Everybody wants to get into the [Data Quality] Act
by Matthew Lasar  Sep 15 2007 - 8:40am     

You may have to be somewhat
older to get this joke.

The recent move by three media reform groups to challenge the Federal Communications Commission's ten media ownership studies is not the first time that the Data Quality Act (DQA) has been used in this proceeding. Some months ago, its author, former Nixon/Reagan administration official Jim Tozzi, invoked the obscure law to dispute another report: the FCC's famous "deep sixed" localism study.

That document was reportedly squelched by the agency's then Chair, Michael Powell, because he did not like the study's conclusion that locally owned TV stations generate more local news.

After the report mysteriously resurfaced and was cited by Senator Barbara Boxer at a Senate Committee hearing, Tozzi filed comments with the FCC contending that it didn't pass muster with the DQA.

The localism study, Tozzi argued, was a "third-party information submission" that did not comply with FCC and OMB standards because it used "arbitrary and non-replicable methodology," "biased protocol," and failed to reveal its "underlying data." Plus it did not adequately define the concept of locality and the "mean" individual (as in "average" as opposed to snarly) in the survey.

The document also "Failed to Recognize Diversity Between Communities" and excluded the Fox Network, sports, and weather from its range of media companies and subjects. Otherwise I guess it was a great piece of analysis.

The DQA was a two sentence rider that Tozzi, former director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), added to a Congressional appropriations bill in 2000. Its eye-glazing language requires the OMB to issue "guidelines providing policy and procedural guidance to Federal agencies for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information disseminated by Federal agencies."

Now Tozzi swats government proceedings with the DQA from his present perch: the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness. His law is not without critics. They say that the DQA has allowed the Bush administration and industry lobbyists to second guess and even block necessary environmental and product safety regulations.

But despite the controversy over the DQA, Freepress, the Consumers Union, and the Consumer Federation of America have filed a complaint charging that the FCC's new media ownership studies don't meet the law's standards. They say that:

  • "The Commission's Studies Are Not Reproducible." The Data Quality Act requires that government studies must be duplicable by other scholars. "The Commission has not provided the sufficient data for enough time to perform such analyses," they write. "The public cannot evaluate these ten studies under the Commission’s rushed timeline." The FCC released the studies with a 60 day comment cycle, which the three groups say is an inadequate window for public comment.
  • The peer review process is inadequate, because: the agency should have solicited peer review reports before releasing the studies, not after; the selected peers had little to do with monitoring or helping shape and improve the studies; the FCC did not solicit public participation in the peer review process; and the FCC has done little to ensure that that process will remain balanced, given the controversy over the "deep sixed" localism report:
    "The Commission should not select only those reviewers who would agree with the FCC’s conclusions in its 2003 Order [which eliminated many media ownership limits and was overturned by a Federal court a year later] or with the conclusions presented in other studies that the Commission has not suppressed or destroyed. To ensure a balanced panel of reviewers, the Commission should encourage public participation. The general public, as well as consumer groups like the Commenters, should be invited to nominate expert reviewers to ensure balanced panels."

  • The Commission should provide more time for the peer review process. The filing asks for 90 more days "running from the availability of the data necessary for reproducibility."

Several days after Freepress and the two consumer groups submitted their complaint, Jim Tozzi also filed a statement with the FCC. It discloses that on September 13th he met with Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate "to discuss the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness’ ('CRE’s') position in the above referenced proceedings. Our discussion was consistent with the filings made by CRE in these proceedings"—they being the FCC's media ownership dockets.

LLFCC has contacted Tozzi to see if he'll tell us what he and Tate talked about.