Stakeholders Weight In At First-Ever Congressional Hearings on Data Quality Act

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Published  07/25/2005 11:03 PM

The Government Reform Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs held Congression's first hearing on the Information Quality Act, also known as the Data Quality Act (DQA) on July 20. The hearing reviewed implementation of the DQA at three federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The subcommittee also heard from interested stakeholders, including industry associations that have filed data quality challenges and public interest groups seeking the policy's repeal.

The legislation has received a great deal of attention and generated controversy since the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) produced DQA guidelines for agencies in 2002. Supporters of the legislation, primarily industry groups, claim the law simply helps prevent the government from using bad data, while opponents, which include environmental and citizens groups, assert that the law is actually an attempt to expand industrial influence over the regulatory process, cloaking challenges by industry behind a good government veneer. However, neither before its passage, as a last minute rider on an appropriations bill, nor in the years since its passage, has any Congressional committee held a hearing on this contentious program -- until now.

Agencies appeared supportive of the DQA, reporting that they believe in the importance of and principles behind the law, in order to maximize the quality of data used by agencies. However, agencies did acknowledge that DQA efforts have diverted resources and that requests have been more difficult to respond to in a timely manner. None of the agencies had requests or suggestions for changes to the DQA, holding it was too soon to pass judgment on its effectiveness. As of June 2005, HHS had received a total of 22 requests, FWS had received 11, and the EPA had received 33.

The stakeholder panel offered a richer and more diverse set of viewpoints. Opposing the DQA, Sidney Shapiro of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) told the subcommittee that analysis of the challenges filed thus far indicate that the DQA is being misused by industry to challenge and delay policy decisions by agencies. Shapiro reported that very little correction of information was taking place under the DQA, primarily because there is no need for such a law, as agencies have long had effective data quality programs in place. CPR detailed eight different methods industry groups have employed to misuse the DQA, in order to oppose or weaken federal regulations.

Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environment Responsibility reported that his organization had used the DQA but found that it insufficiently addressed the more fundamental problem of open scientific dialogue, free from political interference. Ruch reported that currently government-employed scientists are not free to express their scientific opinions, if those opinions differ from the administration’s political agenda, for fear of being fired.

Industry associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition for Effective Environmental Information, told the subcommittee that there were no problems with the DQA, other than agencies were not enforcing it strictly enough in their opinion. The judicial reviewability of DQA was a major issue raised by the regulated community during the hearing. There have been several court rulings that agency decisions on the DQA challenges are not reviewable by the court. It is clear that industry groups would prefer to have the option of taking the question of data use to the courts and away from agencies. During questioning Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), chair of the subcommittee, focused on the issue of judicial reviewability, which may indicate her intention to pursue congressional action to add this feature to the law.

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