[Federal Register Volume 67, Number 195 (Tuesday, October 8, 2002)]
[Notices]
[Pages 62685-62695]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 02-25340]



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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

Office of the Secretary

[Docket No. 020430099-2226-02]
RIN 0690-XX07


Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, 
Utility, and Integrity of Disseminated Information

AGENCY: Department of Commerce.

ACTION: Notice.

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SUMMARY: Section 515 of Public Law 106-554, the Treasury and General 
Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001, directs the Office 
of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue government-wide guidelines that 
``provide policy and procedural guidance to Federal agencies for 
ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and 
integrity of information (including statistical information) 
disseminated by Federal agencies.'' The OMB guidelines require that 
agencies subject to the OMB guidelines must establish administrative 
mechanisms allowing affected persons to seek and obtain correction of 
information maintained and disseminated by the agency that does not 
comply with the OMB guidelines or the agency guidelines. The OMB final 
guidelines were published in the Federal Register on February 22, 2002. 
Those guidelines direct that, by October 1, 2002, agencies publish 
their information quality guidelines.
    The Department of Commerce published its draft guidelines for 
ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and 
integrity of disseminated information on its Internet Web site on May 
1, 2002 and in the Federal Register on May 3, 2002 (67 FR 22398). The 
Department of Commerce's response to the comments received is included 
in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document.
    This document implements section 515 for the Department of Commerce 
and defines the Department of Commerce's information quality 
guidelines. It may be revised periodically, based on experience, 
evolving requirements in the Department of Commerce, and concerns 
expressed by the public.

ADDRESSES: Correspondence should be sent to Thomas N. Pyke, Jr., Chief 
Information Officer, Department of Commerce, 14th St. and Constitution 
Ave. NW, Room 5029B, Washington, DC 20230. Send e-mail to 
informationquality@doc.gov. Department of Commerce operating units will 
publish their information quality standards on the Web sites listed in 
the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document. Correspondence 
on the operating unit standards should be addressed directly to the 
contact noted in the operating unit standards.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Diana H. Hynek, Office of the Chief 
Information Officer, Department of Commerce, 14th St. and Constitution 
Ave. NW., Room 6625, Washington, DC 20230. Telephone (202) 482-0266 or 
by e-mail to dhynek@doc.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The U.S. Department of Commerce (``Commerce'' or ``Department'') is 
one of the most diverse Federal departments, both in terms of its 
mission and the information it provides to the public. We are 
responsible for daily weather reporting, facilitating the use of 
technology both at home and in the workplace, collecting statistics 
that assist the public and private sector, and supporting the 
environmental and economic health of U.S. communities. Our mission is 
to promote job creation and improve living standards for all Americans 
by creating an infrastructure that encourages economic growth, 
technological competitiveness, and sustainable development, 
conservation, and wise use of living marine resources.
    To carry out this mission, three strategic goals have been 
identified. They are to provide the information and the framework to 
enable the economy to operate efficiently and equitably; provide the 
infrastructure for innovation to enhance U.S. competitiveness; and 
observe and manage the Earth's environment to promote sustainable 
growth.
    Commerce provides the basic economic data necessary to develop 
sound business decisions, producing many of the commonly used economic 
statistics issued by the U.S. Government. The Department also produces 
information designed to encourage the use of science and technology in 
the production of consumer goods and services.
    Commerce plays an important role in the nation's global business 
development. The Department develops and disseminates foreign market 
research and international trade opportunities through its offices in 
the United States and in 83 foreign countries. Commerce also monitors 
and enforces compliance with U.S. trade laws and agreements, and 
defends American firms from injurious foreign business practices by 
administering U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty laws.
    The oceanic and atmospheric programs at Commerce improve the 
understanding and rational use of the natural environment to further 
the Nation's safety, welfare, security, and commerce. These 
responsibilities include predicting the weather, charting the seas, and 
protecting the oceans and coastal areas.
    Domestically, Commerce's programs promote long-term business 
enterprises that create jobs for minority groups and in underdeveloped 
areas across the United States. These programs are supported by 
reports, publications, projections, and business expertise. The 
Department provides services to citizens and private business as well 
as to state, local, and tribal governments.

Commerce Commitment to Information Quality

    Given the broad responsibilities of the Commerce Department in 
scientific, technical, and statistical information, Commerce welcomes 
the opportunity provided by the issuance of the Office of Management 
and Budget information quality guidelines to demonstrate our thorough 
and professional approach to information release.
    Our goal is to ensure and maximize the quality of the information 
we release to the public. We are committed to making the methods, 
models, and processes that produce our information transparent and 
rigorous. At the Commerce Department, we have a long tradition of 
producing relevant, credible, high quality information to the public at 
large, the academic community, and the private sector.
    We believe that we uphold a high standard regarding information 
quality through the use of quality control procedures for statistical 
data collection and processing. The 2000 decennial census, conducted by 
the Census Bureau, was the most accurate census in the history of the 
Nation. Commerce has made significant strides in redesigning the 
national income and product accounts by improving the conceptual 
foundation and incorporating new estimating methods and other 
statistical improvements. Our scientific research incorporates both 
internal and external peer review as appropriate. The Department boasts 
two Nobel Prize winners in science. We operate supercomputers that rank 
in the Nation's top ten in processing power. These powerful computers 
allow us a high degree of model resolution that increases the number of 
data points

[[Page 62686]]

used to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts.
    In summary, these Commerce guidelines are a continuation of our 
commitment to information quality. We have a proven track record in 
producing high quality information and welcome the opportunity to 
present our information quality guidelines.

Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, 
Utility, and Integrity of Information Disseminated by the Department of 
Commerce and Its Operating Units

    Because of the diversity of Commerce's mission, we have taken a 
distributed approach to preparing our information quality guidelines. 
Outlined below are the responsibilities of the Department of Commerce 
and the responsibilities of the individual operating units of the 
Department.

I. Department of Commerce Responsibilities

    The Department of Commerce Chief Information Officer (CIO) will 
prepare and submit reports annually to the Director of the Office of 
Management and Budget (OMB) regarding the number and nature of 
complaints received by the Department of Commerce regarding Department 
compliance with the OMB guidelines concerning the quality, objectivity, 
utility, and integrity of information and how such complaints were 
resolved, as required by section 515 of the Treasury and General 
Government Appropriations Act for FY 2001 (Public Law 106-554) and the 
OMB Guidelines.

II. Operating Unit Responsibilities

    The operating units of the Department are organizational entities 
outside the Office of the Secretary charged with carrying out specified 
substantive functions (i.e., programs) of the Department. For purposes 
of this document, operating unit responsibilities will apply to the 
Office of the Secretary also.
    1. By October 1, 2002, document and make available to the public 
information quality standards that address the requirements of quality, 
objectivity, utility, and integrity for all non-exempt information 
disseminated by the operating unit.
    2. By October 1, 2002, establish administrative mechanisms allowing 
affected persons to seek and obtain correction of information 
maintained and disseminated by the operating unit on or after October 
1, 2002, that does not comply with these Department guidelines and the 
OMB guidelines.
    The operating unit will respond to all initial requests within 60 
calendar days of receipt. If the request requires more than 60 calendar 
days to resolve, the operating unit will inform the complainant that 
more time is required and indicate the reason why and an estimated 
decision date. The operating unit will respond to all requests for 
appeals within 60 calendar days of receipt. If the request requires 
more than 60 calendar days to resolve, the operating unit will inform 
the complainant that more time is required and indicate the reason why 
and an estimated decision date.
    In cases where the operating unit disseminates a study, analysis, 
or other information prior to the final operating unit action or 
information product, requests for correction will be considered prior 
to the final operating unit action or information product in those 
cases where the operating unit has determined that an earlier response 
would not unduly delay issuance of the operating unit action or 
information product and the complainant has shown a reasonable 
likelihood of suffering actual harm from the operating unit's 
dissemination if the operating unit does not resolve the complaint 
prior to the final operating unit action or information product.

    Note: The guidelines addressed in items 1 and 2 cover 
information disseminated on or after October 1, 2002, regardless of 
when the information was first disseminated, except that pre-
dissemination review procedures shall apply only to information 
first disseminated on or after October 1, 2002. Covered information 
disseminated will comply with all applicable OMB Information Quality 
Guidelines as well as these Department of Commerce Information 
Quality Guidelines.

    3. Beginning on October 1, 2002, demonstrate in the operating 
unit's Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) submissions to OMB the ``practical 
utility'' of a proposed collection of information that the operating 
unit plans to disseminate. Additionally, for all proposed collections 
of information that will be disseminated to the public, demonstrate in 
the operating unit's PRA clearance submissions to OMB that the proposed 
collection of information will result in information that will be 
collected, maintained, and used in a way consistent with applicable 
information quality guidelines.
    4. Assist the Department CIO in the preparation of annual reports 
to OMB by providing information requested by the Department CIO.

Response to Comments

    The Department and its operating units received eleven responses to 
the request for comments. Four responses were received from public 
interest groups; one was from a voluntary professional association; two 
were from a for-profit corporation; and four were from industry 
associations. Some of the comments contained in the submissions were 
addressed either to the entire Federal government or to agencies other 
than the Department. In this notice, the Department is responding only 
to comments relevant to its applicable information quality standards. 
In addition, the Department has received further guidance from OMB (OMB 
guidance, June 10) on the development of information quality 
guidelines, which helps the Department respond to some of the comments. 
A detailed analysis of the comments, and the Department's response 
based on both the comments and the OMB guidance, follows.

General

    Comment: Some commenters suggested that the Department and its 
operating units should view information quality as a ``performance 
goal.'' One of these commenters requested, in particular, that the 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) list the names 
of the component offices (e.g., National Marine Fisheries Service, 
National Weather Service, etc.) that will be subject to the guidelines.
    Response: In keeping with the guidance provided by OMB, the 
Department views its information quality guidelines as performance 
standards. NOAA's information quality guidelines apply to all its line 
(component) offices.
    Comment: Some commenters suggested that the Department provide 
additional, subsequent opportunity in the future for further public 
comment on the guidelines after publication on October 1, 2002. These 
commenters noted that the Department's guidelines lack a centralized 
focus and commitment to implementation of the new information quality 
and oversight system and administrative correction mechanisms. These 
commenters stated that the Department must establish a complete, 
centrally focused and harmonized information correction system.
    Response: Pursuant to public request, the Department extended for 
30 days the period for public comments on its draft guidelines. While 
the Department would like to gather additional public input, further 
extension of the public

[[Page 62687]]

comment period, or a further round of comments, is not possible due to 
the statute's October 1, 2002, deadline for implementation of the 
Department's information quality guidelines.
    Comment: Some commenters noted that the Department's guidelines 
lack a centralized focus and commitment to implementation of the new 
information quality and oversight system and administrative correction 
mechanisms. These commenters stated that the Department must establish 
a complete, centrally focused and harmonized information correction 
system.
    Response: As to adopting a single, central information correction 
system, the Department's guidelines reflect the reality of the broad 
scope of the Department's mandate, from conducting each decennial 
census to forecasting the weather. In keeping with the first principle 
stated by OMB in its own guidance to federal agencies, a one-size-fits-
all approach is not effective (67 FR at 8452). Were the Department or 
some of its component operating units (OUs) to attempt to apply a 
single centralized standard, it would necessarily be far less 
specific--and less effective as a performance standard--than the 
approach taken.
    Comment: Several commenters urged the Department to establish a 
permanent, dedicated area on its Web site where all documents, notices 
of existing challenges to disseminated data, resolutions of those 
challenges, uncorrected information found wanting, and other items 
related to guidelines can be disseminated.
    Response: The Department and its OUs will publish the information 
quality guidelines as well as other appropriate information on their 
respective Web sites for public use.
    Comment: Some of the commenters pointed out that the guidelines 
fail to require that the dissemination of the corrected data will be 
accomplished in a manner equal to the dissemination of and proportional 
to the significance and importance of the original data.
    Response: The form of corrective action will be determined by the 
nature and timeliness of the information involved and such factors as 
the significance of the error on the use of the information and the 
magnitude of the error.
    Comment: Some commenters suggested that the Department's guidelines 
have not proposed complete, functional, and responsible administrative 
review mechanisms that will afford affected parties meaningful 
opportunity to ensure data quality and obtain timely correction of 
flawed information.
    Response: OMB notes that under its guidelines ``agencies need only 
ensure that their own guidelines are consistent with * * * OMB 
guidelines, and then ensure that their administrative mechanisms 
satisfy the standards and procedural requirements in the new agency 
guidelines.'' (67 FR at 8453). In keeping with this directive, the 
administrative review mechanisms adopted by the Department's OUs are 
designed to ensure a fair opportunity to seek and obtain correction of 
information that does not comply with applicable guidelines.
    Comment: Some commenters urged a clear statement in the guidelines 
that these mechanisms are available for challenges based on alleged 
non-conformance with the OMB or the Department's guidelines.
    Response: Administrative mechanisms are provided for appropriate 
challenges based on all applicable guidelines.
    Comment: One commenter urged the Department to make every effort to 
clearly assert that the guidelines are not judicially reviewable and 
that the Department is not legally bound by the guidelines and has the 
right to depart from them when appropriate.
    Response: The Department takes the mandate of Section 515 seriously 
and has published information quality guidelines and standards designed 
to ensure and maximize the quality of information that it disseminates 
and will comply with those guidelines and standards. The Department 
notes that the guidelines are not intended to provide any right to 
judicial review.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that the Department state that 
public access to information is a central government responsibility 
that the agency will uphold and that the guidelines should not impose 
unnecessary administrative burdens that would inhibit agencies from 
continuing to disseminate information that can be of great benefit and 
value to the public. The commenter suggested that the Department should 
look to Section 515 itself to determine the scope and components that 
are required to be in the guidelines. This commenter also stated that 
Section 515 should be reviewed as a clarification of the Paperwork 
Reduction Act (PRA) and that the Department should state that 
``quality'' is only one factor to consider. The commenter stated that 
the agency must answer to its core substantive mission, operate within 
budgetary constraints, and consider the benefits of timely 
dissemination.
    Response: The Department agrees that public access to information 
is a central government responsibility and intends to apply its 
information quality guidelines in ways conducive to wide dissemination 
of information that is of benefit and value to the public. The 
Department agrees that nothing in Section 515 is intended to diminish 
or interfere with the Department's core substantive mission and 
activities, or its ability to operate within budgetary constraints to 
timely disseminate beneficial information to the public.
    Comment: One commenter urged the Department to provide appropriate 
policy direction to its operating units regarding the data quality 
standards and pre-dissemination review procedures to ensure that the 
OMB information quality standards will be met.
    Response: Such policy direction has been an integral part of the 
Department's implementation of OMB's guidelines.
    Comment: Some commenters noted that the Department should provide 
effective procedures for the timely correction of information 
determined to be flawed and for appropriate prohibitions on further use 
and dissemination of such information until it is corrected.
    Response: In keeping with OMB's directive, the administrative 
review mechanisms adopted by the Department's OUs are designed to 
ensure a fair opportunity to seek and obtain correction of information 
that does not comply with applicable guidelines. In any given instance, 
the form of corrective action will be determined by the nature and 
timeliness of the information involved and factors including, but not 
limited to, the significance of the error on the use of the information 
and the magnitude of the error.
    Comment: Some commenters noted that the Department should revise 
its draft guidelines to address the open issues, eliminate (or 
carefully circumscribe and narrow) the proposed exemptions and 
limitations, and set forth a complete, centrally focused data 
correction scheme for the Department that implements new information 
quality and oversight systems and the full administrative correction 
mechanisms contemplated by Congress and OMB. The commenters stated that 
the changes should include the specific measures recommended herein.
    Response: The OMB guidelines clearly state that agencies should 
incorporate the standards and procedures required by OMB's ``guidelines 
into their existing information resources management and administrative 
practices rather than create new and potentially duplicative

[[Page 62688]]

or contradictory processes.'' (67 FR at 8453)

Scope

    Comment: Several commenters stated that the Department should 
revise the ``Scope'' sentence to read: ``These guidelines cover 
information disseminated (as defined in the OMB Guidelines) by the 
Department on or after October 1, 2002, regardless of when the 
information was first disseminated.''
    Response: The Department has clarified that it is the pre-
dissemination review procedures that will apply only to information 
first disseminated on or after October 1, 2002. The Scope section now 
clearly states that the pre-dissemination review requirement applies to 
information that the agency first disseminates on or after October 1, 
2002, and that the administrative correction mechanisms apply to 
information that the agency disseminates on or after October 1, 2002, 
regardless of when the agency first disseminated the information. This 
language is consistent with OMB's guidance to federal agencies.

Information Not Covered by the Department's Guidelines

    Comment: Some commenters expressed concerns about the Department's 
exemption of certain information from the guidelines. Some of these 
commenters suggested that the exemptions be ``eliminated or narrowly 
circumscribed'' to prevent undermining the mandate of the Act. One 
commenter objected to OMB's creation of exemptions not authorized by 
Section 515 and the inconsistency between OMB's ``dissemination'' 
exemptions in its Section 515 guidelines with OMB's broader definition 
of ``dissemination'' in implementing the PRA. This commenter also 
objected to additional exemptions proposed by federal agencies. One 
commenter noted that OMB exempts some types and categories of 
information from the guidelines and argues that neither OMB nor the 
agencies has legal authority to exempt ``any information that an agency 
has in fact made public.'' This commenter further objected to agency 
inclusion of OMB exemptions and to any agency interpretations, changes, 
or exemptions that differ from OMB's.
    Response: The Department is implementing the guidance (guidelines 
and June 10 supplemental information) developed by OMB. Comments 
raising concerns with the OMB guidelines are outside the scope of the 
Department's actions. The Department has clarified that the exemption 
for press releases only applies to press releases themselves and not to 
any background information on which the press release is based. The 
Department and its OUs did not create exemptions in addition to those 
outlined by OMB.
    Comment: Two commenters noted that Section 515 lists no exceptions 
to information disseminated by an agency and, therefore, the Department 
should not attempt to restrict coverage by narrowing the 
classifications of information covered. The commenters believe that all 
information disseminated by the Department should be covered by the 
guidelines, including information ``initiated or sponsored'' by the 
Department and third party information that the Department disseminates 
in a manner that reasonably suggests that the agency agrees with the 
information. The commenters suggested that the Department should 
include ``information contained in rulemaking dockets'' among the 
classes of information covered.
    Response: The Department notes that the information not covered by 
the guidelines includes information that is not ``disseminated'' to the 
public by the Department (such as intra- or inter-agency information or 
responses to requests through FOIA, the Privacy Act, etc.) and 
information that is already public (such as press releases, public 
filings, etc.). The Department also points out that all ``information'' 
``disseminated''--as those terms are defined by OMB--by the Department 
is covered by these guidelines, including third party information. In 
addition, OMB exempted some types and categories of information within 
the statutory directive to ``provide policy and procedural guidance to 
Federal agencies for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, 
utility, and integrity of information.'' The Department has no control 
over the quality of information submitted to the agency during a 
rulemaking. However, any such information on which the Department might 
rely would be subject to the guidelines' provisions on third party 
information.
    Comment: Several commenters suggested that these exemptions, 
especially, but not limited to, those covering adjudicatory proceedings 
and notice and comment-type proposed action, may undermine the mandate 
of Section 515. The commenters suggested that information dissemination 
as part of a proposed rule or proposed NRDAR plan not be excluded from 
the application of the guidelines. However, another commenter stated 
that the rulemaking process affords adequate procedures and 
opportunities for questioning and correcting information and that data 
disseminated from a rulemaking process should not be eligible for 
dispute under the information quality administrative mechanism.
    Response: Regarding the commenters' suggestion that the Department 
include adjudicatory proceedings within the coverage of the guidelines, 
the Department notes that in the preamble to the OMB guidelines, OMB 
stated:

    There are well-established procedural safeguards and rights to 
address the quality of adjudicatory decisions and to provide persons 
with an opportunity to contest decisions. These guidelines do not 
impose any additional requirements on agencies during adjudicative 
proceedings and do not provide parties to such adjudicative 
proceedings any additional rights of challenge or appeal (67 FR at 
8454).

    The Department agrees with this reasoning and has, therefore, 
retained the exemption for adjudicatory processes.
    The Department's guidelines, including those of all the OUs, do not 
exempt information included in a rulemaking. However, the guidelines 
maintain the integrity of the rulemaking process by addressing requests 
for correction in a way that does not disrupt that process. This is in 
keeping with OMB's frequent reiteration, in its guidance, that 
disruption of existing processes is neither contemplated nor desired.
    Further, the Department notes that the commenters may have 
misunderstood the language in its draft guidelines concerning such 
actions. Informal and formal rulemakings and Natural Resource Damage 
Assessment and Restoration Plans (NRDAR Plans) are subject to these 
guidelines. As such, the information quality standards remain 
applicable to information disseminated as part of a proposed rule or a 
proposed Natural Resource Plan.
    Comment: Some commenters stated that there are no ``case-by-case'' 
exemptions from applicability of the guidelines and states that 
``Congress clearly intended OMB's Data Quality guidelines to apply to 
all information that agencies subject to the PRA in fact make public.'' 
The commenters' examples suggest that, with regard to the meaning of 
``information,'' the reach of Section 515 is identical to that of the 
PRA. The commenters complain that agency proposals ``exempt material 
relating or [sic] adjudicatory proceedings or processes, including 
briefs and other information submitted to courts.'' The commenters 
state that

[[Page 62689]]

neither OMB nor any federal agency has authority to make this 
exemption.
    Response: This exemption was listed specifically by OMB in its own 
information quality guidelines to federal agencies, and the Department 
believes it is appropriate and in keeping with long-established 
principles of adjudicative processes, which have many inherent 
safeguards.

Standards and Pre-dissemination Review: Influential Information and 
Objectivity

    Comment: Two commenters pointed out that the Department failed to 
provide any guidance on how influential scientific or technical 
information will be subjected to the required higher standards for 
quality and greater transparency. These commenters stated that the high 
level of generality provides insufficient guidance to NOAA's Fisheries 
Service, whose technical fishery conservation and management data is 
used to regulate fisheries. Some other commenters stated that the 
Department failed to address appropriate standards of objectivity for 
influential information.
    Response: The Department has revised the guidelines to provide 
clearer guidance on quality standards for influential information and 
objectivity. The Department recognizes the importance of influential 
information that may be used in decisions such as fishery conservation 
and management. NOAA has revised its guidelines to discuss meeting the 
objectivity standard for influential information.
    Comment: One commenter stated that the Department should narrowly 
define ``influential'' information, employing a high threshold for 
coverage to maximize its flexibility and preserve its ability to act in 
a timely fashion.
    Response: The Department recognizes that a balancing process is 
involved in defining ``influential'' information. In keeping with OMB's 
directive that each agency ``define `influential' in ways appropriate 
for it given the nature and multiplicity of issues for which the agency 
is responsible'' (67 FR at 8460), the Department's OUs have defined 
``influential'' in ways appropriate to their specific missions and 
activities, with the goal of ensuring and maximizing information 
quality.
    Comment: Some commenters suggested that the Department should 
abandon its proposed ``objectivity'' standard and instead should adopt 
the ``objectivity'' standard established by OMB for non-scientific, 
non-financial and non-statistical information. These commenters stated 
that the Department should also direct its operating units to do the 
same.
    Response: As the Department has noted above, OMB has stressed that 
its guidelines are intended to be flexible and that a one-size-fits-all 
approach has not been taken, and that it has deliberately allowed 
agencies to tailor their guidelines to their mission and activities.
    Comment: Two commenters stated that the Department should define 
the categories of information that are ``influential'' scientific, 
financial, and statistical information and include within those 
categories all information disseminated in connection with NRDAR Plans. 
Two commenters objected to the fact that some agencies neither adopted 
OMB's definition of ``influential'' nor provided one of their own.
    Response: The Department does not believe it is appropriate to list 
prospectively all information that may be ``influential.'' Rather, the 
OUs have defined the term ``influential,'' either by adopting or 
adapting OMB's definition of that term, and will characterize specific 
information as such when appropriate. Certain information, such as the 
gross domestic product, can readily be predicted to consistently meet 
BEA's definition. However, NRDAR Plans would not typically meet the 
``influential'' threshold established by NOAA. Such Plans deal with 
site-specific liabilities of one or several persons responsible for 
unlawful releases of hazardous substances or oil. As such, NRDAR Plans 
are not expected to have a genuinely clear and substantial impact on 
major public policy and private sector decisions.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that the Department should not 
unduly limit the concept of ``quality'' information by narrow 
definitions of the terms ``objectivity, utility, and integrity.'' This 
commenter suggested that the Department should begin the description of 
objectivity by pointing out that the term ``objectivity'' includes both 
the substance of information and its presentation.
    Response: The Department has revised the definitions of 
objectivity, utility, and integrity, to incorporate the suggestion 
concerning both the substance and presentation of information.
    Comment: Some commenters objected to the use of policy-driven or 
mission-driven assumptions or factors by agencies in connection with 
risk assessments. These commenters stated that only numerical 
information or factors can be considered in risk assessments and that 
risk management policy decisions should be clearly separated from the 
presentation of scientific data and analysis.
    Response: The Department believes that an agency's (or operating 
unit's) activities and decisions must be consistent with and based upon 
its statutory mandate. Nothing in Section 515 or in the OMB guidelines 
repeals or amends the specific statutes governing agency action. 
Consistent with these statutes, the guidelines of all the Department's 
OUs require an absence of bias in both the presentation and substance 
elements of objectivity. In addition, the Department and all of its OUs 
are committed to transparency about how analytic results are generated, 
in terms of the specific data used, the various assumptions employed, 
the specific analytic methods applied, and the statistical procedures 
employed, consistent with other compelling interests such as privacy, 
trade secrets, intellectual property, and other confidentiality 
protections.
    Comment: Several commenters pointed out that NOAA completely failed 
to either adopt or adapt the quality principles of the Safe Drinking 
Water Act (SDWA) for risk assessment. Two commenters stated that 
federal agencies must adopt (not adapt) both the SDWA science quality 
and risk assessment standards unless they conflict with other federal 
statutory requirements. Two of the commenters suggested that NOAA 
should adopt the SDWA standards, including a commitment to apply best 
available science for all influential scientific information it 
disseminates, including information disseminated in connection with 
NRDAR plans. These commenters stated that NOAA should specifically 
adopt the SDWA statutory risk criteria for health assessments and apply 
them to NRDAR plans.
    Response: Although Section 515 does not mention either risk 
assessments or the Safe Drinking Water Act, the OMB guidelines clearly 
direct agencies to adopt or adapt the risk principles of the SDWA. 
Specifically, the OMB guidelines state that ``[w]ith regard to analysis 
of risks to human health, safety and the environment maintained or 
disseminated by the agencies, agencies shall either adopt or adapt the 
quality principles applied by Congress to risk information used and 
disseminated pursuant to the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 
1996.'' NOAA's guidelines meet this requirement. NOAA has included in 
its guidelines a separate section discussing specifically the SDWA 
criteria for risk assessments. This discussion explains the adaptation 
of the SDWA criteria for ``influential''

[[Page 62690]]

information that constitutes assessment of risk to human health, 
safety, or the environment.
    As to the suggestion by some commenters that the SDWA criteria 
apply to NRDAR Plans, the Department points out that NRDAR Plans are 
based upon existing statutory, regulatory, and other guidance that may 
not be completely compatible with the SDWA criteria. A natural resource 
damage assessment (NRDA) addresses the adverse impacts of past unlawful 
releases of hazardous substances or oil to determine the liability of 
the person(s) responsible for those unlawful releases. This liability 
is measured by the cost of actions to restore the natural resources 
injured by the releases. Each NRDA is highly fact, site, and party-
specific. The impact of an NRDA on one or a few persons' liability for 
past actions does not constitute the forward-looking impact intended to 
be included in the category of influential information or SDWA risk 
assessment. NRDAs are not risk assessments as that term is used in the 
SDWA or the OMB guidelines. The action to be taken as a result of a 
NRDA is mandated by law and designed to return the environment to the 
condition it would have been had the release not occurred. Thus, NRDAs 
are not analyses of the possible effects on the environment of taking 
or not taking some future action as are SDWA risk assessments.
    Comment: Two commenters urged NOAA to consider quality information 
as that which is ``excellent, complete, up-to-date, and accurate.'' 
These commenters stated that NOAA should adopt and expand upon the 
standards set forth in the SDWA, with more specific guidance regarding 
all data, especially ``original data.'' The commenters suggested these 
additional factors include:

(1) Whether the most accurate methods were used to collect information;
(2) Whether data measurement methodologies were validated;
(3) Whether quality assurance/quality control techniques were applied;
(4) Whether methods used produce data relevant to study hypotheses;
(5) Whether any experimental conditions were carefully controlled;
(6) Whether confounding factors were eliminated or successfully 
controlled;
(7) Whether covariates were successfully controlled;
(8) Whether the degree and source of measurement variation were 
determined;
(9) Whether the data were collected by those with requisite 
qualifications;
(10) Whether study materials/populations were representative of 
conclusions;
(11) Whether appropriate statistical methodologies were employed; and
(12) Whether weight-of-evidence analysis was applied to the 
information.

    Response: All of the Department's OUs strive to maintain and 
disseminate information that is excellent, complete, up to date, and 
accurate and their guidelines are designed to achieve that goal. 
However, the suggested additional factors, which go beyond those 
enumerated in the SDWA, are not all appropriate to every review of 
influential information or to every risk assessment and therefore would 
not be appropriate as standards. The Department notes that NOAA has 
added additional criteria concerning risk assessment to its guidelines.
    Comment: One commenter felt that OMB went far beyond the 
congressional mandate to inappropriately ask agencies to adapt or adopt 
the SDWA risk assessment principles. The commenter stated that 
Department should state that the type of peer review envisioned by the 
SDWA is inappropriate for all types of risk analysis and may conflict 
with underlying statutes.
    Response: In keeping with OMB's guidance, the Department has 
adapted the risk assessment principles of the SDWA.

Standards and Pre-dissemination Review: Robustness

    Commenter: One commenter stated that OMB's guidelines require 
robustness checks for information that the agency cannot disclose, such 
as Confidential Business Information, but which is material to 
information that the agency does disseminate. The commenter proposed a 
standard for such robustness checks. This commenter also stated that 
OMB's ``general standard' for these robustness checks is ``that the 
information is capable of being substantially reproduced, subject to an 
acceptable degree of imprecision''' (citing 67 FR at 8452, 8457).
    Response: The OMB Guidelines state that:

    In situations where public access to data and methods will not 
occur due to other compelling interests, agencies shall apply 
especially rigorous robustness checks to analytic results and 
document what checks were undertaken. Agency guidelines shall, 
however, in all cases, require a disclosure of the specific data 
sources that have been used and the specific quantitative methods 
and assumptions that have been employed. Each agency is authorized 
to define the type of robustness checks, and the level of detail for 
documentation thereof, in ways appropriate for it given the nature 
and multiplicity of issues for which the agency is responsible.

    Where an operating unit of the Department relies on information 
that cannot be disclosed to support influential information that it 
disseminates, it performs and discloses robustness checks according to 
the requirements set by OMB Guidelines and implemented in its own 
information quality guidelines.

Standards and Pre-dissemination Review: Third Party Data

    Comment: Some commenters suggested that information generated by 
third parties, such as states, municipalities, and private entities, 
that is relied upon and disseminated by the Department is subject to 
the requirements of Section 515. The commenters stated that such 
information is subject to the same data quality standards, pre-
dissemination review procedures, and administrative correction 
mechanisms as information generated by the Department.
    Response: The Department has added language specifically dealing 
with third party information. The Department believes it may use 
reliable outside information, even though third-party sources such as 
states, municipalities, and universities are not themselves subject to 
Section 515. The scientific instrumentalities of such third parties 
play an appropriate role in providing scientific, financial, or 
statistical information to federal agencies.
    The diverse operating units of the Department use such third-party 
information in varying ways. When used to develop information products 
or to form the basis of a decision or policy, this information is then 
subject to the OUs' guidelines. Thus, for an OU to use third-party 
information, it must be of known quality, and any limitations, 
assumptions, collection methods, or uncertainties concerning it must be 
taken into account.
    Comment: Some commenters acknowledged a distinction between 
information generated outside the Department and not used, relied upon, 
or endorsed by the Department, but merely made public by the 
Department, and information generated outside the Department and used, 
relied upon, or endorsed by the Department. Two of these commenters 
stated that this was a distinction without a difference and that the 
guidelines should apply to both types of dissemination. One commenter 
stated that ``the data quality guidelines should clearly state that 
they only apply to information disseminated from the

[[Page 62691]]

agency itself and not when the agency is merely acting as a conduit of 
information.''
    Response: For Section 515 to apply, information must be 
``disseminated.'' By definition, ``dissemination'' means agency 
initiated or sponsored distribution of information to the public. OU 
guidelines apply to information that the OU disseminates. However, 
dissemination does not include distribution limited to government 
employees or agency contractors or grantees; intra-or inter-agency use 
or sharing of government information; and responses to requests for 
agency records under the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act, 
the Federal Advisory Committee Act or other similar law. This 
definition also does not include distribution limited to correspondence 
with individuals or persons, press releases, archival records, public 
filings, subpoenas or adjudicative processes. When an OU distributes 
information generated by a third party but in no way claims that 
information as its own, the OU will inform the public that the 
information is not subject to the Section 515 or applicable information 
quality guidelines.
    Comment: One commenter discussed Federal agencies' use of third-
party proprietary models, stating: ``The OMB guidelines further explain 
that when public access to models is impossible for ``privacy, trade 
secrets, intellectual property, and other confidentiality protections,: 
an agency `shall apply especially rigorous robustness checks to 
analytic results and documents what checks were undertaken'.'' [sic]
    Response: The Department agrees that when public access to models 
used to generate influential scientific, financial, or statistical 
information is impossible, especially rigorous robustness checks should 
be applied to analytic results and these checks should be disclosed.
    Commenter: One commenter suggested that the Department prohibit use 
of third-party proprietary models that are barriers to public access to 
data in the guidelines, although the commenter did not cite a specific 
model.
    Response: Without a specific indication of practices by the 
Department (or its OUs) using third-party models that the commenter 
finds objectionable, it is not possible to prepare a specific response. 
However, the Department strives for openness and transparency in all 
its scientific, financial, and statistical activities, consistent with 
applicable privacy, trade secrets, intellectual property, and other 
confidentiality protections.
    Comment: Some commenters noted that the Department should develop 
provisions for new, and modify existing, contracts, cooperative 
agreements, and grants that require Department partners to furnish 
information that complies with the OMB and Department guidelines. The 
commenters also stated that these new provisions should prohibit use by 
these parties, in fulfilling their contractual, cooperative, or grant 
agreement obligations with the Department, of information that is not 
in compliance with the OMB and Department guidelines.
    Response: The Department will consider any necessary modification 
of new and existing contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants with 
regard to the quality of information presented to the Department 
through these vehicles. However, such documents already contain 
provisions requiring work products to be of appropriately high quality.

National Assessment on Climate Change (NACC)

    Comment: One commenter argued that, to the extent that the 
Department or NOAA refers or links to, or otherwise disseminates the 
first NACC, it is in violation of Section 515. The commenter further 
claimed that continuing to disseminate the NACC is unacceptable under 
the Act. The commenter continued with a lengthy, detailed condemnation 
of the NACC, produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Project 
(USGCRP).
    Response: Although NOAA is one of many agencies that are partners 
in the USGCRP (http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/usagency.html), NOAA's 
activities in that capacity are the very sorts of activities that its 
mission requires. Any information that NOAA disseminates in connection 
with those activities, including any future contributions by NOAA to 
any collective product such as the NACC, will be in full compliance 
with NOAA's Information Quality Guidelines, when they become effective. 
However, any request for correction of the NACC itself should be 
addressed to the agency that created such information.

Standards and Pre-Dissemination Review: Peer Review

    Comment: One commenter asked what the standard is for rebutting the 
presumption of objectivity resulting from formal, independent, external 
peer review. Another commenter questioned whether the presumption of 
validity will apply if the agency does not comply with peer review 
criticism, views, or recommendations.
    Response: Consistent with OMB's guidelines (67 FR at 8452, 8454), 
the Department's guidelines make clear that the presumption of 
objectivity resulting from formal, independent, external peer review is 
rebuttable and that the requester has the burden of rebutting the 
presumption that information subjected to formal, independent, external 
peer review is objective.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that the Department should state 
that ``influential'' information will not be subject to new formal, 
external, independent peer review to meet the ``objectivity'' standard. 
The commenter noted that, where peer review is employed, the Department 
should commit to using appropriately balanced peer review panels and 
avoid conflicts of interest.
    Response: Formal, independent, external peer review is sometimes 
available and is sometimes used, depending on the specific information 
and program involved. But other means are also used to ensure 
objectivity, according to the specific applicable information quality 
standards. Where peer review is used, the Department attempts to 
appropriately balance panels and to avoid conflicts of interest, while 
at the same time ensuring that reviewers have sufficient knowledge of 
the subject to provide meaningful review.

Melding of Processes

    Comment: One commenter disagreed with the Department's position 
that ``[r]equests to correct information contained within a Natural 
Resource Plan must be made during the public comment period provided 
when it is posted for comment.'' This commenter stated that Natural 
Resource Plans can be highly technical, and it is not always apparent 
whether they contain flawed information or conclusions at the time they 
are first disseminated. This same commenter stated that the provision 
in the draft guidelines stating that a comment or petition filed after 
a comment period has closed, ``may be considered, at the discretion of 
the agency * * * as a late comment.'' The commenter argued that Section 
515 conveys independent rights granted to the public and neither 
Section 515 nor OMB's guidelines contain any such restrictions in 
instances where other notice and comment opportunities are available.
    Response: The Department notes that, although Section 515 may not 
speak to requests for correction filed during a public comment period, 
OMB's guidance to the agencies does state that it is reasonable to meld 
the Section 515 correction process with a notice and

[[Page 62692]]

comment process; therefore creating several procedures where an 
existing process will achieve the same purpose is unnecessary. Also, it 
is imperative that the operating unit drafting a rule or Natural 
Resource Plan be aware of and take into account any demonstration of 
incorrect information. Therefore, the guidelines continue to meld the 
Section 515 process into existing public input processes where 
appropriate. In addition, in some cases, public comment periods are 
required and shaped by existing statutes or regulations.
    Comment: Some commenters believe that the draft guidelines excluded 
requests for information correction if they pertain to information 
disseminated as part of a proposed rule or a Natural Resource Plan, 
which is inconsistent with the objectives and terms of Section 515 and 
with the OMB directive providing affected parties the unfettered right 
to ``timely'' correction of flawed information. The commenters noted 
that this approach also fails to address or redress the injury affected 
persons may suffer outside the context of a specific rulemaking or 
Natural Resource Plan during the pendency of long rulemaking or Natural 
Resource Plan processes. The commenters noted that rulemakings, as well 
as natural resource damage assessments and restoration decisions and 
plans, may take years to complete, during which time discrete, easily 
resolved and/or important data correction requests may languish without 
response, all the while adversely affecting the general public and/or 
the requester who is entitled to a timely response under Section 515. 
The commenters stated that the Department's guidelines should provide 
that discrete requests for objective information correction are to be 
resolved in a timely fashion using the focused procedures of the 
guidelines, rather than the unwieldy and daunting vehicle of a 
rulemaking or some other extended decisionmaking process involving the 
opportunity for notice and comment.
    Response: As explained earlier, the Department has not excluded 
from the administrative correction mechanism information disseminated 
as part of a proposed rule or a Natural Resource Plan. The Department 
notes that the responsible office may choose to provide a response 
prior to the completion of a rulemaking or Natural Resource Plan, if 
doing so is appropriate and will not delay the issuance of the final 
action in the matter, particularly if the complainant can demonstrate 
actual harm from the information or demonstrate substantial uncertainty 
as to whether the proposed rule or Natural Resource Plan will take an 
unusual length of time for final issuance.

Administrative Correction Mechanism

    Comment: Some commenters stated that the information correction 
mechanisms fail to meet the spirit, purpose, and objectives of Section 
515 and the OMB guidelines.
    Response: The Department has made numerous changes in the 
administrative mechanism in response to these comments. The Department 
does not intend to discourage requests for correction or erect 
procedural barriers that could block legitimate complaints. It is in 
the best interest of the Department and the public to timely correct 
information that does not comply with its guidelines.

Savings Clause

    Comment: Some commenters urged the elimination of the ``savings 
clause'' intended to exempt from coverage certain unidentified 
information challenges where unspecified ``different procedures'' for 
correction may exist.
    Response: The Department has deleted the ``savings clause'' from 
its guidelines.

Affected Person

    Comment: Several commenters suggested that the Department provide a 
broader definition of ``affected persons'' who can invoke these 
mechanisms, consistent with Congressional intent in Section 515 and 
similar to the proposals of several federal agencies. These commenters 
stated that the guidelines should also include procedures to enhance 
notification of and participation by affected parties.
    Some commenters argued that the Department and its operating units 
definition of ``affected person'' resembles judicial requirement for 
``standing,'' which neither Section 515 nor OMB's guidelines require. 
The commenters urged the Department to adopt a definition of ``affected 
person'' that includes ``anyone who uses the information, benefits from 
it, or is harmed by it,'' as well as trade associations and other 
groups who represent such persons.
    Response: The Department never intended to limit the class of 
affected persons. However, the Department has revised the definition of 
``affected person'' to describe more clearly a broad class of affected 
persons. Further, the revised definition is broad enough to include 
trade associations and others who are related to or associated with 
persons who may be affected.

Responsible Office

    Comment: Some commenters recommended that the Department designate 
which office within an operating unit would qualify as the responsible 
office that may decide initial information correction requests. Several 
commenters stated that the Department should create an independent, 
dedicated appeal board outside the program office within which the 
``responsible office'' resides to ensure uniform, objective, and timely 
resolution of appeals of information correction request denials.
    Response: The Department's operating units have taken varying 
approaches to designating the responsible office, in each case using a 
method that best fits their mission and activities. This is in keeping 
with OMB's guidance, which has provided flexibility so that ``each 
agency will be able to incorporate the requirements of these OMB 
guidelines into the agency's own information resource management and 
administrative practices.'' (67 FR at 8452). Also, as the Department 
has noted above, OMB encouraged agencies to incorporate the standards 
and procedures required by its guidelines into their existing 
information resources management and administrative practices rather 
than create new and potentially duplicative or contradictory processes.
    Comment: One commenter complained that some agencies do not provide 
any indication as to the official responsible for deciding the 
disposition of requests for correction.
    Response: The operating units of the Department do provide this 
information.

Appeal Official

    Comment: One commenter suggested that allowing the ``Appeal 
Official'' to be only one administrative level above the official who 
made the initial decision is not sufficiently removed from the office 
that issued the contested information to ensure sufficient objectivity. 
The commenter noted that appeals should be made to a centralized 
Department-wide official, such as the Department's Chief Information 
Officer or the Section 515 officer. The commenter also stated that the 
guidelines should clearly state that the appeals officer should act in 
an ``ombudsman'' capacity, to objectively assess information complaints 
and not endeavor to uphold the agency's stated position.
    Response: In all cases, the Department's intent is for the review 
to be objective. The Appeal Official must be sufficiently removed to 
make a fair

[[Page 62693]]

and objective review but at the same time needs to have enough 
expertise to understand the issues. This involves a balance that 
different operating units have met in different ways. However, in no 
case is the appeal official in the same office as the one that decided 
the initial complaint.
    Comment: Some commenters asked for assurances that the heads of 
responsible offices and appeal officials will be provided sufficient 
resources to allow for meaningful initial information correction 
requests and appeals of denials of such within the presumptive 60-day 
time limit.
    Response: The Department has designed its administrative mechanisms 
to achieve timely response to requests for correction within available 
resources.

Time Limits for Filing Requests

    Comment: One commenter stated that the Department should 
``establish a timeliness requirement for requests after which an agency 
has the option to reject a request (e.g., a data quality complaint must 
be made within three month's of the information's release).''
    Response: Since the information quality guidelines apply to 
information disseminated by the Department ``on or after October 1, 
2002, regardless of when the information was first disseminated * * 
*.'', the Department cannot limit requests for correction of 
information based on a specific dissemination date. Moreover, the 
Department believes that it is often difficult to define a specific 
date of dissemination of information from which to establish a 
timeliness requirement for a request for correction.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that the Department clearly state 
that the burden of proof lies squarely with the requester to 
demonstrate both that they are an affected party and that the 
challenged information does not comply with OMB's guidelines.
    Response: The Department and its operating units have added to 
their information quality guidelines a statement specifying that the 
burden of proof is on the requester to show both the necessity and type 
of correction sought and that, where appropriate, the requester has the 
burden of rebutting the presumption that information subjected to 
formal, independent, external peer review is objective. Additionally, 
the definition of ``affected'' has been changed. ``Affected person'' as 
now defined means an individual or entity that uses, benefits from, or 
is harmed by the disseminated information at issue. Any initial request 
for correction must include an explanation of how the requester is 
affected.

Timely Review

    Comment: Some commenters addressed the issue of setting 
appropriate, specific time limits for agency decisions on information 
correction requests. Two of these commenters proposed language that 
provide agencies with flexibility for requests that may require a 
longer time frame for response without allowing open-ended delays for 
making decisions. Two commenters asked that the Department assure that 
proper and strict limits be imposed on the ability of the responsible 
offices to extend the time period for resolving initial information 
correction requests beyond the presumptive 60 day limit.
    Response: The Department has retained the language in its draft 
guidelines: ``An initial decision will be communicated to the 
requester, usually within 60 calendar days.''
    In order to assist the Department in making a timely response, it 
has added to its guidelines a list of corrective actions that may be 
taken in response to a correction request, based on the nature and 
timeliness of the information involved, as well as factors such as the 
significance of the error on the use of the information, and the 
magnitude of the error. Actions contained in that list include: 
personal contacts via letter or telephone, form letters, press 
releases, and postings on an appropriate Web site.
    Comment: Some commenters suggested that the Department establish 
effective procedures and schedules for the timely correction of 
information determined to be flawed and for appropriate prohibitions on 
further use and dissemination of such information until it is 
corrected.
    Response: The timetable for corrective action depends on many 
factors, including but not limited to: the magnitude and significance 
of the error, the timeliness of the information involved, the original 
form of dissemination, and the nature of the correction. Any schedule 
for correction is dependent on these and other factors that cannot be 
determined in advance. According to the Department's model 
administrative mechanism, which is used by most of the operating units, 
the initial decision is a determination of whether the information 
should be corrected and what, if any, corrective action should be 
taken, and this decision is communicated to the requester.
    Comment: Some commenters stated that the Department's guidelines 
set unreasonable time frames for filing and addressing complaints 
regarding some data that undercut accuracy requirements. The commenters 
argued that an affected individual should be allowed to request 
correction at any time after improper data is disseminated, 
particularly for a fishery where timely, accurate distribution of data 
is paramount.
    Response: Timeliness is an important factor in the determination of 
the appropriate response to an information correction request. The 
Department has addressed this issue in its revised guidelines by adding 
the list of corrective actions mentioned above, which recognizes 
timeliness as an important factor in determining a remedy and which 
includes withdrawal or correction of the information in question as a 
form of correction where appropriate. The guidelines now contain the 
statement: ``The form of corrective action will be determined by the 
nature and timeliness of the information involved and such factors as 
the significance of the error on the use of the information and the 
magnitude of the error.''
    Comment: One commenter believes that agencies must provide a 
``specific time frame'' for decisions on information correction 
requests.
    Response: The Department provides time frames for response to 
requests for correction of information that it has disseminated. A 
single specific time limit for decision on requests for correction for 
all of the Department operating units is not possible because of the 
diverse missions of the Department's operating units. However, in all 
cases the Department will endeavor to respond as soon as reasonably 
possible, usually within 60 calendar days as stated in the Department's 
guidelines.

Initial Requests

    Comment: One commenter suggested that the guidelines should 
explicitly state that the administrative mechanism applies only to 
corrections of factual information and that the Department will not 
consider interpretations of data and information, or requests for de-
publishing. The commenter stated that to avoid wasteful duplication of 
effort the Department should limit complaints to information that is 
not already subject to existing data quality programs and measures 
(giving the example of rulemaking proceedings), and that complaints for 
any data quality standard that presents a potential moving target 
(i.e., ``best available evidence'') should be evaluated based on 
information available at the time of dissemination.

[[Page 62694]]

    The commenter urged that the Department's response to correction 
requests should be proportional to the significance and importance of 
the information in question to establish the necessary flexibility to 
set aside a request that has been superceded or is otherwise outdated. 
The commenter also stated that the Department should limit the 
mechanism to only what is required in Section 515 to avoid any 
possibility of creating new rights under administrative law. Finally, 
the commenter noted that the Department needs adequate procedural 
safeguards to avoid becoming mired down in minor data disputes, bad 
faith requests, and frivolous, repetitive, or non-timely claims.
    Response: Regarding consideration of interpretations of data and 
information, the Department's information quality guidelines and 
Section 515 itself are not designed to contemplate interpretations of 
data and information apart from requests for correction of information 
that is not in compliance with agency guidelines. Similarly, requests 
for de-publishing would be considered only in the context of an 
appropriate request for correction of Department-disseminated 
information, in which case withdrawal of the affected information would 
be one of the options considered if the information were found to be 
incorrect.
    Although the Department has not limited complaints to information 
that is not already subject to existing data quality programs and 
measures, the Department has designed its administrative mechanisms to 
take advantage of existing processes that are designed to ensure the 
quality of information, such as rulemakings. The Department agrees that 
requests for correction should be evaluated based on the evidence 
available at the time of dissemination. However, where it is possible, 
timely, appropriate, and cost-effective to make corrections based on 
later-acquired evidence that meets the Department's quality standards, 
the Department will consider correction.
    The Department agrees that its response to correction requests 
should be proportional to the significance and importance of the 
information in question (among other factors). The Department believes 
its guidelines provide the necessary flexibility to deal with 
superceded or outdated requests. The Department notes that its 
guidelines provide that requests that are duplicative, repetitious, or 
frivolous may be rejected and that information need not be corrected if 
the correction would serve no useful purpose.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that the Department's rigid 
requirements for filing a request for correction serve as an entry 
barrier against the requestor. The commenter pointed out that no other 
federal agency has adopted such a rigid approach, which will terminate 
with prejudice the majority of requests received. The commenter noted 
that this practice could lead to retaining an acknowledged fact error 
in Department information by having such high barriers to a substantive 
examination of the error.
    Response: The Department does not intend to place procedural 
barriers in the way of legitimate requests for correction. Numerous 
provisions in the Department's administrative correction mechanisms 
have been modified to make the process easier to use. In addition, 
provisions have been added allowing defective requests to be amended 
and resubmitted.

Reconsideration of Requests

    Comment: One commenter pointed out that the Department should be 
aware that Section 515 does not address reconsideration of complaints 
and that such a requirement is outside the scope of the statutory 
requirements. Therefore, the commenter stated that the Department's 
reconsideration process should remain fairly informal and limited in 
scope, since the review mechanism is to ensure that initial agency 
review was conducted with due diligence.
    Response: Although the statutory language of Section 515 does not 
address reconsideration or appeals from initial denials of requests for 
correction, the Department has followed the OMB guidelines and, in 
keeping with those guidelines has, through its OUs, devised appeal 
processes ``that serve to address the genuine and valid needs of the 
agency and its constituents without disrupting agency processes.'' (67 
FR at 8458)

Contents of Request

    Comment: Several commenters requested that the Department eliminate 
the requirement of a ``proper request.'' One commenter explained that 
the problem was that requesters whose requests were determined not to 
be proper were not given the opportunity to amend the request, thereby 
creating in effect a form of summary judgment with prejudice.
    Response: To investigate a request for correction and respond to 
the requester, the Department must have appropriate contact information 
and sufficient information regarding the source of the information 
disseminated and how the requester believes that information fails to 
comply with the applicable information quality standards. This 
information can only be provided by the requester. Therefore, the 
Department has retained the requirement of a ``proper request'' but has 
added that if a request is determined not to be proper, the requester 
may amend the request and resubmit it.

Stating a Claim

    Comment: Some commenters urged the elimination of the proposed 
requirement that the responsible office make a preliminary 
determination, on the basis of the strength of the assertions in the 
request alone, that the information in question was based on non-
conformance with the Department's information quality standards before 
objectively investigating and analyzing the request.
    Response: This provision has been amended to clarify its purpose. 
The provision was never meant to preclude any request for correction. 
Rather it was meant to ensure that the Department could determine from 
the request exactly what the requestor's claim or complaint is. A 
request that cannot be understood is not possible to address. Along 
with language clarifying this intent, language has been added stating 
that a request determined to not state a claim ``may be amended and 
resubmitted * * *''
    Comment: One commenter strongly opposed the Department's position 
that there is no appeal from a decision that a request does not state a 
claim.
    Response: The Department points out that an appeal is not necessary 
for a decision by the responsible office that a request does not state 
a claim because the guidelines clearly state that a denied request may 
be amended and resubmitted for consideration. The elements of a valid 
claim are listed in the guidelines. A refused claim may be amended to 
ensure that these elements are included in the resubmission.
    Duplicative Requests
    Comment: One commenter stated that the Department should state that 
if a request has been made and responded to, then a new, similar 
request may be rejected as frivolous or duplicative.
    Response: The Department has included a statement that requests 
that are duplicative, repetitious, or frivolous may be rejected.

Criteria for Corrections

    Comment: One commenter questioned whether the Department would 
always correct information when it agrees (in some sense) with a 
request for correction. The commenter suggested that agencies should be 
required to correct information in all cases.

[[Page 62695]]

    Response: The OMB guidelines provide that agencies are ``required 
to undertake only the degree of correction that they conclude is 
appropriate for the nature and timeliness of the information involved, 
and explain such practices in their annual fiscal year reports to 
OMB.'' (67 FR 8453) Further, the OMB guidelines direct agencies to 
weigh the costs and benefits of higher quality information. The 
Department's guidelines are in compliance OMB guidelines.

Substantially the Same and Acceptable Error

    Comment: Several commenters objected to the Department's assertion 
that it need not correct information that was within an ``acceptable 
degree of imprecision'' and information that failed to meet the 
applicable standards but would have been substantially the same or 
statistically the same had the applicable standards been met. One of 
these commenters also objected to the Department's assertion that it 
would not correct information the correction of which would serve no 
useful purpose.
    Response: In the course of simplifying the Department's 
administrative correction mechanisms, references to the concepts of 
``acceptable degree of imprecision'' and ``substantially the same or 
statistically the same'' have been removed from that part of the 
Department's guidelines. However, these concepts are fundamental to 
scientific inquiry and have not been discarded. In fact, the concept of 
``acceptable degree of imprecision'' is inherent in OMB's view of 
``reproducibility'' and is part of OMB's (and the Department's) 
definition of that term (67 FR 8456, 8457, 8460). Similarly, concepts 
of acceptable statistical variability are essential to the scientific 
process. Information that falls within clearly delineated and 
acceptable statistical ranges is in fact scientifically correct. The 
Department has retained the assertion that no initial request for 
correction will be considered under these procedures concerning 
disseminated information the correction of which would serve no useful 
purpose, but has explained what is meant by ``serve no useful 
purpose.'' Specifically, ``[c]orrection of disseminated information 
would serve no useful purpose with respect to information that is not 
valid, used, or useful after a stated short period of time'' (such as a 
weather forecast or atomic time). The Department points out that 
information need not be corrected if the information would have been 
substantially or statistically the same or if the information is within 
an acceptable degree of error, in line with the scientific process.

Budget Constraints

    Comment: Several commenters stated that budgetary constraints 
should not be a basis for failing to correct information determined by 
the Department to be flawed. Some of these commenters stated that 
Section 515 gives the public the right to seek and obtain correction of 
federally disseminated information. One commenter suggested that ``this 
noncorrection of known errors seems to be too smooth a path of evasion 
by the most interested staff members, against those requesters seeking 
legitimate redress and whose claim of error is acknowledged to be 
correct.''
    Response: The Department points out that budgetary constraints do 
not exempt information from any necessary correction. However, the OMB 
guidelines direct agencies to weigh the costs and benefits of higher 
quality information. The Department's intent in including the statement 
regarding resources unavailable to that official is now more correctly 
expressed, consistent with OMB's guidelines, as an examination of costs 
and benefits of higher quality information.

Department of Commerce and Operating Unit Web Sites

    The Web sites that publish the Department of Commerce's information 
quality guidelines are noted below. The first site includes this 
document for the Department of Commerce. The remaining sites document 
the information quality guidelines for Commerce's operating units.

http://www.doc.gov/
http://www.osec.doc.gov/cio/oipr/OS%20Revised%20Info%20Qual%20Guidelines.htm
http://www.bxa.doc.gov/
http://www.esa.doc.gov/
http://www.bea.doc.gov/
http://www.census.gov/
http://www.doc.gov/eda/
http://www.ita.doc.gov/
http://www.mbda.gov/
http://www.noaa.gov/
http://www.ntia.doc.gov/
http://www.ta.doc.gov/
http://www.nist.gov/
https://www.ntis.gov/

    Dated: September 30, 2002.
Thomas N. Pyke, Jr.,
Chief Information Officer.
[FR Doc. 02-25340 Filed 10-1-02; 3:33 pm]
BILLING CODE 3510-CW-P