The Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) calls on the Trump Administration to rethink two significant policy changes that would place new curbs on access to information about the U.S. economy.
We refer to a recent directive from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that will “permanently discontinue” lock–ups that give news organizations an advanced look at key releases, effective June 3. In his May 19 (Footnote 1) letter to bureau chiefs, BLS Commissioner William Beach stated the recent suspension of lock-ups, due to the coronavirus pandemic, has not had an adverse impact on reporting of monthly unemployment data or weekly unemployment claims. We would respond that the April and May unemployment releases, and the weekly jobless claims reports, are some of the most closely watched and widely anticipated releases in modern U.S. economic history.
Suspending the lock–ups permanently does not account for a future time, in a future administration, where a more nuanced interpretation of a report might prove highly valuable to the public. We encourage Commissioner Beach to take the long view and rethink his position on ending a useful practice that has been in existence for decades.
We also urge the Trump Administration to rethink its decision to forego, for the first time in decades, a mid-year revision to the White House economic forecast. The news that a July or August update would not be forthcoming was reported by The Washington Post, citing two unnamed officials (Footnote 2). According to The Post: “Budget experts said they were not aware of any previous White House opting against providing forecasts in this ‘mid-session review’ document in any other year since at least the 1970s.”
The coronavirus’ volatile impact on the economy was cited as the reason for the decision, but, by opening the door to selective release of economic data, the White House is taking the first steps down a decidedly slippery slope. Again, we warn that future administrations, Republican or Democratic, will be tempted to use any excuse to selectively omit the release of potentially negative economic data in an election year.
Below are links to the BLS release on May 19 and the Washington Post’s reporting on mid-year updates on May 28.
SABEW is the world’s largest organization dedicated to business and financial journalism.