OMB Data Quality Standards (12-23-04)
In an effort to ensure that information released by the US Government
is accurate, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
Guidelines on February 22, 2002. These were In accordance with
the Data Quality Act (Section 515 of Public Law 106-554) OMB issued
guidelines to promote "the quality, objectivity, utility, and
integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated
by Federal agencies.'' The OMB also directed all federal agencies
to draft their own guidelines to correct information that did not
comply with those released by OMB by October 1, 2002. Of particular
interest to the geoscience community are scientific findings promulgated
by federal agencies.
On December 17th the White House Office of Management and Budget
issued "peer review" guidelines aimed at formalizing the
process of science performed by government agencies undergoing outside
review. Science used by the U.S. EPA, the Interior Department, the
Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies to support major
rules and regulations will be subject to review by non-governmental
experts for the first time under these new standards.
According to Greenwire, supporters of the guidelines -- in the Bush
administration and industry -- say they will help ensure that federal
policy is shaped by sound scientific practices. But critics claim
the guidelines are an effort by the executive branch to seize control
of the release of scientific information and slow the creation of
new federal rules.
The guidelines separate scientific information meriting peer review
into two types. The first requires federal agencies to appoint an
independent peer review panel for science supporting rules or policies
costing industry, states or local governments more than $500 million
in any year. While this is a higher cost threshold than industry officials
wanted, Sean Moulton, a information policy analyst at OMB Watch, said
OMB can effectively order an agency review by designating this type
of science "highly influential." The second type of science
affected by the guidelines is "influential scientific information,"
such as risk assessments, environmental and natural resources computer
modeling, data and other technical analyses. Agencies can subject
these types of scientific information to the same rigorous peer review
as highly influential science or they can get them peer reviewed by
a small group of experts in one environmental or natural resources
Agencies can subject influential scientific information to the lower
level of peer review, but the guidelines direct agencies to "choose
a peer review mechanism that is adequate" based on a variety
of factors including whether science is new, the extent of prior peer
reviews, and the expected costs and benefits that will result from
its use. "More rigorous peer review is necessary for information
that is based on novel methods or presents complex challenges for
interpretation," the rule states.
Greenwire reported that the White House substantially revised the
guidelines since they were first proposed in September 2003 (see below).
Among the changes is a proposal that would grant federal agencies
the right to release scientific documents about an "emerging
public health or medical risk" without first getting OMB approval.
Another change OMB made was to make clear that science already reviewed
by the National Academy of Sciences is not subject to the peer review
The new guidelines can be found online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg/peer2004/peer_bulletin.pdf.
On August 29th, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
released a proposal to standardize an independent peer review process
for all "significant regulatory information" released by
federal agencies. Public comments, which can be submitted electronically
are due by October 28th, and the final guidelines are expected to
go into effect by February 2004.
Although some agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), already have a peer review protocol in place, no uniform federal
peer review standards currently exist. In an introduction to the proposed
new standards, OMB explained that agencies are generally aware of
conflicts of interest that industry scientists might face. In the
past, agencies have therefore often overlooked potential conflicts
of interest encountered by scientists associated with the agencies
themselves. To support this statement, OMB cited material from a number
of organizations, including the American Geophysical Union's (AGU)
Oct. 2000 Guidelines to Publication of Geophysical Research, which
asserts that conflicts of interest can result from internal peer review.
OMB went on to explain that even when the reviewers have been independent,
agencies have tended to call on the same set of reviewers for many
projects. This has led to the perception that each agency has only
chosen reviewers whose opinions match its own agenda.
Senior OMB official John Graham maintained that the proposed guidelines
would help ensure that agency regulation has a sound scientific basis.
In a press release he stated "Peer review is an effective way
to further engage the scientific community in the regulatory process
The goal is fewer lawsuits and a more consistent regulatory environment,
which is good for consumers and business." The Department of
Agriculture and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be most heavily
affected by the proposed new peer review standards, Graham has said.
The new guidelines would oblige federal agencies to submit to OMB
once a year a list of all planned scientific studies relating to regulatory
matters, along with descriptions of accompanying review processes.
They would also require each reviewer to disclose any interest that
he or she might have in the subject matter in question.
The proposed standards would apply to all documents that either impact
regulatory policies or that contain "influential" information
as defined by OMB's Information- Quality Guidelines. Information released
in support of a regulatory policy would be subject to the new guidelines
as would information that might have a deliberate or unintended sway
over the public or private sector. The proposal would additionally
cover information of "significant interagency interest,"
or that relates to an Administration policy priority. Independent
peer review would not be required, however, for grant applications
or scientific studies unrelated to regulatory issues. Nor would this
process be required for information that has already undergone the
process of peer review, such as in "respected" (OMB's term)
The private sector could also gain a new avenue to probe the validity
of agency regulations. Firms would be able to question the scientific
basis of regulations that cost industry more than $100 million per
year, requiring the regulating agency to submit the science behind
the regulation to a panel of independent reviewers. The agency itself
would have the power to appoint this panel, although the OMB has asked
for public comment on whether an independent, centralized body would
be better suited for this task. Reviewers might include specialists
from another program within the agency, or could come from outside
of the agency. Graham said that most reviewers would be from universities.
Provisions for adequate reviewer access to information on both the
issue to be reviewed and its broader context also appear in the proposed
guidelines. OMB has found this to be lacking in current agency peer
review practice. In addition, OMB aims to make the new process more
transparent by including an explanation of how each agency has complied
with the proposed guidelines in its administrative records. The agency
would also be required to provide OMB with a list of all "non-frivolous
information quality correction requests" within a week.
Reactions to OMB's plan have been mixed, with numerous private sector
representatives supporting the proposal. As Greenwire reported, Jim
Solyst, science policy director for the American Chemistry Council,
dismissed the possibility that the new proposal would mix politics
with scientific research. He maintained that an independent review
process would not "automatically lead to a policy decision."
Jim Tozzi, former OMB official under Presidents Nixon and Regan, agreed.
Now a member of the board of advisors for the industry-linked Center
for Regulatory Effectiveness, he lauded the possibility of revaluating
some environmental and dietary guidelines under the new rules. As
the Washington Post reported, Tozzi threw his support behind the initiative,
proclaiming, "What this document does is put additional teeth
in what is meant by peer review."
Others, on the other hand, have decried the proposed measure as an
Administration scheme to slow down the regulatory process. As The
New York Times reported, Dr. Kurt Gottfried, Professor Emeritus of
Physics at Cornell University and Chairman of the Board of the Union
of Concerned Scientists, expressed his doubt: "One would hope
this kind of review would prevent the kind of abuses that the administration
has engaged in pretty systematically. I have to say I'm pretty skeptical
about what the intention is here." Georgetown University law
professor, health and environmental policy specialist and Center for
Progressive Regulation Member Scholar Lisa Heinzerling also questioned
Graham's intentions, given his paltry support for health and environmental
regulations in the past. According to The Washington Post, she maintained
that "this would be another weapon for the administration and
its corporate allies to use against protective regulation."
Some organizations who oppose government intervention also took issue
with the proposed new measure. Jerry Taylor, of the private, antiregulatory
Cato Institute, claimed that sound science was not enough to justify
a regulation. He told The New York Times that "there's unfortunately
a belief out there that if we just get the science right then we can
more easily adjudicate the disputes at E.P.A. and elsewhere, but that's
just naïve." EPA does not anticipate a significant change
in regulations that would result from the proposed new process, Greenwire
The guidelines and press release are available as an Acrobat document
from OMB at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/pubpress/2003-34.pdf.
Electronic comments may be submitted to: OMB_peer_review@omb.eop.gov.
Please put the full body of your comments in the text of the electronic
message and as an attachment. Please include your name, title, organization,
postal address, telephone number, and e-mail address in the text of
the message. Comments may also be submitted via facsimile to (202)
395-7245. Comments may be mailed to Dr. Margo Schwab, Office of Information
and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, 725 17th
Street, NW, New Executive Office Building, Room 10201, Washington,
DC 20503. (9/9/2003)
Sources: Energy & Environment Daily, Greenwire, The New York
Times, The Washington Post.
Contributed by Ashley M. Smith, 2003 AGI/AAPG Fall Semester Intern;
Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on December 23, 2004