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Census Bureau warns employees against speaking with the media


Ed Haas

Census Bureau warns employees against speaking with the media

 

August 21, 2007 – As a result of a news tip provided to us through our Whistleblower web page last month, the Muckraker Report has been investigating a story involving potential theft, corruption, cover-up, and kickback schemes within the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Census Bureau.  Although our investigation is ongoing, it is apparent that there is more to this story than the 1,137 lost, stolen or missing laptops from the U.S. Census Bureau as reported by the Department of Commerce on September 21, 2006. 

 

On Friday, September 22, 2006, the day after the Department of Commerce issued its press release, the story of the missing laptops splashed across the United States.  Headlines such as Census Bureau Loses Hundreds of Laptops - The New York Times, 1,100 Laptops Missing From Commerce Dept. - The Washington Post, Commerce Dept: More than 1,100 laptops missing since 2001 – USA Today, Commerce reports losing 1,137 laptops – The Washington Times, Commerce Department Has Lost 1,137 Laptops Since 2001 – The Wall Street Journal, reached into nearly every newsroom nationwide.

 

What prompted the Department of Commerce to issue its September 21, 2006 press release?  WTOP News Investigative Reporter Mark Segraves submitted a Freedom of Information Act to the Department of Commerce and obtained documents that revealed the missing, misappropriated or stolen laptops.  The September 21st press release hints of damage control with the intent to deceive. 

 

The Muckraker Report recently obtained a copy of an internal e-mail from sources inside the U.S. Census Bureau that substantiates the fact that it was the Segraves FOIA request that compelled the government to come forward and admit that 1,137 laptops were lost, stolen, or missing.  What is even more troubling though is the fact that the leadership within the Department of Commerce sought to control the magnitude and impact of the story by prohibiting department employees from speaking to the media.  This e-mail suggests an exaggerated effort to conceal information from the public. 

 

On August 17, 2006, Assistant to the Associate Director for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, Thomas J. Meerholz, sent an e-mail to all staff within the Bureau.  The subject line read, FOIA Request regarding Census laptops.

 

The body of the e-mail reads exactly:

 

Census received a FOIA request regarding the number of missing of stolen Census laptops between 2001 and 2006 and the data residing on those laptops.

 

If anyone from the media contacts you regarding ANY aspect of the request or the general subject you are to refer them to the Public Information Office (PIO) at x33030 and are not to answer their questions of have discussions with them. 

 

Thank you.

 

Tom

 

A scanned copy of the e-mail is found here.

 

Sources inside the U.S. Census Bureau told the Muckraker Report that they took this e-mail as a mild threat.  Clearly, the leadership in the Bureau and the Department of Commerce desired to get in front of the story and provide enough information to satisfy the corporate media while hiding from the public, the rest of the story. 

 

According to our sources inside the U.S. Census Bureau, there is much more to investigate and report. 

 

Our sources indicate the following issues that should be aggressively investigated.

 

        Truckloads of missing equipment to include;

o       Laptops

o       Plasma televisions

o       Desktop computers

        Documents being altered or destroyed to conceal the volume of missing or stolen assets

o       Designating missing or stolen equipment as surplus with no record

        Hundreds of personal computers designated for the metropolitan area public school system – missing

        The Lockheed Martin contract that has increased the unreported, yet real cost of the decennial U.S. Census tenfold and climbing

o       Alleged kickbacks associated with contract

o       Purposeful alteration of proven Census methodology to justify the need to bring in a outside contractor

o       Creation of unnecessary data gathering methodology by Lockheed Martin in which the Bureau did not have the expertise in-house to justify initial contract of a $500 million.  Final costs for 2010 U.S. Census are expected to easily surpass $1 billion. 

 

An interesting side note to this story is that our sources within the U.S. Census Bureau attempted to illuminate the point that this particular Lockheed Martin contract was not in the best interest of the American people.  They told the Muckraker Report that a number of years ago they contacted the Washington Times regarding the Lockheed Martin contract and its suspicious manifestation. They point out that the U.S. Census Bureau had been conducted decennial censuses with great success for hundreds of years without a government / private sector merger.  Why start now?

 

The Washington Times reporter told our sources that his paper could never do such a story because “It goes straight to the White House and the newspaper would lose its White House contacts if they ever ran such a story.”

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