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President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Dec. 5 told the Senate labor committee he will ensure the data-collecting agency remains nonpartisan.
“If confirmed, I will work hard to advance the integrity of the bureau, continue its legacy as a pre-eminent source for public data, and maintain the neutrality and objectivity that is indispensable to our nation’s growing economy,” William Beach, a conservative economist, told members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Some committee Democrats questioned Beach’s past work with right-leaning groups like the Heritage Foundation and Trump’s past criticism of the BLS. Trump once called the BLS monthly jobless report “phony.”
“President Trump not only routinely ignores factual information and spreads misinformation, but has explicitly questioned the validity of BLS jobs numbers when they were not in his favor,” HELP ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said at the confirmation hearing. “So if or when the economy begins to decline, I hope you will not succumb to political pressure and put data and statistics ahead of the president’s ego.”
Beach, currently the vice president for policy research at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, only fielded a handful of questions from the HELP panel Dec. 5 that included promises to independence and efforts to grow data collection.
Most questions were directed to other nominees for positions with the DOL and the Department of Education, including Scott Mugno, who was nominated to serve as assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Beach is expected to get strong Republican support for his nomination.
Beach was also previously employed as the chief economist for the Senate Budget Committee’s GOP office.
There have been efforts to invoke political pressure throughout the history of the BLS, which was formed in late 1800s and eventually folded as an independent division of the DOL. That includes efforts to speed up production of data sets.
But, the BLS has several measures like guidelines from the Office of Management and Budget, in addition to its own internal statutes implemented to thwart political influence and lessen chances of data manipulation, former BLS Commissioner Erica Groshen told Bloomberg Law Dec. 5.
“All of these things give it a set of practices that are quite mundane but protect it from political influence and from the appearance of political influence,” said Groshen, who was the BLS head during the Obama administration.
She described the BLS “in some ways is like a factory” with set deadlines and “clearly defined rules” that maintains the integrity of the data.
“Any attempt to deviate from that would be very noticeable to many people,” Groshen said.
HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) described Beach as “well-equipped” to lead the BLS due in part to his work history. Alexander did question how Beach would institute new methods to collect data.
“As fewer people have landlines and more use cell phones and social media to communicate, it’s getting harder to reach people in order to obtain these figures,” Alexander said. “There’s also the challenge of how do you engage with the public on these figures without seeming like we are cherry-picking the best results. Data itself is non-partisan.”
Beach later responded that he was committed to discovering means to continue the work of the BLS, which would include “building innovative statistical and model-based tools that advance our understanding of how public policy affects social and economic activity.”
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