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Changes to Department of Labor Media Lockup

May 19, 2020

Dear Bureau Chiefs,

On March 4, 2020, I stated that the Department of Labor (Department or DOL) would give you, and the public at large, at least 14 calendar days’ notice before implementing any policy changes related to pre-release media lock-ups. This notification was sent directly to you and posted on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website to inform the public.

On March 20, 2020, I announced that, out of an abundance of caution and to protect the health and well-being of both Department staff and reporters due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department would suspend all pre-release media lock-ups until further notice. I further stated that this notification did not announce a permanent procedure or policy change regarding the use of media lock-ups. This notification was also sent directly to you and posted on the BLS website to inform the public.

Today I write to inform you that, effective June 3, 2020, the Department will permanently discontinue media lock-ups for all releases regardless of whether the current restrictions in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic remain necessary as of that date. BLS and DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) will continue to make their data available to the general public immediately upon their 8:30AM Eastern Time release through the Web and other sources.

Discontinuation of the lock-up best ensures the equitable and timely dissemination of statistical information consistent with the Office of Management and Budget guidance. Continuing security, resource, and equity concerns – as discussed below – also outweigh any benefits of the press lockup process.

DOL’s Inspector General has noted concerns with the press lock-up process, including in reports dated January 2, 2014 (17-14-001-03-315) and March 25, 2016 (17-16-001-01-001) and in every subsequent Semi-Annual OIG Report to Congress. DOL Inspector General Report 17-14-001-03-315 states that the lock-up “unintentionally creates an unfair competitive advantage for certain news organizations and their clients.” Specifically:

Pre-release access of DOL-generated economic data is intended to serve the general public by ensuring that news reports about the data are accurate. To that end, the media are given access to the data in advance of the public release to facilitate their ability to analyze and ask questions about the data as they prepare their news stories. However, the intended purpose of ensuring accurate news reports must be weighed against the inequitable trading advantage that a lock-up can potentially create. Several news organizations that participate in the DOL press lock-up are able to profit from their presence in the lock-up by selling, to traders, high speed data feeds of economic data formatted for computerized algorithmic trading. Because these news organizations have pre-release access, they are able to pre-load the data … allowing their clients to get this information faster than the general public, which has to wait to download the data after it gets posted to the Department of Labor websites.

The aforementioned report further recommends that BLS and ETA “… implement a strategy designed to eliminate any competitive advantage that news organizations present in the lock-up and/or their clients may have; or, absent a viable solution, consider discontinuing the use of the press lock-up that provides news organizations pre-release access.”

My previously-announced policy change to suspend the use of electronic devices in the lock-up room (see 85 Fed. Reg. 7333) was designed to retain the media’s ability to publish accurate and informed stories shortly after the embargo was lifted. During the suspension of the media lock-up room for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, the media demonstrated their ability to produce informed and accurate articles within minutes of the electronic release to the BLS website despite not having early access to the data at all.

Furthermore, DOL invests significant personnel and financial resources to administer and staff the lock-up facility, ensure that data products are created and transported to the lock-up facility, and secure the lock-up facility. Discontinuing lock-ups, as opposed to merely eliminating use of electronic devices, will enable DOL to cease these expenditures while also eliminating entirely any possibility of a breach from the lock-up room. As explained in more detail below, the recent COVID-19 experience demonstrates that DOL can eliminate the overhead and risk of lock-up rooms altogether without degrading the quality or timeliness of media coverage.

Since January 16, 2020, the Department and I have been engaged with those of you who have reached out to us regarding media lock-up changes and how the Department could address the OIG report. We have exchanged correspondence and met in person to answer your questions and listen to your points of view. We also invited identification of options that would allow the lock-up to continue, while eliminating the unfair advantage and data security concerns resulting from early access to the embargoed data. This process has not resulted in identification of a solution that retains lock-ups while also providing equitable and timely access for all interested users and ensuring data security.

Given the success of recent direct DOL issuances through our websites (and other means), we have concluded that the Internet permits the public and interested users to independently obtain releases, and it is no longer necessary to employ an indirect release method to credentialed news media using an embargo and lock-up facility process.

In the time since the OIG recommendations were issued, BLS and ETA have devoted significant resources to introducing improved technologies to ensure data are posted and accessible on their websites immediately following the official release time. When the COVID-19 pandemic required the closure of the media lock-up in March of 2020, these improved technologies allowed BLS and ETA to disseminate the data immediately and widely to the public without incident and without providing early access to lock-up participants. Specifically, the March and April Employment Situation reports, released on April 3 and May 8, 2020 respectively without a media lock-up, demonstrate that the BLS website can serve all interested users in the seconds after release time with little or no degradation in response time and a negligible error rate. The same holds true for the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Reports issued since March 20, 2020. Stories in the press covering the March and April data were available to the public only slightly later – and, in at least one case, actually earlier – than they were on March 6, 2020, when a lock-up was held for the February 2020 data.

To address the security, resource, and equity concerns raised above, DOL will discontinue the use of the lock-up facility, effective June 3, 2020. This will allow all parties, including the media, commercial entities, and the public, simultaneous and timely access to our most important statistical data.

I appreciate your continued interest in the release of economic data. Should you have any questions, please contact Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michael Trupo at (202) 693-4676.

Sincerely,

WILLIAM W. BEACH

Commissioner


March 4 Announcement about Changes to Department of Labor Media Lockup

Dear Bureau Chiefs,

In my letter dated February 25, 2020, I announced that changes to the Department of Labor (DOL) press lock-up would be implemented no sooner than March 9, 2020. Over the past week, BLS and the DOL have engaged in highly informative and useful conversations with stakeholders. We continue to be committed to the secure, equitable, orderly, and timely dissemination of statistical data, as well as to addressing the Office of Inspector General’s findings and recommendations.

We have decided that the DOL, the press, and the public at large will be best served by delaying any changes to the lock-up policy beyond March 9, 2020. During this time, we will continue to hear from stakeholders while the DOL continues to work on the changes to the lock-up that enable us to best meet our goals of providing the public with equitable and timely access to data while ensuring the highest levels of security. Therefore, I am letting you know that we will not implement our new lock-up policy on March 9. We will give you, and the public at large, at least 14 calendar days’ notice before we implement any lock-up policy changes.

Sincerely, 

WILLIAM W. BEACH

Commissioner

February 25 Announcement about Changes to Department of Labor Media Lockup

Dear Bureau Chiefs,

Since announcing on January 16, 2020 the upcoming changes to the Department of Labor’s lock-up policies for release of BLS and other statistical data, BLS and other U.S. Department of Labor agencies have been planning and testing for this change. We have also communicated with a wide range of stakeholders, and are extremely grateful for the attention the user community is paying to the changes we are making and for the many suggestions we have received on how to implement these changes. We have undergone weeks of testing our capability to deliver data in an orderly and timely fashion over the internet and through other channels.

To ensure readiness, we have decided that the Department, the press, and the public at large will be best served by delaying implementation of the lock-up change for a relatively short period. Implementation of the changes to the Department’s lock-up will now occur no sooner than March 9, 2020.

I am confident that BLS and the Department can make the planned changes to the lock-up in a way that offers the public equitable and timely access to data while ensuring the highest levels of security. I look forward to our continued interaction and your input during this additional time as we complete this important project.

Sincerely,

WILLIAM W. BEACH

Commissioner

January 16 Announcement about Changes to Department of Labor Media Lockup

Dear Bureau Chiefs,

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the gold-standard of accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible statistical data. BLS is charged with the security of key economic data and, as Commissioner, it is my obligation to do everything possible to protect the integrity of our data, as it is collected, analyzed, and distributed. Economic data series, including the Employment Situation, Consumer Price Index, and Producer Price Index, have significant commercial value and may affect the movement of commodity and financial markets upon release.

BLS, the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Labor (DOL) have all raised concerns regarding the security of economic data stemming from news organizations’ pre-release access known as “lock-ups.”

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) report 17-14-001-03-315, dated July 14, 2014, states that the lock-up “unintentionally creates an unfair competitive advantage for certain news organizations and their clients”:

Pre-release access of DOL-generated economic data is intended to serve the general public by ensuring that news reports about the data are accurate. To that end, the media are given access to the data in advance of the public release to facilitate their ability to analyze and ask questions about the data as they prepare their news stories. However, the intended purpose of ensuring accurate news reports must be weighed against the inequitable trading advantage that a lock-up can potentially create. Several news organizations that participate in the DOL press lock-up are able to profit from their presence in the lock-up by selling, to traders, high speed data feeds of economic data formatted for computerized algorithmic trading. Because these news organizations have pre-release access, they are able to pre-load the data … allowing their clients to get this information faster than the general public, which has to wait to download the data after it gets posted to the Department of Labor websites.

The OIG memorandum recommends that BLS and ETA:

… implement a strategy designed to eliminate any competitive advantage that news organizations present in the lock-up and/or their clients may have; or, absent a viable solution, consider discontinuing the use of the press lock-up that provides news organizations pre-release access.

Real-time information from government websites and releases is more accessible to the general public than ever before. However, unlike some media organizations with computer access in the current lock-up, the general public does not have up to 30 minutes before the official release time to digest the data or to take actions that may lag behind transmissions following the lock-up. Further, developments in high-speed algorithmic trading technology now give a notable competitive advantage to market participants who have even a few microseconds head start.

In light of the OIG recommendations, the following lock-up procedures will go into effect on March 1, 2020.

  • Credentialed press will continue to be allowed into the lock-up rooms 30 minutes before release times, following existing security protocols.

  • A new policy is lock-up rooms will be free from all electronic devices.

  • BLS and/or ETA staff will be present in the lock-up rooms, will provide paper copies of releases and related material, and will add a new pen and pad briefing attributable to a BLS or ETA source.

  • Lock-up procedures will continue with television media escorted and held at their camera stations until the reporting embargo is lifted.

  • At release times, the reporting embargo will be lifted and media may exit the lock-up room to file stories as has been the case.

  • At release times, BLS and ETA will continue to distribute official news releases through various dissemination methods, such as the DOL or BLS websites, Twitter feeds, and e-mail subscription lists.

These updated procedures will strengthen the security of our data and offer the general public equitable and timely access. I appreciate your continued interest in the release of economic data and should you have any questions, please contact DOL Office of Public Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Mike Trupo at (202) 693-4676.

Sincerely,

WILLIAM W. BEACH

Commissioner

Last Modified Date: May 27, 2020