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White House Politicizing Bureau of Labor Statistics (PJM Exclusive)

Yes — that's the nonpartisan agency that releases monthly unemployment figures.

by
Richard Pollock

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December 19, 2011 - 12:00 am
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In a November 29 letter to Secretary Solis, Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) — ranking Republican on the Senate Labor Committee — expressed alarm over the administration’s handling of personnel at the bureau. He warned it would be counterproductive to try to politicize the bureau through appointments that circumvent Senate confirmation:

To have credibility, an agency must be free — and perceived to be free — of political interference and policy advocacy.

A retired career economist at the Labor Department told PJ Media the administration’s efforts could damage the bureau’s reputation for a long time:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ tradition of professionalism and objectivity has been built on over 100 years of history of independence from political influence. … Its continued independence from political influence is crucial to the success of its mission and to maintaining the trust that its data receives.

Senator Enzi also directly wrote William Daley, the president’s chief of staff, about the lack of a nomination:

I would like to know when the administration intends to nominate a commissioner.

To date, Enzi has not received any reply from the White House or the Department of Labor.

Commissioner Hall himself could have been renominated, which has been the norm for many administrations.  (President Reagan renominated a BLS commissioner from the Carter administration.) Hall has a completely uncontroversial record as commissioner. He was named to the post in 2007, and approved that same year by a unanimous Senate vote.

The administration’s job description for the deputy position illustrates the administration’s politicization effort — rather than emphasize the independent status of the post, it states the deputy commissioner will be “assisting the Secretary of Labor in presenting the Department’s interests and policies to Congress, other government agencies, and the public.” In other words: instead of an independent official, the deputy commissioner would be an advocate for administration positions.

A 1998 job description for the same position does not mention any advocacy work on behalf of the Labor Department.

Senator Enzi told PJ Media:

I have concerns with an apparent attempt to circumvent the Senate’s constitutional role of advice and consent with respect to the Bureau of Labor Statistics commissioner.

Even more concerning, however, is a requirement that the deputy commissioner “assist the Secretary in presenting the Department’s interests and policies to Congress, other government agencies and the public” and conduct studies for “evaluating the effectiveness of Department of Labor programs.” It is inappropriate for an employee in an independent statistical agency — much less the second in command and potential acting head of that agency — to participate directly in advocating for the Department’s overall policies and interests and/or in providing critiques of Departmental programs. Indeed, one of the four basic principles for a statistical agency is that to have credibility, an agency must be free — and must be perceived to be free — of political interference and policy advocacy.

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Richard Pollock is the Washington, D.C., editor for PJ Media and the Washington bureau chief of PJTV.
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