There is no sign U.S. jobs statistics have been compromised by broad-based employee fabrication of data, according to the Census Bureau.
“We have no reason to believe that there was a systematic manipulation of the data described in media reports,” the agency said today in a statement.
An article in the New York Post alleged employment figures heading into the 2012 presidential election were manipulated. Under pressure from supervisors to boost response rates in the Philadelphia region, Julius Buckmon, a former Census Bureau employee, said he made up information for people he couldn’t reach two years before the 2012 election, according to the Post.
The newspaper, citing an unnamed source, then said the practice went beyond a single employee, escalated in the year of the election and continues to this day. Attempts by Bloomberg to locate Buckmon were unsuccessful.
“The Census Bureau takes allegations of fraud by its employees very seriously,” according to the statement. “Fabrication of data by an employee is grounds for disciplinary action, including dismissal and possible criminal action.” The agency said it has reported the allegations to the Office of the Inspector General.
“We learned about the information today, and we’re reviewing the information contained in that article,” said Luiz Santos, the acting director of the division of congressional liaison and communications in the Department of Labor’s inspector general’s office. Santos said he could neither confirm nor deny whether the IG’s office had opened an investigation.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Census Bureau, announced it will open an inquiry into the matter.
“The allegation that data gathered by the Census Bureau is being manipulated for any reason is extremely serious,” Blake Farenthold, a Republican from Texas who chairs the panel that directly overlooks the Census Bureau, said in an e-mailed statement.
The story is “obviously misleading,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said today in response to questions from the press. He said he has “absolutely not” heard that there’s anything to the report.
The Census Bureau is the government agency that contacts households to get data used to calculate the monthly unemployment rate. It shares those figures with the Labor Department, which issues the employment report. The Census Bureau is part of the Department of Commerce.
“It’s a bit of a scary story, but I think the impact is limited” if one person were manipulating the data, said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Group in New York. Further, “if you have more people manipulating the data, how likely is it that they’re all Democrats if you do it across the country? Some probably have an incentive to lift the number.”
The jobless rate unexpectedly dropped to 7.8 percent in September 2012 from 8.1 percent the month earlier, the Labor Department reported on Oct. 5 of that year, one month before the presidential election. The median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg at the time projected an increase to 8.2 percent.
The report at the time also showed employment in the household survey conducted by the Census Bureau jumped by 873,000 in October, the biggest gain since June 1983, excluding the annual Census population adjustments.
Jack Welch, the former chief executive officer of General Electric Co. who charged in October 2012 that the unemployment report had been manipulated to help President Barack Obama’s re-election effort, declined through his assistant to comment on the latest allegations. Welch turns 78 years old today.
Welch’s wife Suzy Welch, in a Twitter message this morning, wished her husband a happy birthday and cited the New York Post story.
Messages seeking comment from Commerce Department Secretary Penny Pritzker or her aides have not been answered.