Announcing Discontinuation of the DOL Lock-Up Facility for Participating News Media Organizations With Pre-Release Access to Statistical Information

 
CONTENT
Federal Register, Volume 85 Issue 102 (Wednesday, May 27, 2020)
[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 102 (Wednesday, May 27, 2020)]
[Notices]
[Pages 31810-31812]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-11297]
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DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Announcing Discontinuation of the DOL Lock-Up Facility for
Participating News Media Organizations With Pre-Release Access to
Statistical Information
AGENCY: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.
ACTION: Notice.
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SUMMARY: The Department of Labor (DOL) plans to discontinue use of the
lock-up facility currently available for participating news media
organizations to access statistical information prior to official
release time. This Federal Register Notice supersedes the previous
Notice issued on February 7, 2020, which announced the DOL's intent to
eliminate use of electronic devices in the lock-up room. As a result of
the COVID-19 pandemic, use of the lock-up facility has been
indefinitely suspended since March 20, 2020, and timely and orderly
distribution of DOL statistical information has been accomplished at
official release time through DOL websites, social media channels, and
email subscription lists. This notification announces the permanent
discontinuation of the DOL lock-up facility effective June 3, 2020,
regardless of whether the current restrictions in place as a result of
the COVID-19 pandemic remain necessary as of that date.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michael Trupo, Deputy Assistant
Secretary, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor, 200
Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC; 202-693-4676;
[email protected].
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:
I. Background
 The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is responsible for the
development and oversight of Government-wide policies, principles,
standards, and guidelines concerning statistical information
presentation and dissemination, as well as the timely release of
statistical data. OMB has issued a series of Statistical Policy
Directives (SPDs) to guide agencies in their dissemination of
statistical products to ensure timely and equitable distribution of
data to the public. Each of these SPDs describes the fundamental
statistical-system principle of equitable and timely dissemination of
statistical information to the public. See, e.g., SPD No. 1,
Fundamental Responsibilities of Federal Statistical Agencies and
Recognized Statistical Units (Dec. 2, 2014) (``The objectivity of the
information released to the public is maximized by making information
available on an equitable, policy-neutral, transparent, timely, and
punctual basis''); SPD No. 3, Compilation, Release, and Evaluation of
Principal Federal Economic Indicators (Sept. 25, 1985) (emphasizing the
importance of releasing Principal Federal Economic Indicators (PFEIs)
to the public in a fair and orderly manner); SPD No. 4, Release and
Dissemination of Statistical Products Produced by Federal Statistical
Agencies (Mar. 7, 2008) (``Statistical agencies must ensure that all
users have equitable and timely access to data that are disseminated to
the public.''). In short, equitable and timely dissemination of
statistical information is a core principle of Federal statistical
policy.
 Since the mid-1980s, consistent with these SPDs, DOL agencies have
provided pre-release data access to news
[[Page 31811]]
organizations, as a courtesy, under strict embargoes (known as ``lock-
ups'') for PFEIs. PFEIs are a set of designated economic data series
(e.g., the Employment Situation or Consumer Price Index) that have
significant commercial value and may affect the movement of commodity
and financial markets upon release. DOL, in its discretion, has
employed lock-ups for the release of limited non-PFEI data (i.e.,
Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims). Although not required to do so,
DOL in 1988 constructed a special lock-up facility to provide pre-
release access to news media organizations. DOL took steps to enhance
the security of the lock-up facility, including in 1992 and again in
2011-2012. These lock-ups have provided participating media
organizations a period of time (typically 30 minutes) to review data
prior to the official release time. At the official release time, DOL
has opened the communication lines within the facility, allowing the
press to transmit their articles or tables of data to the public.
 For many years, dissemination through the lock-up process served as
one of several effective methods to assist the government in getting
information to the public. But today, with increased communication and
technology capabilities utilized by the government, the media, and the
general public, this particular method is no longer necessary and
discontinuation of the lock-up best ensures the equitable and timely
dissemination of statistical information consistent with OMB's
guidance. Continuing security, resource, and equity concerns also
outweigh any benefits of the current process.
 DOL's Inspector General has noted concerns with the current 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. Specifically, 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'':
 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.'' Some media lock-up attendees continue to post online
advertisements claiming that their clients are advantaged by their
lock-up attendance.\1\
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 \1\ For example, as recently as May 12, 2020, the Associated
Press advertised on their event-driven data page that users can
``[g]et the lowest-latency delivery of economic release from
Washington DC lock-ups'' and that their ``low-latency delivery of
economic releases, coupled with [their] machine-readable format of
[their] entire text news output, gives firms the data they need to
make informed, split-second decisions.'' See Associated Press,
Microseconds Matter, https://www.ap.org/discover/event-driven-data
(last visited May 12, 2020). See also Dow Jones, Calendar Live,
https://professional.dowjones.com/newswires/calendar-live/ (last
visited May 12, 2020) (advertising that they can provide ``[s]ub-
second updates on actual data from government lockups, banks,
industry, and trade groups'').
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 To protect the integrity of our data releases and to ensure
dissemination of key economic data in an equitable, timely, secure, and
cost-effective manner, as of June 3, 2020, DOL will permanently
discontinue use of the lock-up facility, regardless of whether the
restrictions that are currently in place as a result of the COVID-19
pandemic remain necessary as of that date. Discontinuing use of the
lock-up facility eliminates the risk of premature disclosure of the
data by the press or as a result of the lock-up embargo process, and
eliminates the risk of providing an unfair competitive advantage to
lock-up participants and their clients compared to the rest of the
public due to the preparation time provided by the media's early access
to the data. BLS and 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.
II. Action
 As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOL lock-up facility is
currently closed, and will remain closed at least through June 3, 2020.
In an effort to protect the integrity of our data and ensure fairness
in the dissemination of statistical information, DOL plans to
permanently discontinue use of the DOL lock-up facility starting on
June 3, 2020. After that date, regardless of any restrictions that may
remain in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, DOL will no
longer provide credentialed press early access to the economic data
under embargo conditions in a lock-up. Instead, data will be released
to the general public all at once, through online publication. The
purpose of this action is to ``ensure that all users have equitable and
timely access to data that are disseminated to the public,'' as noted
in OMB SPD No. 4.
 The previously proposed policy change to suspend the use of
electronic devices in the lock-up room (see 85 FR 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.
 At the appropriate scheduled times, BLS and ETA will provide access
to official news releases on the agency websites. In addition, the
agencies will issue releases through social media and to email
subscribers. Agencies will continue to respond to questions about the
data from the public, including the media, following the releases.
III. Necessity of Action
 When DOL first used embargoed data releases in the mid-1980s, media
dissemination was an equitable and timely method to get data to the
public. Today, technology and the internet permit the public and
interested data users to obtain releases for themselves. However,
unlike media organizations in
[[Page 31812]]
the lock-up facility, internet users are not allowed to digest data 30
minutes before the official release time. Internet users are also
disadvantaged relative to lock-up participants to the extent that
internet postings may lag slightly behind lock-up transmissions.
Developments in high-speed algorithmic trading technology have also
raised concerns about the possible impact of unequal access to
sensitive economic data. As discussed above, DOL's Inspector General
has issued multiple reports with findings that the current press lock-
up ``creates an unfair competitive advantage for certain news
organizations and their clients.''
 It was never the intent of DOL in establishing the lock-up facility
to provide a financial windfall to paying clients of credentialed media
organizations, or to allow credentialed media organizations to profit
off of the privilege of early access to government data. DOL does not
wish to facilitate those practices. Although DOL understands that
certain high-frequency trading firms may retain some advantage in
faster ingestion and downloading of government data even after the
lock-up process is discontinued, DOL itself will no longer have any
role in facilitating such an advantage.
 It is no longer necessary to use the credentialed news media to
help the Department disseminate DOL's statistical data widely because
the internet permits the public and interested users to obtain releases
for themselves. Discontinuing the lock-up will not disadvantage the
lock-up participants; it will merely remove the advantage they
currently enjoy. 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
Employment Situation report, released on April 3, 2020 without a lock-
up, demonstrates 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 data were available to
the public only slightly later--and, in at least one case, actually
earlier--than they were a month earlier when a lock-up was held. Given
this success over the past two months, DOL now believes it can continue
to disseminate the data to the public, including the media, in a timely
manner. DOL will therefore discontinue the use of the lock-up facility
to allow all parties, including the media, commercial entities, and the
public, equitable and timely access to our most important statistical
data.
IV. Result
 By permanently discontinuing the lock-up facility as of June 3,
2020, DOL intends to protect the integrity of its data and enable
dissemination of news releases in an equitable, secure, and cost-
effective manner so that all information is available to the public and
the media at the official release time.
 The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis and U.S.
Census Bureau are also committed to the secure, timely, and equitable
release of all data. As such, for the reasons stated in this notice,
both Bureaus will also discontinue embargoed media lock-ups at the
Department of Labor's facility and will continue to release their data
securely through their websites.
 Signed at Washington, DC, this 19th day of May 2020.
William W. Beach,
Commissioner of Labor Statistics.
[FR Doc. 2020-11297 Filed 5-26-20; 8:45 am]
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