Data Quality Lawsuit Settled Out of Court
by Guest Blogger, 11/14/2003
A controversial lawsuit challenging global warming was recently settled out of court, thereby leaving the issue of whether federal agencies’ data quality guidelines are judicially reviewable unanswered. The suit, brought by the anti-regulatory group Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) against the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP), challenged the underlying data of the inter-agency “National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change” (NACC). The government bases its global climate change statements on the NACC. CEI asserts that scientists used flawed computer models to generate the impact of global warming. The suit also challenged the document’s compliance with both the Global Change Research Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. An out of court settlement was reached Nov. 6 between CEI and OSTP. The agency posted a notice stating that the NACC was not “subjected to OSTP’s Information Quality Act Guidelines.” The notice appears on the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s website where NACC is available. In a press release by CEI that announces the settlement, the organization proposes that its next data quality targets are the EPA Climate Action Report (CAR) and any upcoming NACC reports. Since CEI exhausted all administrative options for data correction with EPA for the CAR, it is unclear if and how the organization will pursue this claim. Since the promulgation and implementation of the data quality guidelines at all federal agencies, it has been debated whether the guidelines are judicially reviewable. CEI’s lawsuit would have been the first test of whether the guidelines are enforceable by the courts. Several agencies stress their data quality guidelines are not final rules nor are they legally binding. If it is determined that the Data Quality Act is judicially reviewable, then federal agencies may lose their flexibility to freely discuss breaking issues and concerns without unwarranted censorship. While it appeared that this lawsuit would answer the question of the ability to review data quality guidelines in court, the settlement has delayed that precedent setting decision. It has been rumored that the next data quality petition that has potential to turn into a lawsuit is to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute from the U.S Chamber of Commerce and the Salt Institute. The petition challenges information that claims or suggests that reduced sodium consumption will result in lower blood pressure in all individuals. See OMB Watch’s analysis on this challenge. To see more data quality challenges and view the full lawsuit analysis, visit http://www.ombwatch.org/article/articleview/1419.