by Jared Bernstein
I hesitate to weigh in on such foolishness—I’m a strong advocate of not shooting everything that moves—but this seems to have some legs: I was on the Thomas Roberts show this morning, where they showed a tweet of Jack Welch, the former CEO of G.E. and a Mitt Romney backer, suggesting that the Bureau of Labor Statistics was cooking the books on the employment report to help the President.
As I said on air, Jack Welch should be ashamed of himself. The BLS is an institution with tremendous integrity, and with very deep procedures and methods to ensure the most accurate, unbiased, and and confidential collection, analysis, and reporting of data known to this or any other country.
You want proof? Go to their website and find me one document among the hundreds of thousands up there that show any political leanings one way or the other—it’s all “just the facts, ma’am.” Then—and I’m talking to you, Jack—look at their survey methods and explain to me how they’re cooking the books, and at what stage the fix is going in.
To be clear, I'm not saying the employment numbers don’t have some error in them. These are statistical estimates, and in fact, the BLS is very careful to provide error margins for their data. I am very much saying that any errors are random, as with all sample data, and absolutely politically unbiased.
My man Larry Mishel at the Economic Policy Institute says as much here, as does his colleague Heidi Shierholz here. And here's some details as to why Welch’s claims are so implausible based on the many layers of protections BLS builds into their data, analysis, and reporting systems. Interestingly—I didn’t know this—the BLS does not currently have one political appointee working in the entire agency.
A March report from The Washington Post also details how the jobs reports are made, describing the analysis process as "an eight-day security lockdown" during which confidentiality agreements are signed each morning and computers are encrypted and data locked into a safe every time one of the analysts goes even to the bathroom (itals mine).
Confidentiality agreements…data in a safe every time you go to the bathroom...layers of data security…decades of a perfect track record on data integrity.
Welch is way out of his depth and if he or anyone else who’s alleging conspiracy doesn’t have any evidence beyond a set of economic results they find politically unhelpful, they should really be quiet ... very very quiet.
Jared Bernstein served from 2009 to 2011 as chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, and as a member of President Obama's economic team. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and an MSNBC contributor.