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Data Quality Act of 2002

The Data Quality Act of 2002 (which some know better as the Information Quality Act) was enacted without discussion or debate as Section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act of 2001. The Act was touted as a means for Congress to ensure that federal agencies were using and disseminating accurate information, however critics of the Act roundly disagree. Some argue that the Act does not make it clear whether agency information quality guidelines apply to rulemaking, or whether an agency’s denial of a petition to correct information is reviewable by the courts. This article takes a closer look at the Data Quality Act and provides a commentary of what it means for those affected.

Before the Data Quality Act…

Congress enacted the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) in 1980 as a response to the federal government’s increasing demand for data from small businesses, individuals, and state and local governments. Congress hoped that the PRA would impose controls over government requests for data.

Under the PRA, Congress was able to establish the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OIRA is responsible for oversight of other federal agencies, with respect to paperwork. It develops uniform processing for efficient information processing, storage and transmittal systems, within and among agencies.

The Data Quality Act, enacted in December of 2000 and taking effect as of October 1, 2002, amends the PRA.

What is the Data Quality Act?

As part of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, the Data Quality Act (DQA) requires federal agencies to provide information quality guidelines that ensure the quality, utility, objectivity and integrity of information that they disseminate and provide mechanisms for affected persons to correct such information.

The DQA was mostly created in response to increased use of the internet, which allows agencies to communicate information easily and quickly to a large audience. Under the DQA, federal agencies must ensure that the information disseminated meets certain quality standards. The intention behind this was to prevent the harm that can occur when government websites – usually easily and frequently accessed by the public – disseminate inaccurate information.

The DQA covers all federal agencies already subject to the PRA. According to the PRA, an agency is: “any executive department, military department, Government corporation, Government controlled corporation, or other establishment in the executive branch of the government.” However, an “agency” excludes the following:

OIRA Guidelines

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) published its final version of the Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility, and Integrity of Information Disseminated by Federal Agencies. The Guidelines require each federal agency to:

  1. Issue its own information quality guidelines ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information that it disseminates.
  2. Establish administrative mechanisms to allow affected persons to seek and obtain correction of information maintained or disseminated by the agency that does not comply with OMB or agency guidelines.
  3. Report periodically to the OMB the number and nature of complaints received by the agency regarding the accuracy of its information and how such complaints were resolved.

The Corrections Process

It’s important to note that the DQA itself does not include definitions of key terms, such as quality, utility, objectivity and integrity. Rather, definitions are taken from OMB documents. Scientists have argued that although the OMB has attempted to model the regulatory process on the scientific process, it’s obvious that the two processes have different goals. According to Sydney Shapiro, board member for the Center for Progressive Regulation, “Science benefits when results are as accurate as possible, while regulations are made to protect people from harm and should always err on the side of safety.”

The petition process is something else that goes undefined in the DQA, thus making it uncertain how it is to be enforced. The DQA lacks a judicial review provision allowing for a party to take a data quality dispute to court. Should the courts hold that there is no judicial review, then the DQA will probably have little effect on the way federal agencies use and disseminate data. Another issue posed by the DQA is that agencies may anticipate such action by courts and become wary of disseminating information and less apt to engage in rule-making.

Critics say…

Critics of the Act have argued that it is:

“a below-the radar legislative device that defenders of industry have increasingly relied upon to attack all range of scientific studies whose results or implications they disagree with, from government global warming reports to cancer research using animal subjects. On its face, the act merely seeks to ensure the “quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity” of government information. In practice… it creates an unprecedented and cumbersome process that saddles agencies with a new workload while empowering businesses to challenge not just government regulations… but scientific information that could potentially lead to regulation somewhere down the road.”     

Summary

This article takes a look at the Data Quality Act of 2002, or Section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act. The Data Quality Act (DQA) requires federal agencies to provide information quality guidelines that ensure the quality, utility, objectivity and integrity of information that they disseminate and provide mechanisms for affected persons to correct such information. This article examines the requirements of the DQA, as well as critics’ responses.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/ US Government (CIPP/G), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Data Quality Act of 2002 (I.C.e.)
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