Information Quality Act:

Expanded Oversight and Clearer Guidance by the Office of Management and Budget Could Improve Agencies' Implementation of the Act

GAO-06-765: Published: Aug 23, 2006. Publicly Released: Sep 18, 2006.

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The importance and widespread use of federal information makes its accuracy imperative. The Information Quality Act (IQA) required that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issue guidelines to ensure the quality of information disseminated by federal agencies by fiscal year 2003. GAO was asked to (1) assess OMB's role in helping agencies implement IQA; (2) identify the number, type, and source of IQA correction requests agencies received; and (3) examine if IQA has adversely affected agencies' overall operations and, in particular, rulemaking processes. In response, GAO interviewed OMB and agency officials and reviewed agency IQA guidelines, related documents, and Web sites.

OMB issued governmentwide guidelines that were the basis for other agencies' own IQA guidelines and required agencies to post guidelines and other IQA information to their Web sites. It also reviewed draft guidelines and undertook other efforts. OMB officials said that OMB primarily concentrated on cabinet-level and regulatory agencies, and 14 of the 15 cabinet-level agencies have guidelines. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not have department-level guidelines covering its 22 component agencies. Also, although the Environmental Protection Agency and 4 other independent agencies posted IQA guidelines and other information to their Web sites, 44 of 86 additional independent agencies that GAO examined have not posted their guidelines and may not have them in place. As a result, users of information from these agencies may not know whether agencies have guidelines or know how to request correction of agency information. OMB also has not clarified guidance to agencies about posting IQA-related information, including guidelines, to make that information more accessible. Of the 19 cabinet and independent agencies with guidelines, 4 had "information quality" links on their home pages, but others' IQA information online was difficult to locate. From fiscal years 2003 to 2004, three agencies shifted to using IQA to address substantive requests--those dealing with the underlying scientific, environmental, or other complex information--which declined from 42 to 38. In fiscal year 2003, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and two other agencies used IQA to address flood insurance rate maps, Web site addresses, photo captions, and other simple or administrative matters. But, in fiscal year 2004, these agencies changed their classification of these requests from being IQA requests and instead processed them using other correction mechanisms. As a result, the total number of all IQA requests dropped from over 24,000 in fiscal year 2003 to 62 in fiscal year 2004. Also, of the 80 substantive requests that agencies received during the 2-year period--over 50 percent of which came from businesses, trade groups, or other profit-oriented organizations--almost half (39) of the initial agency decisions of these 80 were appealed, with 8 appeals resulting in changes. The impact of IQA on agencies' operations could not be determined because neither agencies nor OMB have mechanisms to determine the costs or impacts of IQA on agency operations. However, GAO analysis of requests shows that agencies can take from a month to more than 2 years to resolve IQA requests on substantive matters. According to agency IQA officials, IQA duties were added into existing staff responsibilities and administering IQA requests has not been overly burdensome nor has it adversely affected agencies' operations, although there are no supporting data. But evidence suggests that certain program staff or units addressing IQA requests have seen their workloads increase without a related increase in resources. As for rulemaking, agencies addressed 16 correction requests related to rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act, not IQA.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that all agencies covered by IQA fulfill their requirements, including implementing IQA guidelines and helping to promote easier public access to IQA information on agency Web sites, the Director of OMB should work with DHS to help ensure it fulfills IQA requirements and set a deadline for doing so.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a December 8, 2009 memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies (including DHS), the OMB Director, Peter R. Orszag, issued a Government Directive establishing deadlines for action, and encouraged agencies to advance their open government initiatives (including the Information Quality Act) well ahead of those deadlines. This provides evidence that the Director set a deadline for DHS to fulfill its Information Quality Act requirements. http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/omb_open_government_directive_12_08_09.pdf

    Recommendation: To help ensure that all agencies covered by IQA fulfill their requirements, including implementing IQA guidelines and helping to promote easier public access to IQA information on agency Web sites, the Director of OMB should identify other agencies that do not have IQA guidelines and work with them to develop and implement IQA requirements.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a December 8, 2009 memorandum to the heads of all the executive departments and agencies, the OMB Director, Peter R. Orszag, issued a Government Directive to improve the quality of government information available to the public, by getting senior leaders to make certain that the information conforms to OMB guidance on the Information Quality Act and that adequate systems and processes are in place within the agencies to promote such conformity. For example, each agency was directed to, within 45 days, in consultation with OMB, designate a high-level senior official to be accountable for the quality and objectivity of, and internal controls over, the Federal spending information publicly disseminated. This is evidence that the Director is working with all federal agencies to develop and implement IQA requirements. http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/omb_open_government_directive_12_08_09.pdf

    Recommendation: To help ensure that all agencies covered by IQA fulfill their requirements, including implementing IQA guidelines and helping to promote easier public access to IQA information on agency Web sites, the Director of OMB should clarify guidance to agencies on improving the public's access to online IQA information, including suggestions about clearer linkages to that information, where appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a December 8, 2009 memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, the OMB Director, Peter R. Orszag, issued a Government Directive to increase accountability, promote informed participation by the public, and create economic opportunity, by having each agency take prompt steps to expand access to information by making it available online in open formats. Further, each open government webpage will incorporate a mechanism for the public to: give feedback on and assessment of the quality of published information; provide input about which information to prioritize for publication; and provide input on the agency's Open Government Plan. http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/omb_open_government_directive_12_08_09.pdf

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