Strategy for Implementing Data Access Objectives
Planned Project Work Activities
Data Access is a crucial tool to ensure that federal regulations are sound and do not impose unnecessary burdens upon businesses and other elements of society. When an agency relies upon a scientific study as the basis for a regulation, the underlying data should be available to the public for validation purposes - particularly where such study is financed with taxpayer funds. And indeed, academics and virtually all other scientists have advocated the general principle of "data sharing."
The FY 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 105-277) and conference report ushered in a major Data Access advancement with real world implications. After two rounds of public comments and much debate, OMB issued a final rule to revise Circular A-110 and make underlying data from federally funded research available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The rule took effect November 8, 1999. It has prospective effect, applying to agency research grants after the effective date, and to renewals of ongoing grants after the effective date. Attention now turns to the separate agencies and their drafting of conforming regulations to implement the OMB rule.
While there has been significant progress in implementing the Data Access law, continuing efforts will be required to ensure that the agencies implement OMB's mandate. In other words, the job is not yet done. In addition, efforts should be made to further the Data Quality portions of the new law. Because it is difficult to prove suspected inaccuracies and methodological weaknesses without access to studies' underlying data, it is important that there be a mechanism through which Data Quality problems can be brought to the attention of federal agency officials. There should also be a mechanism to petition for the correction of such information dissemination by the government or of regulations based upon such data. By advancing both elements - Data Access and Data Quality - real gains can be made in achieving transparent and rational regulations.
Purposes of the Paper
This paper is will:
Data Access Work Activities
I. Facilitation of Agency Conforming Regulations to Implement the OMB Data Access Rule
As noted above, the OMB final rule is a necessary but not sufficient condition for achieving real Data Access. The next step is for agencies to translate OMB's mandate into practice through adoption of agency conforming regulations that put the Data Access rule into practical effect at the agency level and that tailor OMB's requirements to the specific characteristics of the agency's program. The following activities are designed to facilitate early adoption of conforming Data Access regulations by the federal agencies.
Interaction with Agency Officials Regarding Conforming Regulations
Progress Report on Agency Conforming Regulations on the CRE Website
Preparation of Model Agency Conforming Regulation for Data Access
II. Symposium on Cost Reimbursement
One of the key provisions of the Data Access rule, which has concerned both researchers and the federal agencies, has been the issue of cost reimbursement for the expenses associated with complying with the FOIA requests pursuant to the Data Access rule. The final rule requires that FOIA requesters reimburse researcher grantees for complying with Data Access requests, but the details of this procedure are not clearly set forth.
Because problems with cost reimbursement could seriously delay the public's ability to obtain data under the new law, CRE plans to sponsor a meeting for federal agency officials to discuss and seek practical solutions to the cost reimbursement issue. Details of the symposium include:
III. Coalition Building
Ongoing efforts are needed to secure full implementation of the Data Access rule. The activities outlined above are designed to maintain the momentum of the Data Access initiative and to realize full agency implementation of the provisions of P.L. 105-277.
By assisting the agencies on the cost reimbursement issues and in the drafting of their conforming regulations, our goals are to lighten the perceived burden on agency officials, to advance favorable language in the conforming regulations, and to encourage expedient implementation of the Data Access provisions. In this way, increased public access to federal research data, and the concomitant regulatory and policy benefits, may finally be achieved.