The U.S. Commerce Department’s Office of the Inspector General released a report on Thursday finding no evidence to support allegations the monthly employment data was manipulated in the months leading up to the 2012 election.
The allegations first came to light last November, after the New York Post published a story purporting that Census Bureau employees conducting the household survey (the one that determines the unemployment rate) were pressured by higher-ups to fudge surveys to fill in data gaps when they could not get adequate response rates.
The Post story alleged it was ramped up during President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, when the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8% in September from 8.1% in August. At the time, the September report had former GE CEO Jack Welch and others alleging a conspiracy.
But the independent probe, which was launched in the wake of the New York Post’s story, found no evidence to support those allegations. The Office of Inspector General said in its report that it “exhaustively investigated these allegations and found them to be unsubstantiated.”
“However, during our review, we identified several areas where the Census Bureau could implement policies and improve processes to better prevent survey data falsification,” the office said in its report.
The report said it is theoretically possible, though highly unlikely, that Census Bureau employees could conspire to reduce the unemployment rate by 0.3 percentage points in a single month.
On average, according to the report, a single field representative surveys about 30 respondents each month to determine their employment status. Since the unemployment rate at the time was 8.1%, roughly 2.4 out of those 30 were unemployed.
That means, to change the unemployment rate by just 0.1%, a group of field representatives would need to change 63 people from unemployed to employed. It would take 27 field representatives changing all of their unemployed to employed to accomplish this, meaning the 27 field representatives would have a perfect rate of employed.
The Inspector General’s office determined it would take a more widespread effort to complete the 0.3% manipulation in a single month. According to the report, about 78 field representatives would have had to participate in the scheme.
The report did find evidence of some falsification from the Philadelphia office, but it was “not atypical.” Of the approximately 1,200 field representative working out of the Philadelphia region, a Census Bureau process determined that 14 falsified data. This would not be enough, however, to substantially affect survey.
“To further reduce the risk for survey data falsification, supervisors should scrutinize workloads and staffing levels to avoid assigning atypically large workloads to field representatives,” the Inspector General’s office concluded in its report.
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