OMB Watch 

Published on 08/07/2007

OIRA Issues New Standards for Disseminating Statistical Information

Under the authority of the Information Quality Act, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget published a new draft Statistical Policy Directive on Aug. 1, focusing on disclosure standards. OIRA uses Statistical Policy Directives to establish government-wide standards for statistical activities conducted by agencies.

Apparently, OIRA has been working on a new statistical policy directive that builds on the National Research Council's (NRC) Statistical Policy Directive No. 3 on the Compilation, Release, and Evaluation of Principal Federal Economic Indicators. However, a comparison reveals several potentially significant differences between the NRC directive and OIRA's draft.

A large portion of OIRA's directive addresses pre-release access to statistical information. While NRC's directive also addresses this issue, it makes clear that the primary intent of pre-release access is to inform the president and other policy officials about release of new economic indicator results. In contrast, OIRA's draft statistical directive makes no mention of policy makers being the primary audience for pre-release access and leaves the potential recipients of such access unaddressed. OMB Watch is concerned that under OIRA's more open-ended directive, industry associations and other special interest groups could be granted unfair early access to statistical information in order to promote "accuracy of any initial commentary."

Another noticeable difference between the directives is the elimination of the restriction that pre-release access can only precede release by 30 minutes or less. The OIRA draft directive contains no specific time restrictions at all on providing pre-release access and offers no explanation as to why the provision was removed. Strict time restrictions are necessary to prevent misuse of early access to such information.

Finally, OMB Watch notes that the OIRA directive contains no reporting or evaluation provisions that would allow OIRA or others to monitor the impact of the directive's implementation. The NRC directive included requirements for agencies to submit performance evaluations every three years covering both the accuracy of the statistical indicators and the success of implementing the dissemination requirements. OMB Watch strongly recommends that OIRA include such monitoring provisions in the directive should it be finalized. For instance, in consideration of the heavy focus on pre-release access, OMB Watch would urge that agencies publicly report the official release of a statistical product, which parties received pre-release access and for what period of time.

The public has until Oct. 1 to submit comments on the directive to OIRA. OMB Watch will be conducting a more detailed review of the directive and submitting comments.