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Letter from 17 Congress Members to OMB Director

Congress of the United States

September 10, 1999

Mr. F. James Charney
Office of Management and Budget
Room 6025
New Executive Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20503

Dear Mr. Charney:

I am writing to comment on the proposed revision to OMB Circular A-110 published in the Federal Register on August 11, 1999. Specifically, I am writing to express concern about the unintended but negative impacts of applying Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) rules and regulations in the academic setting.

I know that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is constrained by the statutory direction mandated by Congress in last year's omnibus appropriations bill. While I have strong reservations about the wisdom of that action, I understand that you have to comply with it.

My hope is that as OMB develops regulations to comply with the new policy, great weight will be given to the comments and recommendations you receive from the academic community and from institutions of higher education.

My specific comments include the following, which closely track those you have already received from the University of Colorado:

  1. I support the definition of "research data" and the exclusions from this definition designed to protect the personal records of those conducting research studies. I also support OMB's grant of discretion to the researcher to determine whether data falls under the exclusions.
  2. I support OMB's definition of "published" as either the appearance of the research findings in a peer-reviewed scientific or technical journal, or the official citation of research findings by a federal agency in support of a regulation.
  3. I support limiting the scope of the proposed regulations that meet a threshold of $100 million in economic impact. Any lower threshold would lead to nuisance requests and impose unacceptable costs.
  4. Finally, I support the suggestions made by the University of Colorado that institutions be allowed to bill the funding agency for costs incurred for complying with the regulations; and that OMB's final rule explicitly states that the new regulations will apply only to federal grants made after the effective date of the revisions.

While the application of FOIA to research findings used in developing federal policy may be a good mechanism for public scrutiny and accountability, I am troubled by the potential for nuisance requests, invasion of privacy, harassment of researchers, and the serious erosion of academic freedom and the basic integrity of the scientific process. Congress may well conclude that last year's action attempted to solve a small problem, but may have created a bigger one.

I urge you to use great caution in developing these new regulations and to do so with an eye toward protecting the academic process.


Mark E. Udall
Member of Congress