updated 2/18/2005 8:21:00 AM ET 2005-02-18T13:21:00

Federal regulators are looking into whether an analyst at The Conference Board, a private research group, improperly provided its closely watched monthly consumer confidence data to members of the media prior to the official release time.

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The senior business analyst, Delos Smith, was placed on administrative leave earlier this week in connection with the inquiry. Smith said Thursday in an interview that he had done nothing wrong.

The Conference Board announced Thursday that it had been asked to provide information to an unnamed federal regulatory agency “regarding Conference Board staff and individuals from entities other than the Conference Board who have access to our Consumer Confidence Index prior to its public release.”

“We are fully cooperating with this request. We take this matter very seriously,” the New York-based group said.

Smith said he was “devastated” by having been put on leave, a move that he said his superiors at The Conference Board described as temporary while the inquiry continued.

Smith, 69, frequently comments on the data in interviews with broadcast outlets. Smith said he has worked for more than 40 years for The Conference Board.

He said he sometimes gives broadcasters the information ahead of time so they can prepare their pieces, with the understanding that it is strictly embargoed for the official release time of 10 a.m. Eastern.

Smith said he had been told that the breach may have occurred in mid-2004.

In its announcement, The Conference Board said it had discovered that “one of our staff did not follow some of our stated protocols and procedures with respect to the distribution of the Consumer Confidence Index to the media.”

The integrity of the data was not compromised, said the group, which claims more than 2,000 companies in 60 countries as members.

“We will make any necessary changes to ensure that this problem does not occur again,” it said.

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