New Guidelines on the Use of Scientific Information Issued by OMB

On April 24, 2019, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum setting out new guidelines on the use of “influential scientific, financial, or statistical information” by federal agencies. The memorandum indicates that, when using scientific information to support their policies, agencies should make the research and data underlying that information publicly available. The memorandum states:

“[I]nfluential analysis must be disseminated with sufficient descriptions of data and methods to allow them to be reproduced by qualified third parties who may want to test the sensitivity of agency analyses . . .

Agencies should . . . communicate to the public sufficient information on the characteristics of the data and analysis, including its scope (e.g., temporal and demographic), generation protocols, and any other information necessary to allow the public to reproduce the agencies conclusions . . .

Agencies should prioritize increased access to the data and analytical frameworks (e.g., models) used to generate influential information.”

Critics have expressed concern that the memorandum could have the effect of restricting federal agencies’ access to, and use of, scientific information because many of the studies they currently rely on are based on confidential data that cannot be published. They note that the memorandum appears to be intended to achieve same goals as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s proposed “science transparency rule,” which would have prevented the agency using scientific studies based on non-public data in rulemakings. That rule was heavily criticized, including by former top EPA officials, who emphasized that:

“Some of [the] studies [at issue], particularly those that determine the effects of exposure to chemicals and pollution on health, rely on medical records that by law are confidential because of patient privacy policies. These studies summarize the analysis of raw data and draw conclusions based on that analysis. Other government agencies also use studies like these to develop policy and regulations, and to buttress and defend rules against legal challenges. They are, in fact, essential to making sound public policy.”