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Probe Finds 'No Evidence' Unemployment Numbers Were Cooked in Lead-Up to 2012 Election

"Would have taken 78 Census Bureau field representatives working together, in a coordinated way..."

HEMPSTEAD, NY - OCTOBER 16: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) debates Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) during a town hall style debate with at Hofstra University October 16, 2012 in Hempstead, New York. During the second of three presidential debates, the candidates fielded questions from audience members on a wide variety of issues. Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images

The Commerce Department's inspector general found “no evidence” that unemployment data was falsified leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

President Barack Obama debates Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at Hofstra University, October 16, 2012 in Hempstead, N.Y. (Getty Images/Rick Wilking)

The New York Post first reported in November 2013 that U.S. Census Bureau staff had tinkered with unemployment data for political reasons. The jobless numbers dropped to 7.8 percent in September 2012, from 8.1 percent the previous month.

The slow economic recovery was a major issue in the 2012 campaign between President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, and the improved employment numbers provided a boost for Obama in the final stretch before Election Day. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch publicly voiced his belief that the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures might have been cooked.

But the Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General found no wrongdoing.

The department's internal watchdog “thoroughly investigated these allegations, and found no evidence that management in the Philadelphia Regional Office instructed staff to falsify data at any time for any reason. Further, we found no evidence of systemic data falsification in the Philadelphia Regional Office,” the report said.

According to the report, on Oct. 30, 2013, a Census Bureau employee first told the inspector general that the Census Bureau’s Philadelphia Regional Office falsified data on the American Housing Survey and the Current Population Survey.

On Nov. 18, 2013, the New York Post reported that the Philadelphia Regional Office “faked” the national unemployment survey leading up to the 2012 presidential election in order to artificially decrease the unemployment rate. The Census Bureau falls under the Commerce Department.

Along with the Commerce Department inspector general, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee initiated an investigation based on these allegations.

“Addressing allegations raised in the media, we found no evidence that the national unemployment rate was manipulated by staff in the Philadelphia Regional Office in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election,” the inspector general report continued.

The report went on to explain it would have taken a herculean effort to falsify the final unemployment figures.

“To accomplish this, our analysis concluded that it would have taken 78 Census Bureau field representatives working together, in a coordinated way, to report each and every unemployed person included in their sample as 'employed' or 'not in labor force' during September 2012, an effort which likely would have been detected by the Census Bureau’s quality assurance procedures.”

The report further said that the government's number reflect that of Moody's Analytics and Automated Data Processing on employment.

The inspector general went on to say that the Census Bureau should take more stringent measures to prevent even the perception of fraud.

“Our investigation also found that Census Bureau employees suspected of falsifying data are sometimes allowed to continue working while their surveys are being examined, in part due to advice from the Department’s Office of General Counsel,” the report said. “To avoid repeated falsification, we recommend that the Census Bureau implement a policy that prohibits employees suspected of falsification from collecting survey data while concerns about potential falsification are being examined.”

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