OMB Watch Releases 'An Attack on Cancer Research'
by Sam Kim, 9/11/2007
OMB Watch released a report in late August that further documents industry's attempt to restrict access to health and safety information produced by the National Toxicology Program (NTP). The report comes just as Congress is investigating allegations of mismanagement, industry influence, and suppression of whistleblowers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the NTP.
An Attack on Cancer Research: Industry's Obstruction of the National Toxicology Program illustrates how, over the past five years, industry has repeatedly misused the Data Quality Act (DQA) to suppress or delay important cancer-related information. Among other duties, NTP publishes the biennial Report on Carcinogens (RoC), which is used by local, state and federal authorities to set environmental policies, explore regulations on dangerous substances and provide for preventative health measures.
DQA has been used by the chemical and manufacturing industry to obstruct NTP's research on cancer-causing agents. DQA is a two-paragraph provision that slipped through Congress in late 2000 without debate and has grown into a mountain of controversy, pitting industry against the public interest. It has been used to lodge frivolous information quality challenges, which slow regulatory action and pressure agencies to remove or revise information.
"We discovered that industry has tried to use DQA to challenge every aspect of the NTP scientific review and release process," said Clayton Northouse, Information Policy Analyst at OMB Watch and lead author of the report. "Special interest associations have challenged meetings, press releases, notices to study specific chemicals and other documents that are clearly beyond the parameters of DQA. Instead of seeking to improve the quality of data, the intent of these challenges seems to be to keep scientific information out of the hands of health professionals and government decision-makers."
The report documents how the latest RoC has been delayed for more than one year due to numerous frivolous DQA challenges. The industry challenges, though, do more than impede the flow of critical information to those who need it. The complaints also use up valuable staff time in a program with a small number of employees. This is time that should instead be used to research potential cancer-causing agents and safeguard public health. The report documents how government agencies and public health officials have been denied access to the latest information on the most dangerous toxic chemicals.
OMB Watch concludes the report with recommendations for NTP and other government programs and agencies regarding the implementation of DQA. In particular, the report recommends that government agencies implement the following procedures:
- Dismiss DQA challenges covered by existing information quality procedures.
- Only consider challenges of substantive information.
- Distinguish between fact and policy.
- Dismiss challenges that would result in significant delays in agency action.
The goal of the recommendations, Northouse said, is to "improve the quality of government data without diverting resources away from protecting the health and safety of the American public."