Joint Report Finds Vulnerabilities in Census Data Collection

Published: Sep 18, 2014

Today, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), Joint Economic Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX), and House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service & Census Chairman Blake Farenthold (R-TX), released a joint staff report titled, “U.S. Census Bureau: Addressing Data Collection Vulnerabilities” in advance of today’s Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service & Census subcommittee hearing. The report found multiple vulnerabilities in the quality assurance process for the collection of unemployment data for the Current Population Survey (CPS) and recommended corrective actions. The Chairmen issued the following statements on the release of the report.

Chairman Issa: “The Census Bureau must act swiftly to implement improvements to address systemic flaws in data collection and quality control. In order to guarantee the integrity of survey data,the Bureau must ensure that it exercises best practices for preventing and identifying falsifications.”

Chairman Brady: “You can’t make good decisions without good data. Businesses, families and decision-makers throughout America depend on timely, accurate and relevant Census Bureau data when developing and reaching critical solutions. Integrity matters. I strongly urge the Census Bureau to implement the recommendations of this joint investigation to increase transparency and accountability within the data collection process.”

Chairman Farenthold:  “Americans need to be able to trust the data from the Census Bureau. Both the personnel and data processing issues must be resolved.”

Among the report’s findings:

         The Census Bureau’s lack of recordkeeping and deficient data collection system fostered an environment in which data falsification could occur.

         The suspected falsification procedures are inconsistent from region to region and from case to case. The system relies on paper-based forms, making it vulnerable to error and deliberate circumvention.

         Data quality assurance efforts are fundamentally flawed. Regional offices are responsible for both data collection and quality control, which often have conflicting objectives.

         Philadelphia Regional Office supervisors regularly emphasized the importance of obtaining survey response rates, with little to no mention of data integrity. Employees experienced significant pressure to achieve and improve their response rates by any means possible. Pressure to meet these requirements stemmed from both the Regional Office and Census National Headquarters.

         The current mechanisms for data quality control are insufficient and could serve to discourage individuals from identifying and reporting suspected falsification.

         The primary data quality assurance check—reinterview—remains in the original interviewer’s chain of command, effectively diminishing the objectivity of the process.

         There are no clear guidelines available to all Census employees for straightforward reporting of suspected falsification.

         There is no single master record of a case. The case-tracking systems make it difficult—sometimes impossible—to determine the full history and corresponding chain of custody of a particular case.

You can read the report released today here.