Yellen touts importance of accurate economic data

AP News
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Posted: Oct 20, 2015 12:23 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen said Tuesday that an important bulwark of democracy is the public's right to receive economic statistics from the government that can be trusted.

Yellen spoke at a ceremony honoring Janet Norwood, the first woman to head the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Carroll D. Wright, who in the late 19th century was the first U.S. Commissioner of Labor, the forerunner of the current Labor Department.

Yellen credited both statisticians with recognizing the importance of supplying accurate information to build confidence in the government's economic decisions.

Norwood served as BLS commissioner from 1979 to 1991 and died in March. Wright served as Labor commissioner from 1885 to 1905. Both were inducted into the Labor Department's Hall of Honor.

"In the U.S. Constitution, there is not a requirement that government statistics be accurate and free of political influence or bias," Yellen said. "Carroll Wright recognized that this simple, powerful idea could help build public confidence for the government's effort to reduce conflicts between management and workers and move our nation forward."

Yellen said that during Norwood's 13 years as BLS commissioner, she faced the challenge of dealing with economic data on employment, productivity and inflation that were often disappointing, leading to accusations that her agency was overstating the nation's problems.

Fending off the political pressure, Norwood strongly defended the standing of the BLS as "an authoritative, unimpeachable source of information and analysis about the economy," Yellen said.

Yellen made no mention in her remarks about current economic conditions.

The Federal Reserve meets to consider interest rate policy next week with the expectation that the central bank will decide to leave rates unchanged at a record low near zero, where they have been since late 2008. Private economists believe rates could be raised for the first time in nearly a decade at the last meeting of the year in December.