Progress is being made in talks with government officials over a Labor Department proposal to require reporters to use agency computers and telephone lines to file stories on newly released economic data, media organizations told Congress on Wednesday.
Testifying to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Reuters and Bloomberg News officials revealed little detail about the movement they said has occurred in talks with Obama administration officials.
Dow Jones and The Associated Press have also participated in the meetings. These news organizations and others have fought the proposal to use federal equipment, arguing that it could allow the government to see unpublished articles and could make the process vulnerable to cyberattacks on government computer systems.
"The government would literally own and control the reporter's notebook," Daniel Moss, an executive editor from Bloomberg News, told the lawmakers.
Until now, data about employment and consumer prices are given to reporters in a department "lock up" room minutes before the official release so they can prepare their stories and then file them when the information is publicly released. News organizations provide their own computers, software and phone lines.
The department had originally proposed requiring reporters to use government computers, not their own equipment, beginning next month. Agency officials have cited some unspecified breaches of security procedures and of the embargoes the agency sets for release of reporters' articles.
Under questioning by committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio said the department would show some flexibility in the July deadline for imposing the new requirements as long as the talks are making progress.
Fillichio provided little detail but told the lawmakers, "These meetings have been productive and I am encouraged by the progress we have made toward a solution that addresses the department's security mandates, as well as the media organizations' business and journalistic goals."
Among those receiving articles from news organizations are traders who, using ultra-fast trading technology, are able to make massive trades in fractions of a second. Any information they receive before the data are publicly released can give them an unfair advantage, Labor Department officials said.
"A few years ago, a few seconds here or there would not have had much of an impact. Today, fractions of a second can equate to millions or even billions of dollars in market movements," Fillichio said in a written statement.
Issa, a frequent critic of President Barack Obama, said the Labor Department's proposal had "serious freedom of press implications" and criticized the agency for seeking the changes "with the absence of a clear explanation and a lack of public input."
Issa also used the hearing to criticize government claims that there are 3 million "green jobs," or jobs in fields related to improving the environment. Issa said the figure is a "political number" that the administration is inflating to appear larger than it really is.
To underscore that, he read off a list of positions and asked John Galvin, acting commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to verify that the government considers them to be "green jobs."
Those Galvin verified included janitors at solar panel manufacturing plants, school bus drivers, bicycle repair shop clerks and oil lobbyists who advocate for environmental issues. Issa said dealers of rare books and antiques are also included in the category because they sell recycled goods.
Galvin said the government had done the best it could to write "usable, measureable definitions" of green jobs.