GAO Says Test Must Be Validated To Be Reliable
The government accounting Office is one of Winston's favorite federal agencies. The GAO's reports often hit upon truths that apply beyond the scope of their immediate subject.
For example, the GAO Report Anthrax Detection: Agencies Need to Validate Sampling Activities in Order to Increase Confidence in Negative Results is directly concerned only with the accuracy and reliability of anthrax sampling at 286 postal facilities. The EPA, CDC and Postal Service performed the tests. The tests showed anthrax at some of the postal facilities, none at most. The GAO concluded that workers and users cannot rely on these tests because the test methods had never been validated in accordance with accepted validation procedures. In the report's own words:
The results of the agencies' testing in 286 postal facilities were largely
negative-no anthrax was detected. However, agencies did not use
validated sample collection and analytical methods. According to the
agencies, validated methods were not available in 2001. Thus, there can
be little confidence in negative results. Validation is a formal, empirical
process in which an authority determines and certifies the performance
characteristics of a given method. Consequently, the lack of validation of
agencies' activities, coupled with limitations associated with their
targeted sampling strategy, means that negative results may not be
Winston does not intend to belittle the importance of this sampling effort. Accurate, reliable anthrax sampling is necessary to ensure the safety of postal office workers and users. The GAO report does, however, have broader application in its correct conclusion that non-validated tests cannot be relied on. Tests that have not been properly validated cannot be relied on in any context. Other federal agencies would be wise to read this report and to follow its recommendations.
Click for for GAO report.