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The Government Economist Who Thinks Like An Undercover Agent

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 15: The exterior of the U.S. Department of Labor is seen August 15, 2006 in Washington, DC.
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This week in the New York Times Magazine, Adam Davidson looks at the enormous influence of the federal government's monthly jobs report. "Literally, markets move up and down based on the numbers we produce," says Abraham Mosisa, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It's one reason the BLS prepares the number under extreme secrecy. Once a month, two office suites in the bureau go into lock down. Custodial service is suspended and trash is hauled outside of the office for pick-up. Over the next nine days, a select group of staff members crunch the numbers and prepare the report.

The economists who write the report receive extensive training, like CIA agents, on how to keep their work under wraps. "I know exactly how they think," Mosisa says of undercover agents.

He says his wife has never once asked him to give her a hint of how the economy is doing, but every month, journalists give it a shot. He's constantly fielding calls from financial reporters. "There are a few who try to get some kind of hint, 15 different ways," he says. "They will never get a hint. But it helps you. The more they do that the more we will be even more trained to keep the secret."

And if the number leaks out? "That is a huge disruption to the market," Mosisa says. A few lucky insiders would know in advance whether the markets were heading up or down and the integrity of the Bureau would suffer a serious blow.

Should this one indicator have so much influence over the market? Read the full column to find out.

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