The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued "Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility, and Integrity of Information Disseminated by Federal Agencies."
Congress directed OMB to issue these guidelines in section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Public Law 106-554); section 515 is now commonly referred to as the Data Quality Act.
OMB published its guidelines in interim final form in the Federal Register on September 28, 2001 at 66 FR 49718-49725 and updated the guidelines on February 22, 2002 at 67 FR 8452-8460. Also, after reviewing initial agency draft guidelines, OMB issued supplementary guidance that discussed important issues, identified noteworthy approaches for consideration, and provided guidance on those provisions that need to be adopted uniformly in all agency guidelines (Memorandum from John D. Graham for the President's Management Council, "Agency Draft Information Quality Guidelines," June 10, 2002; Memorandum from John D. Graham for the President's Management Council, "Agency Final Information Quality Guidelines," September 5, 2002; and, Memorandum from John D. Graham for the President's Management Council, "Executive Branch Implementation of the Information Quality Law," October 4, 2002; ).
OMB's guidelines require Federal agencies subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35) to: (1) issue information quality guidelines for the information the agencies disseminate; (2) establish administrative mechanisms allowing affected persons to seek and obtain correction of information disseminated by the agencies on or after October 1, 2002 that does not comply with OMB or agency guidelines; and (3) annually report to OMB the number and nature of complaints received by the agencies regarding agency compliance with OMB and agency guidelines and how such complaints were resolved.
OMB's guidelines stipulate that information that agencies first disseminate on or after October 1, 2002 must comply with OMB and agency information quality guidelines. Agency administrative mechanisms shall apply to information that the agency disseminates on or after October 1, 2002, regardless of when the agency first disseminated the information.
Compliance of USDA Information Quality Guidelines
USDA's information quality guidelines and administrative mechanisms conform to the requirements of OMB's information quality guidelines. In addition to revisions made in response to public comments, USDA's guidelines include revisions to incorporate the detailed guidance contained in OMB's supplemental guidance of June 10, 2002. USDA's information quality guidelines adopt the definitions included in OMB's guidelines.
Information Quality: USDA Management Objective
In implementing these guidelines, USDA acknowledges that ensuring the quality of information is an important management objective that takes its place alongside other Departmental objectives, such as ensuring the success of agency missions, observing budget and resource priorities and restraints, and providing useful information to the public. USDA intends to implement these guidelines in a way that will achieve all these objectives in a harmonious way.
USDA's Chief Information Officer is the senior official responsible for USDA compliance with these guidelines. The heads of USDA agencies and offices are responsible for ensuring compliance with these departmental guidelines by their agency or office. (See Agency Quality of Information Guidelines to locate the Quality of Information officials and for the USDA agencies and staff offices.)
USDA'S Approach to Developing Quality Guidelines for the Information Disseminated by USDA Agencies and Offices
USDA has developed general, inclusive, information quality guidelines that apply to all types of information disseminated by USDA agencies and offices. In addition, in accordance with OMB's guidance for agencies to adopt specific standards of quality that are appropriate for the various categories of information they disseminate, USDA also has developed supplementary guidelines for major categories of information disseminated by the department. These categories include scientific research information, statistical and financial information, and information related to regulatory activities, three categories of information that are of particular importance in OMB's guidelines. Also, USDA has developed supplementary guidelines for information about the department's programs and services, general reference information, and information pertaining to the organization and administration of the Department and its agencies and offices.
These general and supplementary information quality guidelines apply to all USDA offices and agencies. Component agencies and offices also may, if they so choose and as appropriate, develop more detailed guidelines within the departmental framework for the quality of the information that they disseminate. The department's Economic Research Service and National Agricultural Statistics Service are the first USDA organizations to develop agency-specific information quality guidelines.
Use of Web sites
USDA agencies and offices will use their Web sites to keep the public informed about information quality on a timely basis. Specifically, each agency and office will establish an information quality site on its Web site. The purpose of the information quality site will be to meaningfully inform the public about the agency's or office's information quality practices and procedures. The information quality site will include access to USDA's Information Quality Guidelines, agency/office specific guidelines (if any), and an easy-to-understand explanation of the agency's/office's procedures regarding requests for correction. The explanation will include instructions for filing a request, and subsequently, an administration appeal of the agency's response to the request. The information quality site also will contain information describing corrections that the agency has made as a result of the correction procedures.
Information Subject to USDA's Information Quality Guidelines
- Except for those categories of information that are specifically exempted from coverage (see below), these guidelines apply to all information disseminated by USDA and USDA initiated or sponsored dissemination of information by USDA grantees, contractors, or cooperators on or after October 1, 2002, regardless of when the information was first disseminated.
- These guidelines apply to all media, including printed, electronic, or other form.
- These guidelines apply not only to information that USDA generates, but also to information that USDA disseminates that was provided by or obtained from outside parties and which USDA adopts, endorses, or uses to formulate or support a regulation, guidance, or other agency decision or position.
- Some information products released prior to October 1, 2002 continue to be used for decision-making or are relied on by USDA agencies or offices and the public as official, authoritative, government information. This information is, in effect, constantly being re-disseminated and is thus subject to these Guidelines. Previously released information products that do not meet these criteria are considered archived information and thus are not subject to these Guidelines.
These guidelines are not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legally binding regulations or mandates. The guidelines do not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity, by any party against the United States, its agencies (including USDA or any USDA agency or office), officers, or employees or any persons.
Information Not Subject to USDA's Information Quality Guidelines
Most of the categories of information listed below are exempted from coverage by OMB's guidelines. In the case of internal manuals and material presented to Congress that has been disseminated elsewhere, USDA is adding categories of information that the OMB guidelines do not specifically exempt. The following categories of information are not subject to USDA's Information Quality Guidelines.
- Views or opinions, where the presentation makes it clear that what is being offered is someone's opinion rather than fact.
Dissemination of information by Federal employees and recipients of grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts:
- These Guidelines do not apply to information disseminated by recipients of grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts unless a USDA agency or office represents the information as, or uses the information in support of, an official agency position; or the grantee, cooperator, or contractor is disseminating the information at the request of the agency; or the grant or agreement requires USDA agency approval of dissemination of the information.
- These Guidelines do not apply to dissemination of any type of research by Federal employees and recipients of USDA grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts where the researcher, not USDA, decides whether and how to communicate and publish the research, does so in the same manner as his or her academic colleagues, and disseminates the research in a manner that indicates that the research does not represent USDA's official position (for example, by including an appropriate disclaimer). Distribution of research in this manner is not subject to these Guidelines even if USDA retains ownership or other intellectual property rights because the Federal Government paid for the research.
- Information for which distribution is intended to be limited to government employees, agency contractors, or grantees.
- Information that is intended only for intra-agency or inter-agency use or sharing of government information, unless the receiving agency disseminates the information to the public.
- Responses to requests for agency records under the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, or other similar law.
- Press releases, fact sheets, press conferences, or similar communications in any medium that announce, support the announcement, or give public notice of information that USDA has disseminated elsewhere.
- Public filings, unless USDA disseminates the information to the public in a manner that suggests that USDA endorses or adopts the information or indicates in its dissemination that the agency is using the information to formulate or support a regulation, guidance, or other decision or position.
- Correspondence with individuals, persons, or entities (regardless of media, such as electronic mail).
- Subpoenas or adjudicative processes. Excluded from the scope of these Guidelines are the findings and determinations that USDA makes in the course of adjudications involving specific parties. The exemption for adjudications is limited to adjudications that provide an opportunity to contest information quality in a timely manner. Because there are well-established procedural safeguards and rights to address the quality of factual allegations and adjudicatory decisions, and to provide persons with an opportunity to contest decisions, these Guidelines do not impose any additional requirements on USDA during adjudicative proceedings and do not provide parties to such adjudicative proceedings any additional rights of challenge or appeal.
- Archival information disseminated by USDA libraries or other similar USDA information repositories (e.g., inactive or historical materials in USDA libraries and other data collections).
- Hyperlinks from USDA Web sites to information that others outside USDA disseminate.
- Information presented to Congress as part of the legislative or oversight processes (e.g., testimony of USDA officials, information or drafting assistance provided to Congress in connection with pending or proposed legislation) that the agency has already disseminated to the public in some other way.
- Procedural, operational, policy, and internal manuals prepared for the management and operations of USDA that are not primarily intended for public distribution.
USDA's Definition of Influential Scientific, Financial, or Statistical Information
OMB's guidelines define "influential" information as information that the agency reasonably can determine will have or does have a clear and substantial impact on important public policies or important private sector decisions. The guidelines assign to each agency the task of clarifying this term in ways appropriate to the agency and its various programs.
A clear and substantial impact is one that has a high probability of occurring. If it is merely arguable that an impact will occur, or if it is a close judgment call, then the impact is probably not clear and substantial. The impact must be on "important" public policy or private sector decisions. Even if information has a clear and substantial impact, it is not influential if the impact is not on a public or private decision that is important to policy, economic, or other decisions. The definition applies to "information" itself, not to decisions that the information may support. Even if a decision or action by a USDA agency or office is itself very important, a particular piece of information supporting it may or may not be "influential."
In rulemaking, influential information is scientific, financial, or statistical information that will have a clear and substantial impact on the resolution of one or more key issues in an economically significant rulemaking, as that term is defined in Executive Order 12866. Executive Order 12866 defines an economically significant rulemaking as one that is likely to result in a rule that may have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more or adversely affect in a material way the economy, a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health or safety, or State, local, or tribal governments or communities. The reference to key issues on significant rules reflects the "important" public policy language of the guidelines.
In non-rulemaking contexts, USDA agencies and offices will consider two factors-breadth and intensity-in determining whether scientific, financial, or statistical information is influential. Every decision USDA makes based on disseminated information is important to someone. That does not mean that disseminated information used for each decision is influential, as the term is used in these guidelines. In determining whether information is influential, USDA agencies and offices should consider whether the information affects a broad range of parties. Information that affects a broad, rather than a narrow, range of parties (e.g., an entire industry or a significant part of an industry, as opposed to a single company) is more likely to be influential. USDA agencies and offices also will consider whether the information has an intense impact. Information that has a low cost or modest impact on affected parties is less likely to be influential than information that can have a very costly or crucial impact. Information that has an intense impact on a broad range of parties should be regarded as influential. Information that affects a broad range of parties, with a low-intensity impact, or information that affects a narrow range of parties, with a high intensity impact, likely is not influential.
USDA agencies and offices may designate certain classes of scientific, statistical, or financial information as "influential" or not in the context of their specific programs. Absent such designations, USDA agencies and offices will determine whether scientific, statistical, or financial information is influential on a case-by-case basis, using the principles articulated in these guidelines.
The "influential" designation is intended to be applied to scientific, statistical, or financial information only when clearly appropriate. USDA agencies and offices should not designate scientific, statistical, or financial information as influential on a regular or routine basis.