Trouble brewing for Labor's Solis

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Mark Tapscott,Watchdog,Watchdog-Articles

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and her top media adviser have been invited by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to come over next week for a little chat in front of the television cameras.

Solis normally loves the cameras, but here's a prediction: She will be nowhere in sight when the House panel is gaveled into session by Chairman Darrell Issa of California.

Instead, the adviser -- Carl Fillichio, a Wall Street veteran and political appointee who runs the Department of Labor's Office of Public Affairs -- will be the Lonesome George in the hot seat. The reason is that Solis -- who is informally referred to in the bowels of DOL as "Hollywood Hilda" for her fascination with celebrity culture -- may well be the most invisible member of President Obama's Cabinet.

Other than gutting the tough union financial disclosure regulations required by the Landrum-Griffin Act in 1959, can you name any of her other significant accomplishments? I didn't think so. Even as unemployment has been above 8 percent for three years, Solis has focused her efforts on putting posters around DOL praising far-left activists like Cesar Chavez and rolling out the red carpet -- Hollywood-style -- for a 2010 meeting of G-20 labor ministers at DOL.

Solis and her minions are loath to talk about how much they spent on the G-20 gathering. Their response to a recent Examiner Freedom of Information Act request for all DOL documents related to the G-20 meeting was a stack of irrelevant letters with no mention of Solis or Fillichio, and no information about how many tax dollars were spent.

Anyway, the main topic for the hearing next week will be to "examine the influence of Department of Labor (DOL) political appointees over the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) processes for collecting and disseminating employment data," according to the committee.

That became an issue in April when Fillichio issued a directive to reporters covering DOL's Friday "lockup" releases of new unemployment data to use only government computers and software. The lockups require participating journalists to arrive half an hour before the official release of the latest unemployment data at 8:30 a.m. They go into a locked room where they get the data but can only use it to prepare stories that are published just as DOL makes the new numbers public.

Because millions of shares can be traded in milliseconds, early access to unemployment data can be quite valuable to Wall Street and those who feed the traders, analysts and other aspiring masters of the universe. So there are legitimate reasons to be careful with the information. But Fillichio's decision elicited vigorous protests from this news organization, Bloomberg News, Reuters and a host of others.

In an apparent effort to quell the upstarts who complained about his order, Fillichio subsequently convened a conference call with interested parties in which he promised to answer all questions. Instead, he refused to explain the justification for the mandate to use government computers and software other than to hint darkly about security worries.

Pushed to provide more detail, he would only say that two journalists -- whom he refused to name or to identify their employers -- had broken the rules for the lockups. He also wouldn't say which rules were broken.

More recently, Obama administration sources say DOL was called on the carpet by the White House last week, and there was talk about some sort of compromise or delay on the Fillichio order as a means of stalling litigation initiated by the media.

Perhaps Fillichio's tongue will loosen on these matters next week, when Issa begins peppering him with questions.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

For additional information on the "Lockups" issue, see:

DOL forcing media to use government computers

DOL won't explain why media must use its computers

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing release

Obama is pulling down the shades on union financial disclosure

 

 

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