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Lawmaker seeks clarity on Census criminal hires

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 4:55 p.m. ET

A Republican critic of the Census Bureau wants the agency to further clarify its policy on hiring minor criminals as it prepares to hire roughly 1 million temporary workers for next year's decennial census.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Friday that he plans to introduce legislation next week that would prohibit the Census Bureau from hiring anyone with any criminal record -- unless the agency agrees to draw up specific hiring guidelines that clarify when it would hire former minor criminals.

Jason Chaffetz
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah)

Census Director Robert Groves clarified the agency's hiring and background check processes in a letter to Chaffetz earlier this week, but did not provide enough detail about how the agency ensures it is not hiring criminals, Chaffetz said.

In the letter, Groves said that the FBI conducts background and fingerprint checks of Census job applicants. The agency will also use the E-Verify system to confirm an applicant's Social Security number. All applicants must also disclose any criminal record.

In separate interviews with Census and FBI personnel, Chaffetz said his staff learned that the agency disqualifies job applicants that committed major crimes (murder, rape crime, armed robbery, identity theft, voter fraud, child molestation, pornography possession or registered sex offenders). But the agency does not disqualify applicants that committed minor crimes, including certain property crimes, minimal marijuana possession, prostitution or "peeping tom" crimes.

"I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that," Chaffetz said.

"Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think we want prostitutes going to Grandma’s door to ask her personal information," he said.

Equally troubling for Chaffetz, the FBI informed him that 44 percent of the fingerprints submitted by the Census Bureau are unreadable.

But Chaffetz misunderstood the information provided to him by FBI. It appears his office added up percentages for the two sets of fingerprints that the Census Bureau sends to the FBI for processing. Two sets are sent in case one is unreadable.

“The Census Bureau is committed to protecting public safety and the integrity of the 2010 Census," spokeswoman Shelly Lowe said in an e-mail.

"Like any private business or organization, we continually evaluate the quality of our work and make improvements. We’re looking forward to continuing our work with Congress to ensure the public has complete confidence that we’ve done everything possible to ensure their safety," Lowe said.

"If you want to gain the confidence of the American people, then certify that you’re not hiring criminals to come to Grandma’s door," said Chaffetz, a Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the panel's subcommittee that oversees the Census Bureau.

The committee's chairman, Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), noted that the agency is conducing rigorous fingerprint checks for the first time in its history.

“I applaud the Census Director’s efforts to tighten the screening of future job applicants, and I look forward to working with Rep. Chaffetz to protect the integrity of the 2010 census while ensuring that the federal government does not inappropriately restrict qualified individuals from working with the census bureau to complete a full and accurate count," Towns said in a statement.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) ripped Chaffetz's statements, noting it was the Bush administration that ordered the stricter fingerprinting policy.

"Mr. Chaffetz seems to prefer to scare people rather than encourage the participation that all Americans need to ensure an accurate count and fair distribution of federal resources in a census that will have the highest safety precautions ever," Maloney said.

Lawmakers first learned of problems with the Census Bureau hiring criminals from an October GAO report that estimated the agency failed to fingerprint at least a fifth of the temporary workers hired earlier this year. GAO estimated the agency hired more than 200 people with unclassifiable prints and disqualifying criminal records.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 11, 2009; 12:31 PM ET
Categories:  Census, Congress  
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Comments

Um, they did their time and deserve a chance to get a paying job. If they are rehabbed, then who cares what they did previously.
And if Grandma did get a prostitute at her door, then how would Grandma know? And if Grandma DID know then mine would probably congratulate her on turning her life around.
Mr. Chaffetz needs to read a little more of the bible and the teachings of Jesus...

Posted by: Krazijoe | December 11, 2009 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure Sen. Vitter wouldn't mind a prostitute showing up at his door.

Posted by: EricS2 | December 11, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

In 2000, the Census Bureau hired 10,000+ temporary workers to fulfill their Constitutional duty of the decennial population census. Of those, Chaffetz claimed that 750 had criminal histories. Yet he can cite not one single case of those workers committing any crimes while on duty.

Does Chaffetz know how many people with criminal records are working at the pizza shop where he orders from? How does he expect Census to hire upstanding citizens to quickly fill 10,000 low wage temp jobs?

I'll bet in 2011, he will then complain about the millions that Census spent to get background checks and drug tests on these workers, and how slow the Census process was because of an eligible worker shortage in a Recession.

Posted by: AxelDC | December 11, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Maybe I'm just a cynic, but I'd rather not have "peeping Toms" or prostitutes showing up at isolated houses of senior citizens.

If the Census is going to hire people, can't they hire people who do not have a criminal history that may be indicative of a risk to the safety of children and the elderly?

Grandma gets raped and robbed, and what sanction and relief is there against the Census? NONE.

Posted by: cibor | December 11, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Please make sure they don't hire criminals. I don't want any ex-cons coming to my house. I will not give them any information. Sorry, but once you commit a crime, the types of jobs you should be allowed to do are limited. They do not include going door to door on behalf of the government.

Posted by: columbiaheights | December 11, 2009 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I was astounded to read that "peeping toms" were allowed to survey their own neighborhoods.

Legally. Officially.

Surely the Census Bureau can find enough applicants without including social deviants.

Hopefully, ACORN and its affiliates will be excluded from the process.

Posted by: spamsux1 | December 11, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Fill out the questionnaire, mail it back, and no one will need to ask you the questions at your doorstep. It's pretty simple.

Posted by: leewifflestin | December 11, 2009 8:05 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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