NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Policy Restrains Advance Peek at Economic Stats

May 30, 2002

Top government officials want access to sensitive economic statistics before their colleagues do -- and certainly before they are announced to the public. That way they can appear omniscient, or at least have a chance to prepare their own spin on the numbers.

But a little-known directive largely prevents even the possible appearance of political meddling: the Office of Management and Budget's Statistical Policy Directive No. 3. It restricts who gets early access to such data as the latest unemployment rate, and prevents political appointees from publicly commenting on economic indicators until at least an hour after the professionals who produce the data have had a chance to explain the findings.

  • Under current arrangements, the Council of Economic Advisers receives the data as soon as it is available.
  • The council then passes the information on to the president, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and the Secretary of the Treasury.
  • Reporters from the networks are allowed to begin covering the announcement live beginning at 8:30 a.m. on the scheduled release date.
  • Fed chairman Alan Greenspan also has an agreement with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to receive monthly employment data for manufacturing, mining and public utilities two or three days early.

Some officials chafe at not being included among the early birds. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao petitioned the director of the OMB last year for a change in the "obsolete" policy. She requested that senior administration officials be permitted to comment on federal data immediately after their release to "clarify the issues," and get access to data a day early to "formulate a coherent policy."

Her request was denied.

Source: Alan B. Krueger (Princeton University), "Economic Scene: In Numbers We Trust, Provided They're Safe from Political Meddling," New York Times, May 30, 2002.


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