Data Quality Challenge Filed Against OSTP on Global Warming Info
by Guest Blogger, 11/12/2003
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed a data quality petition Feb. 20 with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) that challenges global climate change information. The CEI petition seeks withdrawal of the National Assessment on Climate Change (NACC), which is the inter-agency technical document that underlies most of the federal government's recent statements about global climate change. CEI submitted similar challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Feb. 10 and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Feb. 19. All of the challenges utilize the same information and arguments and seem derived from earlier CEI comments to the agencies on the applicability of the Data Quality Act (DQA) to the NACC report. The global warming petition questions the objectivity, utility and reproducibility of the NACC. CEI asserts that computer model data was improperly used due to the selection of extreme models that violate the data quality guideline of objectivity. The petition also contains assertions that under political pressure, the NACC was not authentically peer reviewed and that a congressionally requested scientific review went unperformed. CEI maintains that because OSTP is responsible for overseeing the U.S. Global Change Research Change Project (USGCRP), which produced the report, the agency must ensure that the report complies with the DQA. Much of the evidence CEI presents in its petition seems to rest on the comments and opinions of individuals. While the comments are interesting and certainly support the CEI’s position, it seems that they have not fulfilled their burden of proving the information does not meet the data quality guidelines. The fact that some peer reviewers believed that the document needed major changes, does not make their views valid. CEI neither establishes that this was a majority view of reviewers or even a significant percentage. In any peer review process there is a wide variety of feedback, often contradictory. The feedback is considered and then incorporated or addressed to the extent possible. A troubling aspect of the data quality challenge is that CEI seeks to “correct” this information by prohibiting the government from disseminating the NACC. Under the data quality guidelines, the petitioner is required to submit the corrected information. CEI is not fulfilling this burden with its claim that the information is so “fatally flawed” that it cannot be corrected. These petitions represent the first of the data quality challenges that public interest groups warned would be filed. During the development of the data quality guidelines, numerous public interest groups voiced their concern that the well intentioned principles of improving data quality would be misused to de-publish information, gag agencies and prevent the free discussion of information. CEI filed a lawsuit against OSTP Aug. 6, suggesting CEI’s initial petition, and any request for reconsideration, was denied by the agency. The suit challenges the dissemination of NACC by OSTP and was not filed against EPA or NOAA. Since the promulgation and implementation of the data quality guidelines at all federal agencies, it has been debated whether it is judicially reviewable. Several agencies stress their DQA guidelines are not rules nor are they legally binding. CEI’s lawsuit could have been the first test of whether the guidelines are enforceable by the courts. However, CEI and OSTP reached an out of court settlement on Nov. 6 in which the agency continued to disseminate the NACC but posted a notice stating that the report was not “subjected to OSTP’s Information Quality Act Guidelines.” The notice appears on the where NACC is available. See the OMB Watch Analysis on the lawsuit for more information.