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Nuclear sentinel to help keep jobs data under wraps

March 8, 2012: 3:43 PM ET

The Department of Labor has asked Sandia National Laboratories to take a look at its data security procedures, including how the agency keeps the all-important monthly jobs report secret until its official release.

Sandia employees conduct tests on plutonium.

Yes -- the same Sandia National Laboratories that safeguards the nuclear arsenal of the United States.

The company's involvement was first reported by CNBC, and an agency official confirmed details to CNNMoney.

According to the official, the agency is now reviewing the recommendations made by Sandia -- the lone outside group consulted for the project.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Carl Fillichio, senior advisor for communications at the Labor Department, said in a statement that "protecting the integrity and confidentiality of economic data is and always has been a top priority."

The Labor Department currently employs a variety of safety procedures in advance of the job report's release.

Journalists on hand to report the numbers are typically sequestered in holding rooms. It's called a "lock up."

Reporters must surrender cell phones, Blackberries and any other devices capable of transmitting a signal. The devices are turned off, locked in a box, and then an agency employee sweeps the room using a hand-held machine capable of detecting any smuggled phones.

A half hour before the official release time, the doors are locked shut, and reporters are provided with the report. They cannot make any contact with the outside world until an atomic clock signals 8:30 AM, when then frantic race to report the data gets underway.

"For more than two decades, press lock-ups have facilitated the news media's ability to carefully review economic data, and provide information and analysis to the public," Fillichio said. "We constantly take steps to safeguard sensitive information as part of our obligation to serve the public interest and the nation."

In the past, the government has not always been successful when it comes to protecting economic data.

In November 1998, an internal error resulted in employment data for October being released two days early -- on a Wednesday, impacting both stock and bond prices.

An internal investigation "concluded the prerelease was accidental and resulted from inadequate management and internal controls over the handling of supplemental information."

In a follow up report, the Department of Labor Inspector General found significant problems with security at BLS.

"BLS operated its Information Technology (IT) security, survey processing and certain administrative procedures without the benefit of sound internal controls," the report said. "In our opinion, this absence of a strong control environment contributed to the premature release of sensitive BLS data."

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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