DOT Inundated With Data Quality Requests

Since October 2002, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has been inundated with 99 requests under the Data Quality Act (DQA), while only a handful of requests have been submitted to other agencies. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) within DOT has received all but six of the requests. The DQA requires that federal agencies develop guidelines to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of information disseminated by the agency. The majority of the FMCSA requests come from motor carriers and trucking companies seeking to correct records of accident reports. An examination of the FMCSA's responses to the requests reveal that 78 of the 93 requests were denied, 13 were approved and two requests have portions that were both approved and denied. The overwhelming majority of denials stated that the responsibility for record management lay with the states, not the federal government. In these cases, the federal databases are accurately reporting the information is in the state records and provided to the federal government. The proper procedure to correct information is communication directly with the state. Unfortunately, the continued inundation of these misdirected requests indicate how the overly strict data quality guidelines can allow industry, intentionally or unintentionally, to force the wasting of federal resources away from any agency's mandated regulatory purpose. Other reasons for denial include the files had been removed, the records were already corrected, the records were valid, and data quality requests were the improper method for correction. The fact that in certain cases the records had already been corrected shows that there are other more relevant avenues for information correction that work. FMCSA approved 13 requests and corrected the pertinent information or moved the records. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics also received two challenge which were denied, and the few subsequent challenges which they received were forwarded to FMCSA, the proper agency to handle the requests. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration received one request, the Federal Highway Administration received two, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received one. OMB Watch investigated the cause of the abnormally high number of data quality requests to DOT. Apparently, there has been widespread discussion of the DQA among associations such as the American Trucking Association and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. The topic has also come up in a number of seminars, including FMCSA events. The American Trucking Association became involved with the DQA from the onset, attending meetings around the topic as well as submitting comments on the OMB procedures. It is clear that the DQA is not the proper avenue to obtain corrections to the type of information that most of the DOT requests are addressing. The fact that companies feel compelled to resort to a federal procedure in order to correct the data indicates that there is a failure in the appropriate data correction mechanisms that manage these types of information. Attempting to use the DQA, however, in addition to creating an undue burden on agencies, fails to address or solve the underlying problems. Instead industry is trying to use the DQA as a crisis management tool distracting them from making efforts to fix the system that generates the crises in the first place. The DOT challenges are perfect examples of the kind of abuse that poor legislation such as the Data Quality Act invites. Recently, the FMCSA created a new system, Data Qs, as an electronic means for for motor carriers to file concerns about data released to the public. It is unclear if challenges through this system are regarded as petitions under the DQA.
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