field structure and inform Field Representatives about survey data falsification and the consequences of committing falsification.

Materials used by the Census Bureau to conduct day-to-day survey operations and train new employees include references to obsolete Regional Office supervisory arrangements and positions.  Training materials for new employees do not discuss survey falsifications.  Educating new employees about survey data falsification and emphasizing the consequences of falsification may discourage Field Representatives from falsifying survey data.

  • Implement an independent quality assurance process for all survey participants.

The Census Bureau assesses supervisor performance, at least in part, by the work of a supervisor’s Field Representatives, and the quality assurance process (i.e. reinterview) assesses the quality of the Field Representative’s work.  Currently, the same Regional Office supervisor is responsible for both the interview process and the quality assurance process, creating a potential conflict of interest.  During the last Decennial Census, quality assurance employees and supervisors were independent from other operations, reducing the risk of conflicts of interest.

You can read the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General’s report here.