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Date: March 18, 2005 -

EPA will implement a first-time, agency-wide system laying out the procedures for scrutinizing “influential” data to ensure they meet the standards of the controversial Information Quality Act (IQA) before publicly releasing policies based on that data, according to EPA sources and internal documents.

The new effort would force all agency offices to conduct internal reviews on data deemed crucial to policy decisions. EPA sources say this would expand and standardize efforts by some agency offices that have been doing similar reviews periodically in the past.

EPA’s upcoming blueprint on conducting the reviews could institutionalize the agency’s implementation of the much-debated statute, a move that some sources say is the broadest implementation yet of the statute in the federal government.

EPA sources say the agency’s Office of Environmental Information is spearheading the effort and is now receiving feedback from EPA regional and program offices on how to best implement so-called pre-dissemination reviews for influential data. That evaluation will likely be finished this summer.

EPA’s effort comes as congressional Republicans and industry officials are pressuring the Bush administration to be more assertive in using the IQA, and are laying the groundwork for a legislative push to strengthen the two-sentence statute, which was attached as a rider to a 2000 appropriations bill that President Clinton signed into law.

The law allows outside groups to request that federal agencies correct data the groups consider unreliable. The IQA has strong support among industry officials, who argue the statute is crucial to ensure agency policies are based upon the best information available.

EPA’s plan appears to be part of a Bush administration push to ensure that “sound” data are used to support policy decisions. The administration has increasingly emphasized that scientific studies whose results could affect industry should be peer-reviewed before being finalized. EPA says it considers peer review a “component” of its pre-dissemination process.

Environmentalists and watchdog groups have criticized the administration’s efforts, saying they are used to slow down and thwart regulations that affect industry. They are calling for the IQA to be repealed, noting that very few industry requests for corrections have been approved since the law was enacted.

A source with the watchdog group OMB Watch, a leading critic of the act, says the EPA plan is “troubling.” “This is exactly one of the things we’ve been concerned about, adding these layers of bureaucracy in the development of information,” the source says. “They’re creating all these systems to control information. It goes against the whole purpose to get information out.”

EPA sources deny that the new plan will slow down the regulatory process.

Sources say EPA appears to be at the forefront within the federal government in using the act and the first to implement a broad pre-dissemination review process.

Kimberly Nelson, EPA’s chief information officer, last month discussed how the agency was implementing the IQA with House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), in a document obtained by Inside EPA under the Freedom of Information Act. Barton requested in January that EPA and 14 other agencies detail how they are implementing the act, and he plans to issue a report on the subject later this year. A committee aide declined to comment on EPA’s implementation of the act, saying Barton’s staff members are reviewing agency responses to the chairman’s request.

According to Nelson’s comments, EPA developed guidelines in 2002 that show how the agency ensures that “all disseminated information should adhere to a basic standard of quality, including objectivity, utility, and integrity.”

Nelson says, “Implementation of this system at EPA helps to ensure that the information EPA disseminates is defensible and useful for its intended purpose . . . . EPA is in the process of developing a model of minimum [pre-dissemination] review standards based on existing policies.” Relevant documents are available on

The Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (CRE), an industry-funded regulatory watchdog group, has urged federal agencies to implement a pre-dissemination review under the IQA. In a November 2004 document sent to the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, the group calls for a seven-step, pre-dissemination review process.

The group says the review process should require agencies to consult with outside groups, verify that the data and analyses meet IQA standards, review influential data and ensure the information meets the intent of the policy. CRE also says agencies should release to the public data and models used in decision-making, perform an “especially rigorous robustness check” for data not being released and keep a record of the review.

EPA sources declined to say whether its new system will follow a similar path, but they say it will maintain a “decentralized” approach that will allow agency programs and offices to make the final decision on whether to accept or reject influential data affecting key policy decisions. The sources say the upcoming strategy will offer a blueprint for conducting pre-dissemination reviews, and deny that it will slow down the policy process.

The EPA sources say the data affected by the review are what the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) considers “influential.” In October 2002 guidelines, OMB says data are influential if they will have a “clear and substantial impact on important public policies or important private sector decisions.” OMB considers “information” to include anything “textual, numerical, graphic, cartographic, narrative, or audiovisual forms,” but exempts opinions and other matters from the act. -- Manu Raju

Source: Inside EPA via
Date: March 18, 2005
Issue: Vol. 26, No. 11
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