Data quality

The way federal agencies use data to form new regulations and policies changed Oct. 1, thanks to a little-known piece of legislation called the Data Quality Act. Industry proponents of the measure say that once the law is fully implemented, federal regulations and information will be permanently improved.

Maureen Lorenzetti

The way federal agencies use data to form new regulations and policies changed Oct. 1, thanks to a little-known piece of legislation called the Data Quality Act. Industry proponents of the measure say that once the law is fully implemented, federal regulations and information will be permanently improved.
Environmental and public interest groups, however, say the law is a back-door way for industry to avoid future clean air regulations because it gives affected parties the ability to call into question the scientific data used to justify tougher standards.
The legislation requires that all federal agencies "ensure and maximize" the "quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity" of all information disseminated by the US government, according to a fact sheet prepared by the US Chamber of Commerce (COC) for its members. This means refiners, producers, or service station owners can seek correction of information they see as inaccurate or misleading, including risk assessments the US Environmental Protection Agency often uses to support new rules.

Quiet introduction
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) quietly attached the data measure to an unrelated spending bill in fall 2000. But the law is significant, industry groups say. The COC calls it "the most significant change to the federal rulemaking process since the Administrative Procedure Act was enacted more than 50 years ago."
Environmental groups have a different opinion. They maintain that the data quality issue is designed to "throw sand into the gears of regulatory machinery," in the words of Frank O'Donnell, executive director of Clean Air Trust, who lambasted Emerson in January 2001, shortly after the bill became law.
O'Donnell and other environmental group representatives say the data issue comes from industry polluters "smoldering" about confidential health records that were used by EPA in setting tougher fine-particle soot standards in 1997. "Industry lawyers were itching to get their hands on the information—perhaps so they could harass the participants and make it harder to perform similar studies in the future," O'Donnell said.
Federal agencies this summer furnished draft guidelines on rule implementation. Regulators, however, cautioned that the data quality guidelines are designed to make agencies more efficient, not to create judicial reviews.

Watching the watchdogs
To help ensure that the law's potential is fully met, the COC has directly submitted comments to a number of agencies that have released their draft guidelines. The COC is also leading an effort of more than two dozen trade associations to track and formally comment upon implementation of the law by various other agencies that regulate the business community.
But the fight to ensure adequate implementation of the law is only the beginning of the COC's activities in this area, chamber officials said: "Once the law is effective, the US chamber will work to be certain that all agencies are complying with the quality requirements and, if and when agencies fall short of the new standard, will stand ready to enforce the law by any necessary means."

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