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Congress Directs EPA to Assess Opportunities for Judicial Review of Agency Information Leave a Comment

Congress has recently directed EPA to undertake a number of information-related activities, as spelled out in report language accompanying the FY 2000 VA-HUD-Independent Agencies Appropriation Act (P.L. 106-74). Among these is a cooperative agreement to determine when judicial review should be allowed for government disseminations of information, in electronic or other formats. CRE believes that structured mechanisms for review of agency information increase the overall quality of data, thereby fostering public confidence in both EPA information and regulatory policy.

Why Data Quality Measures Are Crucial

Perhaps more than anything else, the Internet is reshaping the way the federal government conducts business. With incredible speed, vast amounts of information can become readily available to almost anyone in the country (or the world) with the click of a button. The quality of government information, in all forms, has always been important, since it is often the basis for public policy and resource allocation decisions in both the public and private sectors. However, information quality has taken on exponentially greater urgency, because of the potential harms associated with real time reporting and the wide availability of information placed on agency websites.

Agencies have generally lacked any formal procedures to correct information which is found to be inaccurate or misleading. The result has been, at a minimum, frustration on the part of parties who dispute certain agency information disseminations. It is likely from such perceived difficulties that Congress felt compelled to take action, making EPA a test case for a possible new approach to review of information.

Congressional Directive to EPA

The Senate has recently expressed its concern with the quality of information disseminated by federal agencies, with special focus on EPA. The congressional provision in question is contained in Senate Report 106-161, and is incorporated as part of the Conference Report (H. Rpt. 106-379) accompanying P.L. 106-74. In relevant part, the legislative language states:
Sixth, the Committee is concerned that the Administration is pursuing legal positions that would have the effect of insulating its information dissemination activities from all forms of judicial review. The Committee believes that the availability of judicial review is an important means to provide redress for those who might be harmed by government action and to provide the proper incentives for care in the use of information by government agencies. The Committee directs EPA to establish a cooperative agreement with an institution with strong credentials in administrative law to consult with a cross-section of legal experts and provide the Congress with recommendations on when judicial review should be allowed for governmental dissemination of information, by electronic or other means. This evaluation should consider the Constitution, the Administrative Procedures Act, the Federal Tort Claims Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Paperwork Reduction Act and any other federal statute concerning information management or government liability. (S. Rpt. 106-161.)
Next Steps

CRE believes that structured mechanisms for review of agency information increase the overall quality of data, thereby fostering public confidence in both EPA information and regulatory policy. Therefore, CRE will provide specific recommendations to EPA for meeting their congressional responsibility to examine options for developing a judicial review program for the dissemination of data by EPA.