Barringer, Felicity. "At U.S. ‘Fact Factory,' Hurdles to Census Data," New York Times, 23 May

 

Barringer, Felicity. "At U.S. ‘Fact Factory,' Hurdles to Census Data," New York Times, 23 May
1992, p. 6.

There have been complaints of late made by Census Bureau employees that the Bush
Administration, in this election year, is impeding access to economic statistics. The census data
of 1990 was released quickly but the research on the country's economic stability has been
slowly doled out. Then, too, some powerful data have been released without accompanying news
releases while some positive data have been released with interpretations appended which turn
them into rosy forecasts.

While any administration is sensitive to economic data, the Bush people seem more directly
concerned. Many in the Bureau are reluctant to speak out publicly for fear of retribution and
many sources quoted in this piece as cited anonymously. For example, one anonymous source
said: "It's a major behavioral change going on. This place has always been wide open. A lot of
people see a drive to alter that."

Two cases highlight the concern: Beth DaPonte gave a public interest group estimates of deaths
in the Persian Gulf war. Her boss tried to fire her. In another, Jack McNeil gave interviews about
his finds on the "widening gap between the incomes of the richest and poorest Americans. When
news reports appeared, an associate undersecretary at the Commerce Department, the bureau's
parent agency, complained to the bureau's public information director."

"A Commerce Department official also speaking on the condition that he not be identified, said it
was appropriate for researchers to comment on the factual content of reports. But he added: ‘The
question is, if you decide to work for the Government, do you still have the academic freedom to
say anything you damn well please? I think it's pretty clear that if you work for the Government
and the Census Bureau, that you don't state opinions where it isn't appropriate for you to reach
opinions.'"

"In no case did anyone say that the Administration had tried to change data. The concerns
involved the way statistics were presented and whether reporters were denied access to experts,
important issues at an institution that employees call the ‘fact factory.'"

"One recent report, highlighting the growth in the number of low-paying jobs, was eventually
released months behind schedule with no accompanying new release. ‘That was my news
judgment said Ms. (Karen) Wheeless (Census Bureau) said, adding that she did not believe that
the report had added to information in earlier reports.'

"A second report, on the creation of new jobs, was accompanied by a news release that
highlighted the number of people entering jobs in the ‘high-paying' industries but that did not
note that about half of the workers were paid less than $200 a week."