Let me be the first to ask: Did the White House know that employment reports were being falsified?
Last week I reported exclusively that someone at the Census Bureau’s Philadelphia region had been screwing around with employment data. And that person, after he was caught in 2010, claimed he was told to do so by a supervisor two levels up the chain of command.
On top of that, a reliable source whom I haven’t identified said the falsification of employment data by Census was widespread and ongoing, especially around the time of the 2012 election.
There’s now a congressional investigation of how Census handles employment data. And we can hope that we’ll find out this was just an isolated incident.
But let me tell you why it might not be.
Back in 2009 — right before the 2010 census of the nation was taken — there was an announcement that the Obama administration had decided that the Census Bureau would report to senior White House aides.
The rumor was that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was in charge of the nationwide head count.
The chief of the Commerce Department usually oversees the Census, which determines how many congressional representatives and how much money each state gets for the next decade. But the Obama administration had decided — the story went — that Emanuel was a better guy for the job.
The idea that a political creature like Emanuel would be calling the shots on how states would be redistricted in coming elections sent Republicans into a tizzy.
“This is nothing more than a political land grab,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).
Other Republicans expressed similar dismay. And the tension got so high that Judd Gregg, a Republican senator from New Hampshire, even withdrew his nomination to be Commerce secretary. (Gary Locke assumed that post.)
And why wouldn’t the Republicans be bothered? Even though the average American might think the census is nothing more than a nuisance, by Washington’s two most important standards — votes and money — it’s anything but.
So here’s where my story picks up.
Back in 2010, I started getting reports that the Census Bureau had some very unusual hiring practices. Census takers and supervisors — at risk of heavy fines — were reporting to me that large numbers of people were being hired only to be fired shortly afterward. And then rehired.
I theorized at the time that Census was trying to make the job-creation totals look better nationwide in those bleak months leading up to the midterm congressional elections.
This employment policy seemed too coordinated. The regional higher-ups at Census couldn’t be doing this on their own; there had to be a grander plan.
I still don’t know what was going on.
But then I heard about the falsification in Philly. This time, however, it wasn’t the employment numbers that were being doodled with. This time it was the unemployment data, which are gathered at the Census Bureau and handed over raw to the Labor Department.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself on this, but Philadelphia is pretty close to Washington, DC. And the census taker who was caught cheating — a guy named Julius Buckmon — had been canvassing the DC area when he was filling out forms for people who didn’t exist.
And the Census Bureau had been inexplicably downsized in recent years from eight regions to only six, giving more control to whoever had seized control.
The supervisor who was fingered by Buckmon did admit that he told other survey takers to hand in half-filled-out interviews. And the White House always has pretty good influence at the Census Bureau, even if it didn’t get its wish for Emanuel.
Maybe it’s just my deeply ingrained distrust of authority — especially when it resides in Washington — or my hope that a good story will last, but I’m betting 60/40 that the White House had grand plans for Census. And some of those may have been carried out.
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John Crudele is a journalist and commentator with the New York Post.