COPAFS Comments on Statistical Directive No. 3
Comments on Federal Register Notice FR Doc. 2019-07172 Filed 4-10-19
Re: Statistical Directive No. 3
From: Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS)
The one-hour prohibition on Executive Branch employees commenting publicly on the of Principal Federal Economic Indicators (PFEIs) is critical in ensuring policy-neutral dissemination of PFEIs. In fact, modern forms of dissemination being speedier and more comprehensive, which prompted this review, means that this prohibition becomes even more important in safe-guarding the dissemination of PFEIs.
As sources of information and distribution channels proliferate, political officials can by-pass the traditional gatekeeping role provided by the media to speak directly to the public through social media. In this environment, the distinction between official statistics and political comments is increasingly challenging for audiences to discern. This means that the one-hour prohibition is even more vital now than it was when it was drafted. Removing the one-hour embargo would make it easier for political operatives to bury statistical agency reports in a deluge of commentary, distributed through direct-to-audience channels, in favor of their interpretation of the data.
Additionally, the one-hour time period allows time for better quality analysis. The changing media landscape may allow for faster distribution of commentary and numbers, but quality analysis still takes time. Removing the embargo, or even shortening it, increases the temptation to be first to publish in order to control the narrative, and therefore incentivizes rushed analysis. In that situation, it is only a matter of time before the quality of analysis suffers.
The complexity and often opaque nature of the new media landscape requires that we be even more vigilant about keeping the distinction between the statistical agency releases and political comments clear. Removing or reducing the one-hour embargo will only increase the ever blurring lines between objective reports from our statistical agencies and political narratives.