DOJ Notifies the Ninth Circuit that OMB is the Court of Last Resort on DQA Issues

On March 9, 2015 in the Ninth Circuit in the case W. Harkonen v. USDOJ the Department of Justice announced that the DQA  provides  the public with the right to seek  relief from OMB if an agency denies a Request for Correction filed pursuant to the Data Quality Act; in this instance an agency allegedly discredited a person through the issuance of press release. The Department explained that the DQA is “policed” by OMB — not by the courts; DOJ went on to state that OMB has the right to “take action” if agencies are not living up to their DQA duties.

More specifically DOJ stated to the Court:

“And remember, the way that’s policed is through OMB. Agencies have to compile the sort of requests for corrections they get, through this administrative procedure, let OMB know what their responses are, and report back to the Office of Management and Budget. And if the Office of Management and Budget thinks that you are not living up to your duty to insure that information is of sufficient quality, objectivity, utility and integrity then the OMB can take action.”

In making this statement DOJ has seen the trees and with the passage of time hopefully will see the forest by recognizing the  justiciability of the DQA as evidenced by the decision of the DC Circuit in the Prime Time decision. Nonetheless CRE agrees wholeheartedly with the DOJ on the preeminent role of OMB in all DQA related matters.

The DQA not only confers a unique statutory authority to OMB to rule on Requests for Correction as explained by DOJ but it also confers the attendant deference to be accorded to its regulations by both federal agencies and the courts as required by Chevron and so enunciated in the Prime Time decision which declared that the OMB guidelines are “binding”. In the Harkonen case the court opined: “We have no reason in this case to reach the broad question of whether the IQA confers upon a private individual the right to seek judicial review of the correctness of all information published by the government.”

CRE compliments DOJ for making clear what has been known for some time, namely that the Congress has vested OMB with the absolute authority to ensure that the American public is provided with accurate information.

The bottom line is that the Department of Justice has decided  that OMB has the authority to act on Requests for Correction and the Court (Prime Time) has decided unequivocally that the OMB guidelines are binding; combining both decisions one readily concludes that OMB has an extraordinary  statutory basis for making  the final decision on a Request for Correction.  In fact the resultant authority is comparable to the statutory authority  OMB has to make the determinative decision on ICRs (Information Collection Requests) under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA).

OMB’s statutory  authority over Requests for Correction under the DQA is a natural outgrowth of the  authorities granted to OMB  to issue binding rules under  the Paperwork Reduction Act noting that  the DQA is a derivative of the PRA.

As CRE explains in this analysis, the Prime Time decision allows affected parties to file for relief in the courts against an agency decision to deny a Request for Correction.

Also see the  the CRE amicus brief and The Reviewability of the Data Quality Act .

N. B.  The DOJ statement did not distinguish between Executive Branch and independent agencies. Does the DOJ statement give impetus to OMB exercising control over Requests for Correction filed with independent agencies as well as the implementation of the CRE Blueprint (2) for OMB Review of Independent Agency Regulations?



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