Carolina Journal Online made the rather damning accusation yesterday that someone at the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been leaking unemployment data, up to two days before the scheduled date of release, to the media team for a Democrat governor. They have considerable evidence to back up the allegation, including email exchanges, and at least one occasion in which the Governor discussed unemployment data in public a day before it was scheduled for official release. Early access to the data gave the Governor’s spin team valuable extra time to shape their message.
This is a big deal because the Bureau of Labor Statistics values its integrity, and there might even be a crime involved:
While the operation may sound like a harmless effort to add political spin to the release of jobs data, sharing confidential BLS estimates while they are protected by an embargo violates a federal law barring the early release of employment data. This is no small matter: A conviction for breaching the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 carries a fine of up to $250,000, up to five years in prison, or both.
And who is the governor involved? Why, none other than Bev Purdue of North Carolina, who became nationally infamous after a taped address to a Rotary Club meeting in which she suggested suspending Congressional elections for two years, “to just let them help this country recover” by relieving them of the need to “worry about the next election.” She later tried to defuse public outrage by claiming she was joking, which unfortunately for her did not work, because people could listen to the audio.
This possible leak of BLS information isn’t a joke, either. The Carolina Journal found out her predecessor, Governor Mike Easley, was also receiving early briefings on unemployment numbers for a few months, but the briefings apparently stopped after the story broke. Perdue was Easley’s Lieutenant Governor before succeeding him, so one would think she was aware of the ramifications of fooling around with embargoed unemployment data.
Relaying the Carolina Journal report at the Washington Examiner, Michael Barone notes that Perdue’s possibly illegal spin efforts haven’t been helping her much, as she is currently down 48%-39% against her 2012 Republican challenger, Pat McCrory. Barone explains why it’s so important to obey the embargo on BLS data:
There’s obviously good reason for this: someone with advanced word could place bets in financial and community markets and make lots of money. That’s why Congress provided for penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for early release of this data. And there’s another excellent reason: government statistical agencies should be free of political influence to insure the integrity of the numbers on which many people depend. My understanding is that an important part of the bureaucratic culture of federal statistical agencies is a pride in their independence and integrity; this is something not to be lightly squandered. Maintaining that culture is vital if the government wants to get highly competent people to dedicate their careers to this important work.
“It is quite shocking to think that someone at the BLS is squandering the agency’s integrity just to give a Democratic governor a little edge in writing press releases,” Barone concludes. Sadly, I’m not sure just how “shocking” that really is anymore.