Senate Panel Tells Labor Agency to Settle Media Dispute

A U.S. Senate committee directed the Labor Department to settle a dispute with news organizations over proposed changes to the way journalists report economic data.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, in adopting a measure today to set the department’s budget for next year, told officials to “collaborate with the news media in developing a revised policy that responds to the reasonable concerns of both the department and the news media.”

The provision, adopted without debate, may increase pressure on the agency to revise or rescind a proposal to require journalists reporting monthly jobs statistics and other economic data to use government computers and other equipment. The administration said in April it would no longer let journalists use their own equipment when they are given early access to financial data to prepare stories.

The changes are needed to prevent market-sensitive information from leaking out early, the administration said. Officials said reporters sometimes used electronic equipment that violated security protocols. Bloomberg News and other media organizations have opposed the changes as an infringement on press freedom.

The two sides have been negotiating changes to the plan though no conclusion has been reached.

Representative Darrell Issa yesterday pressed the Labor Department to review its security procedures. He said a technology-consulting group that examined the way the agency releases data wasn’t allowed to examine all potential security shortcomings.

Sandia Laboratories

The government-run Sandia National Laboratories “was prevented from examining the full scope of the department’s handling of economically significant data,” Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a June 12 letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Issa’s letter to Solis demanded a copy of Sandia’s analysis by June 26. Stephen Barr, a Labor Department spokesman, said the agency is reviewing Issa’s request. Barr said Sandia was told to look at Labor Department procedures regarding print reporters because “that was the focus of concerns and complaints and the Sandia review was limited to the print media.”

The new policy would change a longstanding practice that allows news organizations to use their own computers, phone and data lines to file and transmit stories about unemployment figures, consumer prices and other data from so-called lock-ups at the Labor Department. The department said it wanted to implement the new policy by July 6.

Early Access

Agency officials told Issa’s committee on June 6 that the changes were based on Sandia’s recommendations. The administration said it wants to continue giving reporters early access to the data to ensure their stories are accurate. Some lawmakers questioned why journalists should see the figures before the public.

Requiring journalists to use government-provided software, hardware and dedicated lines would inhibit journalistic independence, Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, wrote May 8 in a letter to Solis. “As the government grows more concerned about cyber security, the proposed policy would create a single point of failure,” he wrote.

The news media initiative’s members include the American Society of News Editors, the Online News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. A representative of Bloomberg News testified at Issa’s hearing on the matter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Faler in Washington at bfaler@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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