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GAO: Census Likely Hired Criminals

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 1:54 p.m. ET

Things are going relatively smoothly ahead of the 2010 Census, according to the latest review by government auditors and Census officials. But here are a few concerns expressed Wednesday at a Senate hearing on 2010 Census preparations:

Fingerprints? What Fingerprints?

The Census Bureau failed to fingerprint at least a fifth of the temporary workers that conducted address canvassing, according to the GAO. Those fingerprints were needed for FBI criminal background checks. The FBI advised the Census Bureau to conduct background checks based on an applicant's name if fingerprinting failed.

"It is possible that more than 200 people with unclassifiable prints had disqualifying criminal records but still worked, and had contact with the public during address canvassing," the GAO estimated. Not good.

Approximately 1,800 people, or 1 percent of the temporary workforce actually fingerprinted had criminal records, according to the GAO. Of those, 750 were fired, because they had serious records involving crimes such as rape, manslaughter, and child abuse.

Preparations Already Over-Budget

The Census Bureau also didn't perform a detailed cost estimate of temporary hires, resulting in cost increases totaling $41 million. The agency also hired too many people to check the nation's addresses, according to the Government Accountability Office. That resulted in at least $7 million in additional costs. The agency said it hired and trained extra staff out of concern that some hires might back out.

"The amount of work was larger than anticipated," Census Director Robert Groves told lawmakers. "You could say that should have been anticipated. The composition of the workload was different."

Still, the extra staff helped the Census Bureau complete address canvassing -- or an accounting of every mailing address nationwide -- ahead of schedule.

Brain Drain:

Groves once again cautioned (as he has before) that his agency's brain drain has made retention and recruitment efforts difficult.

"While we aggressively begin to recruit new talent, I will further engage outside statisticians during key phases of the census process," he said. His senior leadership team has less experience with decennial census operations than in year's past, so he will also continue to consult former census directors hired by the Commerce Department earlier on a part-time basis earlier this year.

Branch Offices:

The Census Bureau needs to open 344 more Local Census Offices by the end of this year. The locations will be used as staging areas for next year's temporary workers. The agency cautioned they could have any number of issues at various sites, including telephone issues, a landlord's bankruptcy, or challenges getting equipment to the site.

Hiring Next Year:

The Census Bureau needs to recruit more than 3 million applicants for more than 1 million temporary jobs next year. Those temporary hires will conduct follow up interviews with people that fail to complete their Census forms

"This is a massive challenge which can be affected by things outside our control, such as a change in the economy," Groves told lawmakers. "We also know there are some places in the country with high employment rates where we may have more difficulty in attracting enough applicants."

Oh Yeah, ACORN:

The Census Bureau's partnership with the controversial community group for the decennial census is over.

Asked how the Bureau monitors its more than 80,000 partnerships with other groups, corporations, churches, etc., Groves said the agency has more than 3,000 partnership specialists across the country that help determine how the agency needs to raise awareness with the help of local partners.

"Every partnership proposal is reviewed internally by our staff," Groves reminded lawmakers.

By Ed O'Keefe  | October 8, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Census, Congress  
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Next: FY-Eye: 'Much Good is Done by Government Workers'


Census coming to my door will get 2 pit bulls - I hope they can!

Posted by: Sparky15 | October 8, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

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