Census Bureau adopts strict jobs screening after incidents

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Census Bureau is adopting stricter rules for screening new hires after a registered sex offender using an alias got a job as a census taker in New Jersey, the bureau's director said Wednesday.

Robert M. Groves said that applicants whose name, age, gender and Social Security number do not match background records will be held up for more inquiries instead of being sent for FBI fingerprint checks. Applicants whose fingerprints are not legible, as sometimes happens with older people whose fingerprint ridges have worn down, will not be hired until their identities and backgrounds can be confirmed.

And when there is "evidence of criminality" by a census worker, Groves promised swifter intervention to ensure that they no longer have contact with the public.

"People should know that the person coming to your door won't harm you," said Groves, speaking at a Fairfax event that urged Asian Americans to cooperate with census takers.

A woman in Pennsauken, N.J., who was home alone with her toddler son, said she was visited this month by a census worker who asked for the names and birth dates of everyone in the family. Thinking that he looked familiar, the woman checked a sex-offender registry site after he left and recognized his photograph under a different name than the one he had given her.

Census officials said the man had passed a name check but failed a fingerprint check and was fired this month, apparently after he had been to the woman's home. The man was charged with using a fake Social Security number on his census application.

In Indiana, a census worker was charged this month with raping and burglarizing a disabled woman when he allegedly returned to the house after making a visit as a census taker.

Groves said he is concerned about the safety of the public and of census takers. In a Wednesday letter responding to a congressional inquiry, Groves said that so far census takers have been the victims of 113 assaults or attacks, including incidents with guns. At least three cases of workers being held against their will or carjacked were reported.

The Census Bureau has hired about 635,000 census takers to knock on the doors of people who did not return their census forms by late April. About 56 percent of the 48 million tardy households have been reached, Groves said, although only 39 percent have had their answers recorded. That is below the 43 percent target for this point in time, a date set by the agency based on 2000 Census results.

The census has been beleaguered by software glitches in the agency's computer system, which was built to scan and manage collected data. Some local Census offices have experienced interruptions ranging from hours to days, causing delays that contributed to $1.6 million in clerical overtime in the first quarter alone.

"The fieldwork is proceeding as designed and expected," Groves said Wednesday. "The software remains a concern."

Groves spoke after appearing at an event outside the Super H Mart, an Asian supermarket in Fairfax where the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund was urging cooperation with census takers.

Although Asian Americans' participation in the census is generally high, some areas fall short. A legal defense fund analysis of Virginia census tracts with large concentrations of Asian Americans found that residents in parts of Annandale, Bailey's Crossroads, Centreville, Fairfax, Falls Church and Seven Corners failed to match or surpass response rates for the 2000 Census.

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