OMB releases guide for guarding statistical data

The Office of Management and Budget published new guidelines Friday to help agencies comply with a law on protecting the confidentiality of data gathered in statistical surveys.

The guidelines, published in the Federal Register, implement uniform governmentwide standards for collecting and maintaining confidential statistical information.

The 17-page document is designed to help agencies follow the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act, a section of the 2002 E-Government Act. The law requires agencies to issue clear descriptions of confidentiality protections for data they collect from the public, implement safety measures to prevent unauthorized access and ensure that anyone with access has an up-to-date understanding of confidentiality rules and procedures.

"These guidelines will help maintain and enhance the public's trust and confidence that we will protect this information and ensure it is used only for statistical purposes," said Clay Johnson, OMB deputy director for management, in a statement.

Statistics collected and published by the federal government provide a large portion of the information available about the U.S. economy, population, natural resources, environment and public and private institutions, according to OMB. More than 70 agencies carry out statistical activities, but prior to the 2002 law, confidentiality safeguards varied across agencies.

The guidelines were developed through a multiyear interagency process that included reviews by dozens of agency officials that specialize in the protection of sensitive data, and by members of the public.

OMB received five comments during this process, including one that resulted in a requirement for agencies to post on their Web sites their annual reports on the implementation of the 2002 law.

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