Census vows to fix fingerprinting process
Updated 6:24 p.m. ET
The Census Bureau, having just introduced fingerprinting of its employees for next year's Census, is now reviewing those procedures with the FBI, the agency's director said Wednesday.
A recent Government Accountability Office report estimated that the Census Bureau had hired more than 200 people with unclassifiable fingerprints and disqualifying criminal records. The employees were tasked with going street-by-street earlier this year to make sure that reported addresses do indeed exist.
In addition to the fingerprints, the Census Bureau had submitted each applicant's name and identification information for an FBI background check before hiring them, Census Director Robert Groves said.
"The safety of the U.S. public is of paramount interest to us. I’m committed to doing everything we can to achieve that," Groves told members of a House subcommittee reviewing 2010 Census operations.
Groves also noted, "As all of us age, our fingerprints get harder to read. The people who didn’t have read fingerprints tend to be older and tend to be female."
Republicans repeatedly questioned the Census chief on the GAO's findings, concerned that serious criminals possibly interacted with young children or senior citizens and obtained their personal information.
"I can't find anybody with a criminal record that I would feel comfortable giving that sensitive information to," Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said.
"I'm confident that the people employed by the Census Bureau have gone through this process and have been judged by not having a criminal history, under the process," Groves said.
The director also said he did not approve estimates cited in a recent USA Today report that predict 64 percent of American households would return their Census questionnaires next year, a 3 percent decline from 2000.
"I don’t know where that number came from. We’re estimating that number over and over again," Groves said.
A lower response rate would mean roughly 4 million more doors to knock on and at least $100 million in additional costs. Part of next year's anticipated declines are tied to the home foreclosure crisis, the displacement of Gulf Coast hurricane victims and fears that Census employees will ask about citizenship status (which by law they cannot).
Groves noted that response rates for every major public or private national survey continue to decline.
| October 21, 2009; 5:01 PM ET
Categories: Census, Congress
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