May 27, 2019

White House issues new memo on how federal agencies should consider scientific data

White House issues new memo on how federal agencies should consider scientific data

On Apr. 24, The White House Office of Budget Management (OBM) issued a new guidance document for executive branch agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture. The memo, titled "Improving Implementation of the Information Quality Act," is meant to guide federal agencies as they select "influential scientific, financial, or statistical information” to support policy making.

As Memo M-19-15 states, “Prudent decision making depends on reliable, high-quality information.” The memo lays out two main requirements for selecting quality data: peer review and public accessibility.

In selecting data to consider, the OBM emphasizes the need for peer review that takes into account the "objectivity of the underlying data.” Agencies should do a second peer review when research conclusions change significantly due to peer reviewer comments, analysis or “further consideration.” The OBM states that peer review is a requirement especially for data deemed “influential” to policymaking.

Public data dissemination is growing in scientific publishing, and the OBM appears to support the same openness for data collected by federal agencies. As the memo states, “Agencies should provide the public with sufficient documentation about each dataset released to allow data users to determine the fitness of the data for the purpose for which third parties may consider using it.”

Some have countered that the memo invites regulated industries to challenge the research used for policy decisions. By requiring that data considered be peer-reviewed and publicly available, agencies might be welcome to dismiss internally gathered data that hasn’t been released due to citizen privacy concerns, for example.

However, the memo does state that “0MB policy requires agencies to ensure that privacy and confidentiality are fully protected and that data are properly secured so that open data do not disclose personally identifiable information.”

Agencies are required to updated their procedures to follow the new guidance within 90 days.

Learn more:

About the Information Quality Act (also called the Data Quality Act)