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Data Quality

Information Quality Guidelines: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Issues Checklist of Key Concerns Regarding Agency Implementation of the Data Quality Act
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has sought to encourage trade associations, businesses, and others to submit comments to agencies of interest on their proposed Data Quality guidelines. To this end, the Chamber prepared a checklist of key concerns which potential commenters might wish to consider and then provide input. The Chamber's views are also offered on each topic. CRE believes that this list is thoughtful and reasonably comprehensive, so the Center wanted to make it available to its readers.

  • Click to read the Chamber of Commerce checklist on the Agency Implementation of the Data Quality Law.
  • Click to submit a comment


    Definition of "Dissemination"

    The information quality guidelines apply to all information that is "disseminated" by federal agencies. The OMB Guidelines broadly define the term to mean "agency initiated or sponsored distribution of information to the public." Certain distributions are expressly exempted: inter-agency distributions; distributions limited to employees, contractors or grantees; responses to Freedom of Information Act requests; correspondence with individuals; press releases; archival records; public filings; subpoenas; and adjudicative processes.

    Possible subjects for comment:

    • The agency should not attempt to further limit the definition.
    • Agency guidelines should recognize that dissemination by a third party is "dissemination" by the agency if the agency initiates or sponsors the distribution.

    Definition of "Influential"

    For scientific, financial or statistical information deemed "influential," OMB mandates that agency guidelines "include a high degree of transparency about data and methods to facilitate the reproducibility of such information by qualified third parties." This is a key element to the data quality law. OMB defines "influential" to mean that the agency "can reasonably determine that dissemination of the information will have or does have a clear and substantial impact on important public policies or important private section decisions." Agencies are authorized to further define the term as appropriate for the nature of their issues.

    Possible subjects for comment:

    • OMB has already defined the term - if an agency re-defines the term, it should do so because of that agency's unique issues, not merely to limit the amount of information that would otherwise have to meet the heightened standards.
    • Agency guidelines may state that information should not be labeled as "influential" or "non-influential" at the time of its dissemination. This approach should be opposed, given that the agency must know whether data is influential prior to its dissemination to allow the agency to meet the appropriate quality standard.
    • The term should not be narrowly defined (e.g., there is no basis for the term having the same narrow definition as "economically significant" under Executive Order 12866).
    • Agencies may establish a hierarchy of data importance, with corresponding levels of quality checks to be used. Such a system is acceptable, but should not be used as a tool to avoid classifying data as influential.
    • An agency may, within its guidelines, cite to specific information the agency disseminates and deem the information either "influential" or "non-influential." Such determinations should be carefully scrutinized.

    Third Party Data

    In formulating regulations, agencies often use information that was created by third parties. Agencies also frequently utilize a third-party's analysis of underlying data. To the extent that agencies disseminate such third party information, the data quality guidelines apply.

    Possible subjects for comment:

    • The same quality standards that are used for agency-generated data should apply to third party-generated data, i.e., there should not be a less stringent standard applied to third-party information
    • When confidentiality concerns exist, full transparency is not required by the OMB guidelines. However, in such circumstances, agencies must apply "rigorous robustness checks" and must still disclose "the specific data sources that have been used and the specific quantitative methods and assumptions that have been employed." Nevertheless, agencies should use proprietary third party data only as last resort when non-confidential information cannot be used.
      • Agency guidelines should have an absolute ban against the use of data that the agency itself cannot access because of confidentiality issues.
    • Robustness checks for confidential/proprietary data and models (where OMB guidelines do not require transparency) should be detailed and expansive.
    • An agency may use the guidelines to impose data quality standards on public comments submitted in response to proposed rules. However, under no circumstance should such quality standards be more stringent than those applied to the agency's own use of third party-generated data.

    Complaint Process

    Agency guidelines must establish a process by which "affected persons" can seek correction of disseminated data that does not meet the quality standards. Affected persons must also be given a right to appeal any denial of their correction request.

    Possible subjects for comment:

    • Agency guidelines should address who will adjudicate the request for correction and any appeal arising from the request. The agency guidelines should recognize the need for a balance between the reviewers' knowledge of the subject matter and the reviewers' objectivity.
    • Requirements placed on complainants (e.g., description of information in issue, description of how complainant is affected) should be reasonable.
    • Time limits for agency review of complaints should be reasonably short (30-45 days for each stage), although must be flexible for complex issues.
      • However, no time limits should be placed on challenge of bad data, as information should be corrected whenever an error is noted.
    • The right to appeal should be limited to the complainant.

    Definition of "Information"

    Possible subject for comment:

    • The OMB Guidelines exclude obvious opinions, but other information should not be excluded by agency.

    Process Created by Agency to Ensure Compliance

    Possible subject for comment:

    • OMB guidelines state that an agency's guidelines should address "every step of an agency's development of information." The process established by agency guidelines should therefore not be limited to checking for adequate quality at the time of dissemination.

    Effect on Rulemaking

    The data quality guidelines and standards should not be an impediment to rulemaking. However, data quality will be an integral part of the rulemaking process, and the guidelines should not seek to limit the role data quality will play.

    Possible subjects for comment:

    • Agencies should not limit an affected party's right to seek correction during the rulemaking process (once dissemination has occurred). Note that this is a separate issue from the question of when a party's right to judicial review arises. Agency guidelines should not take a position on the latter issue, which should be left to the courts.
    • All information material to a rulemaking, whether generated by the agency or a third party, should be presumed to be "influential"

    Definition of "Affected" Person

    Only an "affected" person has the right to file a request for correction.

    Possible subjects for comment:

    • Agency guidelines should not equate the rights of an "affected" person with the standing requirement for judicial action (i.e., person with legal right to bring action). The agency's goal should be to disseminate correct information regardless of how an error is brought to agency's attention, and should therefore broadly define the term "affected person."

    Consolidation of Related Complaints

    Possible subjects for comment:

    • Complaints addressing the same disseminated information should be heard together so that a final judgment can be reached.
    • An agency may include provisions that require the agency to notify interested parties when a challenge is submitted to the agency. Such provisions, which may help to facilitate a final judgment, should ensure that adequate notice is provided to all interested parties.

    Handling of Disseminated Data while Challenge and/or Appeal are Ongoing

    Possible subjects for comment:

    • Agency guidelines should, at a minimum, require agencies to take steps to notify the public of an existing challenge.
    • If a correction is made, agency guidelines should require a level of dissemination of the correction equal to dissemination of the original data.

    Some Agencies are Subject to Multiple Levels of Guidelines

    Possible subject for comment:

    • Sub-agency guidelines should be consistent with both parent agency and OMB guidelines.

    Coordination with Existing Programs/Processes

    Many agencies have existing programs and processes to ensure some level of informational quality. Agencies may therefore seek to utilize these existing programs in the context of the new data quality guidelines.

    Possible subject for comment:

    • Check to ensure that both the procedural and substantive aspects of existing programs, to the extent used by an agency to assist in compliance with the data quality law, meet the heightened standards set by the data quality law, including the OMB guidelines.

    Human Health, Safety, and Environmental Risk Analyses

    Specifically with regard to analysis of risks to human health, safety and the environment, agencies are required to adopt or adapt the quality principles set forth in the Safe Water Drinking Act amendments if 1996 (42 U.S.C. 300g-1(b)(3)(A) & (B)).

    Possible subject for comment:

    • Agencies, when adopting or adapting Safe Water Drinking Act amendments, should not weaken the quality principles contained therein.