OMB says data rules challenge agencies

Federal agencies will likely have to struggle to implement new rules governing the quality of information shared with the public, a White House official said Wednesday.

As of Oct.1, agencies must subject a vast array of information they share with the public to a new set of guidelines aimed at ensuring the data is more accurate and useful. The change comes as the result of a rider attached to the 2001 Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, which required the Office of Management and Budget and agencies to develop the new guidelines. Nearly every bit of information agencies publish-from rulemakings to reports to Congress to information posted on Web sites-is affected. Any third party data used to bolster a policy decision is also subject to the new guidelines.

John Graham, administrator of the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said the biggest challenge agencies face is ensuring that the guidelines are a part of their day-to-day operations. In its final guidance, OMB said it will hold agencies accountable for disseminating information consistent with their own internal and governmentwide criteria. OMB reviewed and approved guidelines from 93 different agencies, each tailored to their individual missions. Agencies are required to post the guidelines on their Web sites.

The guidelines also spell out how the public can challenge agency data. Prior to the new guidelines, the public had little opportunity to force agencies to review and potentially revise their findings, Graham said.

Graham said that OMB has worked hard to ensure that agencies are not overloaded by "frivolous complaints." For starters, the petitioner must prove that the information is subject to review under the agency's criteria and then show where it is flawed.

During the first year of implementation, OMB plans to monitor how well agencies are following the criteria. In the long run, OMB may have scientific groups look at the quality of data from various agencies, according to Graham.