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Date: September 29, 2006 -

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) states EPA and other agencies are not receiving additional resources to implement the Information Quality Act (IQA), even as one EPA source says data quality challenges stemming from the law are growing in depth and complexity.

The report, Expanded Oversight and Clearer Guidance by the Office of Management and Budget [OMB] Could Improve Agencies’ Implementation of the Act, states that “evidence suggests that certain program staff or units addressing IQA requests have seen their workloads increase without a related increase in resources.” The law, which allows parties to challenge the quality and accuracy of information released by the government, has been used to question a variety of statements and findings at EPA and other federal agencies. The report is available on

The report highlights a 2004 commercial property trade group challenge under the IQA against an EPA statement in the Federal Register on the applicability of the Safe Drinking Water Act to a certain type of property. The report notes that EPA convened a three-member expert panel and took nearly 15 months before ultimately denying the request to change the information. Such response time “was not unusual compared to other EPA processing times for IQA requests,” the report notes, despite a 90-day response goal set in EPA’s IQA guidelines.

At the same time, the EPA source says “requesters seeking responses from EPA have raised the bar” since the law’s early years in terms of the depth and complexity of data challenges. “The real deal here is the nature of the requests is changing. Some issues being raised have been in the halls of debate for 10 years.” More recent requests “are [about] detailed and non-routine types of information,” the source says, in contrast to relatively simple requests to correct minor errors that were more typical in the years immediately following IQA’s passage.

The source cites IQA challenges by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Home Builders and Sterling Chemicals, Inc. as indicative of this increase in complexity. Sterling has asked EPA to correct information in its Enforcement & Compliance History Online database about a disputed Clean Air Act enforcement action at a company facility in Texas. The homebuilders allege EPA falsely described permitting requirements in a wet weather discharges reference on the agency Web site. And the chamber says more than 10 EPA chemical information registries include inaccurate information about the risks posed by various chemicals.

The report says, “OMB’s guidance is not clear about how agencies should provide access to online IQA information” and recommends clearer guidance. It also recommends that OMB work with the Homeland Security Department and other agencies that do not have IQA guidelines to help ensure they fulfill IQA requirements.

GAO found that in fiscal years 2003 and 2004, the years covered by the report, EPA received a total of nine “substantive” IQA requests out of 39 substantive requests to the federal government. The report notes that EPA, the Interior Department and the Health & Human Services Department combined received “nearly two-thirds of the requests that were classified as substantive” for those years.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who requested the report along with Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), said in a statement that it “shows that these data challenges can consume significant agency resources, and more often than not these challenges are deemed unwarranted. I’m concerned that with no new resources provided for this mandate, time spent responding to them is time stolen from the agencies’ primary missions.”

However, an industry source familiar with the law says that “if Waxman’s objective was to tar IQA, this doesn’t do it.” The source says the report’s main recommendation, to centralize more IQA oversight at OMB, “is a good one.”

A source with OMB Watch, a regulatory watchdog group, disagrees with the recommendation, saying OMB’s implementation of the law has “made [excessive] peer review paralysis by analysis happen. It’s helped make the debate about the science” rather than the merits of policies based on scientific findings.

The IQA, passed as part of the fiscal year 2001 Treasury Department appropriations law, has been a political lightning rod as industry and business groups have used it to press EPA to justify scientific findings that provide the basis for new regulations. Waxman has been an outspoken critic, saying in his letter to GAO requesting the study that it raises concerns “about the degree to which implementation . . . may delay agency activities and divert agencies’ personnel and financial resources from other important duties.”

Source: Inside EPA via

Date: September 29, 2006

Issue: Vol. 27, No. 39

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