New White House policy targets federal agency science use

A new Office of Management and Budget policy would affect how agencies ensure the quality of the data they rely on. ©Diego Cambiaso

The White House Office of Management and Budget recently issued a new policy that will provide guidance to federal agencies about the science they use in rulemaking and will require more data to be released to the public. The memorandum, titled “Improving Implementation of the Information Quality Act,” updates previous guidance issued in 2002.

The update was needed to “address changes in the information landscape and to incorporate best practices developed over time,” said acting Director Russell Vought. The recent memo “updates implementation of the [2002] Guidelines to reflect recent innovations in information generation, access, management, and use, and to help agencies address common problems with maintaining information quality.”

The policy requires federal agencies to develop their own definitions of “influential information,” or the data they rely on in drafting rules and formulating policies, which will now be held to a higher data quality standard by the OMB. Under the previous guidance, agencies could simply adopt the OMB’s definition of influential information rather than tailoring one to their agency.

The policy also requires that more data be released to the public to increase “reproducibility.” Under the policy, agencies should release their “specific methods, design parameters, equations or algorithms, parameters, and assumptions used.”

Now, when members of the public raise concerns about an agency’s use of science by submitting what it termed a “request for correction,” agencies must respond within 120 days and must also have their response reviewed by the OMB. The guidance also makes it clear that those responses should be limited to the technical data and not include lengthy discussion of the agency’s policy decisions.

The memo gives federal agencies 90 days to update their guidelines for information quality that each agency originally developed after issuance of the 2002 guidance.

During the past few years, several individual agencies have issued policies regarding the use of science. The Department of the Interior developed an “open science” policy in late 2018, about six months after the Environmental Protection Agency issued its policy on “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.”

Read The Wildlife Society’s Standing Position on The Use of Science in Policy and Management Decisions.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura’s articles.

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