March 4, 2020 / 10:53 PM / 3 months ago

U.S. Labor Department postpones planned changes to data 'lockups' indefinitely

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. Labor Department’s statistical arm said on Wednesday the agency was postponing indefinitely plans to require news agencies to remove computers from a room it provides for coverage of embargoed economic reports.

In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said it had decided to remove computers from its data “lockups,” effective March 1, to keep economic releases secure prior to being made public, to stay ahead of rapidly changing technology and to remove any advantage media might have in providing the data to high-speed traders.

Last week, BLS Commissioner William Beach said the agency had decided to delay the plan to ensure readiness, saying that no changes to its procedures would occur before March 9.

He went further in a letter provided to Reuters and other new agencies on Wednesday, saying any changes would be delayed beyond March 9 and that the bureau would provide a 14-day notice before any changes were implemented.

“Over the past week, BLS and the DOL have engaged in highly informative and useful conversations with stakeholders,” Beach wrote.

He said the postponement would allow for further talks as the department worked on changes to its procedures to “best meet our goals of providing the public with equitable and timely access to data while ensuring the highest levels of security.”

Lawyers representing Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Dow Jones & Co and Market News wrote to Beach in early February requesting that the agency abandon its plan to remove electronic equipment from its “lockups.”

In the lockup facility, media organizations prepare stories 30 to 60 minutes in advance of release, with the government controlling a communications switch to prevent an inadvertent early public transmission.

Removing computers would require reporters to write stories on a pad in the secure facility and then later dictate them to their offices once the embargo lifted.

BLS publishes the closely watched monthly employment report, as well as reports on productivity, import prices, employment costs and consumer and producer prices.

Economic data from the Commerce Department, including reports on gross domestic product, consumer spending and housing starts, would also be affected by any changes as they use the Labor Department facility for their data “lockups” as well.

Reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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