Aug 23, 2023 - Economy

Exclusive: White House wants to shorten one-hour gag rule on economic data

President Biden speaks about his economic plan "Bidenomics" at Auburn Manufacturing Inc. in Auburn, Maine, on July 28. Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP

The Biden administration may soon be able to get its message about good economic numbers (or try to justify not-so-good ones) much quicker than predecessors.

Why it matters: A decades-old rule has prevented White House officials from weighing in immediately on critical economic data, even as a flurry of analysis and reactions roll in.

  • Now, the Biden administration is seeking a change that would allow its perspective on what a range of indicators say about the economy to get out to the public much sooner than previously allowed.

What's new: The Biden administration is proposing a change that would let officials publicly weigh in 30 minutes after the release of key data, rather than waiting a full hour, per a notice issued Wednesday.

  • "Under this proposal to reduce the delay to thirty minutes, Executive Branch officials could enter the dialogue thirty minutes earlier," the notice states.

The backstory: A rule that dates back to the Nixon era says executive branch officials must stay quiet on a slew of economic indicators — the jobs report, inflation data and more — for a full hour after the release.

  • It's a single sentence in a long directive that otherwise cemented the modern-day distribution of critical economic data that move financial markets.
  • It says, for instance, that indicators must be regularly released in a publicly accessible press release at a pre-determined time.

The intrigue: The Biden administration is not seeking any changes to any other aspects of the rule — only the aspect that prohibits public comment for an hour after economic data is released.

  • Current administration officials say the rule is no longer relevant in an era of fast-moving information and analysis.
  • That wasn't the case in the 1980s, when the directive was last updated: There were fears that the public would not be able to differentiate apolitical descriptions of economic data from the White House's partisan interpretations.

What they're saying: "Society generally communicates and interacts differently now than in 1985. In particular, various platforms exist now that allow society to interact seconds after a new data release comes out," the notice issued by the Office of Management and Budget says.

  • "These advances in the timing and attribution of dissemination can contribute to the ability of society to fully digest the data releases sooner than when such dissemination methods were not available."

Catch up quick: In 2019, the Trump administration tried to eliminate the hour-long quiet period after the rule was flouted — in one instance, by former President Trump himself.

  • The push to nix the rule was met with strong opposition, including from a prominent economic statistics trade group that said it was "of utmost importance to preserve a bright line between the release of data and policy comment on that data."

That pushback is a key reason why the Biden administration is moving to shorten the time officials are barred from commenting publicly on economic data, rather than eliminating the embargo altogether.

  • The notice issued Wednesday tried to get ahead of previously voiced concerns and said the administration "understands that maintaining some delay" between the release of key indicators and commentary on said indicators.

What's next: It's unclear when any such change will take effect. For 60 days, the public can weigh in on the proposal. The Biden administration will consider that feedback before instituting any tweaks to the rule.

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