Who’s behind the big changes to the Department of Labor lock-up rules?

This post is delayed. Please check back later.

Update 10:30 April 17: The promised audio of Monday’s call, which was supposed to be posted to the DOL website yesterday, is still not available. The DOL linked it earlier, but the recording turned out to be muzak and now it’s disappeared.

Honestly, if they can’t upload an MP3 file, it doesn’t bode well for a smooth technical release of BLS data when the time comes.

Update 11:00 April 17: Ok, I’m posting even though the audio isn’t up yet. I’ll fix the link once it goes up.

Update 11:45 April 17: Link is fixed.


As promised, I phoned into the U.S. Department of Labor’s briefing on the new lock-up rules. The DOL’s Senior Advisor for Communications and Public Affairs Carl Fillichio said at the very beginning of the call that it was not a press briefing and for planning purposes only, but the audio is now publicly available on the internet for anyone to listen to so I am going to go ahead and treat it as a public  briefing since, under the circumstances, that’s the only strategy that makes sense. There’s absolutely no logical reason why I shouldn’t be able to report on the call.

After listening to the briefing what struck me most was that these are huge changes for a bureaucracy. All the news organizations that currently attend the lock-up must remove their equipment and private communications lines on June 14th and 15th. Going forward, they will use government-owned and maintained  equipment and data and telephone lines. This poses a huge technical issue for many of the news organizations.

Some of the reporters for the big financial news agencies expressed concerns that the new systems and rules would lead to “uneven and unfair release of data.” One reporter asked if the DOL no longer cares about the orderly dissemination of data or just that nothing ever leaks.

As far as I could tell, there was contradictory information given on how the technical release of the data will happen. In answer to his question, one reporter was told that journalists in the lock-up will be able to transmit HTML files using a Win/ FTP client, but then an official for the Bureau of Labor Statistics said all information would be released in Word documents that will be transferred at precisely 8:30 a.m. after which news agencies will have to “get it efficiently” into their own systems.

I’ll admit that I don’t have enough technical knowledge to evaluate whether the first situation could work effectively.  (Maybe some of my helpful anonymous sources will be good enough to chime in in the comments or send me an email at ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com.) But the second option outlined by the BLS official sounds like crazy talk to me. If everyone’s left having to deal with Word documents at 8:30 a.m. on July 6, when the new lock-up rules go into effect, it’s going to be complete freaking chaos, especially if the numbers are big news, which they well might be — both for traders and politicians.

I have to say, I wasn’t impressed with some of the officials’ lack of knowledge, but that could be because the people who did the talking during the call aren’t the ones who have the actual technical know-how.

What did strike me when it was all over is that someone very high up must have asked for these changes because this is not the type of thing bureaucrats do by choice. And that means some very powerful people must be unhappy with what’s been going on in lock-ups for the past few years and have decided it needs to be fixed NOW.

It’s difficult to believe that they would be this upset if it were just a few pipsqueak players like Need to Know News (NTKN)RTTNewsPotomac Radio News and the now-defunct CEP News involved. If that were the case, surely the solution would have been to just kick the problem organizations out.

When asked about the reasons for the changes by various different reporters, Fillichio repeatedly declined to comment. All he said was that “the world has changed” in the 10 years since lock-up procedures were last thoroughly reviewed and that it was a “prudent business decision” to implement new procedures. “There’s no current problem,” he said. “I’m trying to prevent a problem.”

So, what problem is it that he’s trying to prevent and who’s pulling the strings? Who demanded this be fixed now after a known and documented problem hass been allowed to persist for years? And why are the names of the two different news organizations who have broken lock-up rules in the past two years being kept secret?

As always, you can reach me at ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com. No theory is too wild to entertain.

Background info: In about 2006, Need to Know News (NTKN) was admitted to DOL lock-ups despite well-known rumours that it was not strictly a news agency and that it was tied to JED Capital, a Chicago proprietary trading firm.

CEP News arrived on the scene in 2007. Backed by the Montreal prop trader/hedge fund Vigilant Futures (now Vigilant Global), it concealed some of its sources of funding. It was temporarily admitted to lock-ups in Washington and London by hiring reporters who already had valid press credentials.

RTTNews, which was recently accredited by the DOL to attend lock-ups after Potomac Radio News closed up shop and its reporter Michael Duncan left town for the midwest.


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