A second House committee has focused its oversight attention on the Department of Labor's controversial plan to force journalists covering the "lockups" release of new unemployment data to use only government computers and software.
In a letter today to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline of Minnesota pointed out that the DOL paid for a study by the Sandia National Laboratory that was delivered in August 2011.
The study looked at the lockup process in which selected journalists are allowed entry to a secured room at DOL half an hour before the official release of new data in order to prepare their own stories to go at the same time.
The data is of special importance to news organizations like Dow Jones, Bloomberg News and Reuters that have significant readership on Wall Street and elsewhere in the financial world. There are also several specialized information organizations serving specialized readerships that participate in the lockups.
Rumors have circulated for several years that the security of the lockup process had been somehow compromised. The Sandia study is said to have examined the issue in great detail and provided recommendations on how DOL should change the process.
But DOL has never made that study public, so now Kline wants to see it and all DOL documents generated in connection with it:
"To gain a better understanding of DOL’s new procedure - including the need for such procedures - please provide a complete copy of Sandia's August 2011 report to the Committee on Education and the Workforce upon receipt of this letter. In addition, provide the committee with the following no later than June 15, 2012:
- "An explanation of why DOL personnel believed there was an unauthorized release of economic data and when DOL personnel first discovered an unauthorized release had occurred.
- "All communications and documents from or to the Office of the Secretary, the Office of the Deputy Secretary, the Office of Public Affairs. BLS. ETA. the Office of the Solicitor of Labor, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management concerning possible unauthorized release of economic data and the establishment of the new procedures outlined in DOL’s April 10, 2012 policy statement.
- "All communications and documents between DOL and the Office of Management and Budget concerning the possible unauthorized release of economic data and the establishment of the new procedures outlined in DOL’s April 10. 2012 policy statement.
- "An explanation of why Sandia was granted a sole-source award to produce the August 2011 report, including all procurement records.
- "A timetable under which DOL plans to be in compliance with the recommendations included in Sandia's August 2011 report.
- "A description of any forensic examination of computers and/or other information technology (IT) equipment in the press lock-up area in connection with an unauthorized release of economic data.
- "A description of the means by which DOL personnel communicated concerns about an unauthorized release of economic data to DOL's Office of Inspector General (OIG), including any documents or transmittal letters that may have been referred to OIG.
- "A description of DOL's protocols related to the removal of the news media's computers and other IT equipment from the press lock-up area, including a description of DOL's plans for any unclaimed equipment.
- "A list of any DOL-owned computers and other IT equipment in the press lock-up area determined to be missing, including the estimated cost of this property.
- "An estimated cost of replacing privately owned computers and other IT equipment in the press lock-up facility with DOL-owned equipment.
- "A copy of DOL's new credentialing criteria for media outlets participating in the lock-up."
You can read the full text of the Kline letter here.
As previously reported in this space, the new lockup procedure that now has Kline's attention was announced in April by Carl Fillichio, who is senior communications advisor to Solis.
Since Education and the Workforce is the chief House panel with oversight authority for DOL, it will be difficult - though far from impossible, judging by the Obama administration's record of non-compliance with document requests from House committees since 2009 - for Solis to play games in responding to Kline.