By Vicki Needham - 11/19/13 09:48 PM EST
Several House Republicans expressed grave concerns on Tuesday about the reliability of crucial employment data amid allegations that Labor Department employees fudged monthly figures.
Leaders on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee vowed Tuesday to thoroughly examine information in a media report that claimed jobless rate information was fabricated ahead of the last year's presidential election, that it has been occurring for years and is ongoing.
In a letter to John Thompson, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, the lawmakers wrote that the "allegations are shocking" and that it is possible that falsified data "may be a widespread problem."
The letter aims its ire at the Philadelphia regional office, where a employee reportedly was told a year ago to take a guess on unemployment rate data, which is conducted by a household survey.
The Philadelphia office is one of six that collects the data.
"The implications of an unreliable unemployment figure are serious and far-reaching," wrote House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, (Calif.), Subcommittee on the Census Chairman Blake Farenthold (Texas) and Joint Economic Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (Texas).
"The fact that senior Census Bureau officials may have urged subordinate employees to fabricate data heightens our concerns about these allegations," they wrote.
The New York Post reported on Monday evening that a Census Bureau employee had been found fabricating unemployment survey data, which is based on survey data of 60,000 households and helps determine the nation’s jobless rate.
One month before the election that found the unemployment rate dipped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, which some lawmakers and business leaders questioned.
Since then the jobless rate has fluctuated but has gradually dropped to 7.3 percent in October, yet it is still precipitously high.
A Census Bureau spokesperson said the agency takes any fraud allegations “very seriously” and that there was no evidence of a broad effort to skew the unemployment data.
“We have no reason to believe that there was a systematic manipulation of the data described in media reports,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The allegations have been forward to the agency's inspector general.
The news report said that census employee Julius Buckmon had fabricated data for survey respondents he could not contact. He told the newspaper that superiors told him to do it.
Reportedly the problem goes back three years to 2010.
But while Buckmon says there was pressure to produce the required number of responses he was not told what to report such as whether non-respondents were employed, unemployed, or looking for work.
So, it was unclear whether his answers helped to lower the jobless rate.
The House committee leaders asked for three years — Jan. 2010 to Jan. 2013 — of documents pertaining to the jobless rate by Dec. 3, which should include all of Buckmon's emails and his supervisors names.
The labor market's slow recovery since the economic downturn remains a major point of contention between Democrats and Republicans.
But the jobless rate hasn't exactly been favorable for the White House — in 2010 it hit a high of 9.9. percent in April before dropping to 9.4 in June.
The rate popped back up to 9.8 percent in November from 9.5 percent in October. Then it made a bigger drop to 9.3 in December of 2010.
Since then it has gradually dropped but mostly because the labor participation rate has dropped to a 35-year low.