May 31 (Bloomberg) -- A congressional panel plans to question U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis about her department’s decision to require news organizations to use government computers to file stories about employment data.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Republican Representative Darrell Issa of California, said in a statement yesterday that the April 20 order on media coverage of employment statistics will be examined at a June 6 hearing on the influence of Labor Department political appointees over the collection and release of data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Solis was invited to attend the hearing along with the bureau’s acting head.
The policy, set to take effect July 1, changes a longstanding practice that lets news organizations, including Bloomberg News, use their own computer systems to file and transmit stories about unemployment data and consumer prices from so-called lock-ups at the Labor Department.
Reporters and editors are given the data on an embargoed basis in advance to give them time to write and edit stories from the lock-up room at the department. When the data are released, a Labor Department official flips a switch to let news organizations transmit over telephone and data lines using their own equipment.
The Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of news organizations that includes the National Newspaper Association and the American Society of News Editors, protested the new policy in a May 8 letter to Solis.
“Requiring news organizations to draft news articles on government-owned and government-operated computers would give the government unfettered access to unpublished draft news stories and will necessarily inhibit journalists from producing thorough, timely and accurate reporting based on market-moving information,” the group said in the letter.
The Labor Department has said the changes would protect the security of market-moving data before it is released to the public. At the time the policy was announced, Labor Department spokesman Carl A. Fillichio cited “violations of the embargo and the use of equipment in the lockups” as a rationale for the changes.
The agency has ordered media organizations to remove computer software, hardware and communications lines they have installed at the department. Under the new procedures, reporters will be required to use government computer equipment, software and Internet connections.
News Organization Opposition
Bloomberg News and other media organizations that have opposed the changes are in talks with the Labor Department about lock-up procedures.
Issa has led his committee in frequent probes of President Barack Obama’s administration, such as reviews of Energy Department loan-guarantee programs and spending at a 2010 General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas.
Earlier this month, Maine Senator Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked the Labor Department to investigate what she termed unusual trading activity before the agency released its report on employment in April.
“The sudden and negative movement in the currency and futures markets suggests the possibility that some traders may have gained unauthorized access to April’s disappointing report prior to its official release,” Collins said in a letter to Solis.
The Labor Department’s May 4 report showed that employers in the U.S. added 115,000 workers to payrolls, the fewest in six months and fewer than forecast by economists.
Treasury 10-year note futures contracts rose as high as 132 20/32 one minute before the payroll data was released at 8:30 a.m., after trading in a range of 132 2/32 to 132 5/32. After the data came out, futures continued to rise, climbing as high as 132 22/32 before settling at 132 20/32.
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