Information Quality Act

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The Information Quality Act ("IQA"), located in Section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001, directs the Office of Management and Budget ("OMB") to issue guidelines that provide "policy and procedural guidance to Federal agencies for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies ..."[1].

The IQA also directs OMB to include three specific requirements in its guidelines:[2]

  • (1) that federal agencies develop their own information quality guidelines,
  • (2) administrative mechanisms for affected persons to seek correction of information that does not comply with OMB's guidelines, and
  • (3) that federal agencies report periodically to OMB on the number and nature of complaints they receive regarding the accuracy of the information they disseminate.

But neither the Act itself nor its very limited legislative history provide a mechanism for judicial review of information quality or any avenue for judicial relief.

OMB Guidelines

The OMB published final guidelines on implementing the IQA on February 22, 2002.[3] The Guidelines require federal agencies to undertake four principal responsibilities:[4]

  • (1) to "adopt specific standards of quality that are appropriate for the various categories of information they disseminate;"
  • (2) to "develop a process for reviewing the quality . . . of information before it is disseminated;"
  • (3) to "establish administrative mechanisms allowing affected persons to seek and obtain, where appropriate, timely correction of information maintained and disseminated by the agency that does not comply with OMB or agency guidelines;" and
  • (4) to provide OMB with reports regarding the agencies' information quality guidelines and any information quality complaints they receive.

The OMB guidelines encourage agencies that are responsible for disseminating influential scientific, financial, or statistical information to provide a "high degree of transparency about data and methods to facilitate reproducibility of such information by qualified third parties."[5]

The OMB guidelines also address administrative correction mechanisms and require agencies to "specify appropriate time periods for agency decisions on whether and how to correct information" and to "establish an administrative appeal process to review the agency's initial decision."[6] OMB states that the agencies should correct information only "where appropriate" and that "these administrative mechanisms shall be flexible" and "appropriate to the nature and timeliness of the disseminated information."[7] Agencies maintain significant discretion in ensuring the quality of the information of the information they disseminate.

HHS Guidelines

On October 1, 2002, pursuant to the IQA and the OMB guidelines, HHS implemented its own "Guidelines for Ensuring the Integrity of Information Disseminated by HHS agencies." U.S. DEPT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, GUIDELINES FOR ENSURING THE INTEGRITY OF INFORMATION DISSEMINATED TO THE PUBLIC, available at http://www.aspe.hhs.gov/infoquality/Guidelines/NIHinfo2.shtml (last revised Nov. 12, 2003). The HHS guidelines include both department-wide and agency-specific guidelines, including the guidelines of the NIH. HHS indicates that it generally favors public access to the data underlying agency-sponsored scientific studies when the data is available. Id. Such public disclosure of data, however, may not always be permissible, due for example, to confidentiality requirements, proprietary restrictions, or resource availability. Id. The NIH guidelines state that generally "grantees own the data generated by or resulting from a grant-supported project." Id. at § II.2 and n.1. Consequently, although data sharing is encouraged, NIH recognizes that it may be limited by confidentiality concerns and other factors that preclude data dissemination. Id. at § V.1.

The HHS guidelines also establish a process for information correction requests and appeals. Id. at § VI. HHS reminds complainants that they bear the burden of proof to establish the need for and the type of correction sought. Id. A correction request must include specific reasons for asserting that the information at issue violates OMB, HHS, or agency-specific guidelines and "specific recommendations for correcting the information." Id. The agency aims to respond to correction requests within 60 days of receipt, and a party may appeal the agency's decision within 30 days after that. The agency aims to decide any appeals within 60 days. Id.

Sources

The above passage is taken from Salt Inst. v. Thompson, 345 F. Supp. 2d 589 (E.D. Va. Nov. 15, 2004), which held against a right to the underlying data on standing grounds.


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