She has been my inside source at the Census Bureau. Butler is the whistleblower who approached me more than three years ago about wrongdoing that was occurring on government surveys, including the one that forms the basis for the monthly unemployment report.
Butler says she came to me after the Census Bureau wouldn’t do anything to stop data falsification. She chose me because I’d already written about odd stuff going during the 2010 decennial census.
Together, Butler and I have gotten the House Oversight Committee to recommend a lot of changes and reforms in Census Bureau procedures. And we think we’ve made it harder for people at the bureau to cheat. And, I have to modestly say, we’ve probably made economic, crime and health surveys more reliable.
At the very least, we know that some of the people responsible won’t be doing any more cheating since several Census Bureau higher-ups decided that early retirement was in their best interest once we started to investigate.
As part of our agreement, I kept Butler’s identity secret — although others weren’t as careful.
She was instrumental in a congressional investigation, but staffers disclosed her name in a report about Julius Buckmon, a person who reported to Butler and who she caught falsifying data on enough surveys to affect the national jobless rate.
Congress said her name was revealed to shield her from reprisals — but if that was the plan, it didn’t work.
Even though the head of Census assured Congress that Butler would be protected, she was punished. “They basically said, ‘Why don’t you quit? We are just going to find a way to fire you anyway. But we know you’ll probably sue us,’ ” Butler said.
But rather than fire her, Census decided on more- clever actions. It tried to reassign the Washington, DC-area resident to inconvenient places — once to Ohio to do surveys on a Native American reservation.
There were also hang-up phone calls, she says, and warnings from bosses. Democrats even tried to strong-arm her as she waited to talk with a congressional committee.
And lawyers for the Commerce Department, which oversees Census, pulled her out into the hallway right before the hearing and tried to coach her about what to say.
“Basically, they tried to intimidate me,” she said.
Butler is still technically employed by Census but she hasn’t worked or been paid by the bureau in more than two years. She’s currently negotiating a settlement for her whistleblower complaint.
I just wish whatever settlement there is would come out of the pockets of the culprits rather than taxpayers.
Data falsification is no small matter. This past presidential election turned on how people felt about the economy versus what we were being told was happening by Census data-gatherers. And policies are made in Congress, at the Federal Reserve and in corporate boardrooms based on what leaders are being led to believe.
Despite my urging, Butler said she was reluctant to have her name published while former President Obama was still in office because she didn’t trust his Census Bureau director.
Butler has worked at the Census Bureau since 1998. She says cheating has always occurred but it “was the most blatant under Obama. It was more subtle before that.”
I already wrote about Census Bureau laptops loaded with data that went missing before the 2012 presidential election. The bureau never explained that or looked into it.
The importance of the Census Bureau shouldn’t surprise anyone. When Obama took office in 2009, one of his first moves was to try and get the bureau to report to him and not Congress. He failed.
But at the time, with the big 2020 census coming up that would determine how much representation states would have in the House and how much tax money they get from Washington, the logic of that power play was clear.
Let’s look at the one case that set Butler off — the cheating done by Buckmon, who is now deceased.
Buckmon would complete more than 100 cases in 10 days — more than three times his peers.
It turns out that Buckmon wasn’t actually surveying people. He was making up data and collecting overtime to account for the time it would have taken to get those interviews.
And this one man alone was cheating on such a large scale that it could affect the national jobless numbers since the bureau’s Current Population Survey is scientifically weighted and each response counts as 5,000 households.
So Buckmon’s 100 cases equaled 500,000 households — and he wasn’t the only one caught faking data, Butler said.
I asked Butler if she regretted turning in her superiors.
“Yes and no,” she said. “I’m kind of bothered by the fact that I couldn’t trust the Obama administration. Laws to protect whistleblowers weren’t being enforced. I didn’t even feel safe.”
And some of the main culprits still work at the Census Bureau. One has even been promoted and oversees more people and more surveys.
This is one swamp that President Trump, who has questioned US economic data, needs to wade into.
And I’m going to do my best to make sure he does.