[Federal Register Volume 67, Number 190 (Tuesday, October 1, 2002)]
[Pages 61726-61729]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 02-24917]



Final Information Quality Guidelines

AGENCY: Office of Information and Technology, Department of Veterans 

ACTION: Final guidelines.


SUMMARY: These final guidelines implement section 515 of the Treasury 
and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Pub. L. 
106-554; H.R. 5658). Section 515 directs the Office of Management and 
Budget (OMB) to issue government-wide guidelines that provide policy 
and procedural guidance to Federal agencies for ensuring and maximizing 
the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information 
(including statistical information) disseminated by Federal agencies. 
By October 1, 2002, agencies must issue their own implementing 
guidelines that include an administrative mechanism allowing affected 
persons to seek and obtain correction of information maintained and 
disseminated by the agency that does not comply with agency and OMB 

DATES: Effective date: October 1, 2002.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kenneth Little, Office of Information 
and Technology, Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC 20420. 
Telephone (202) 273-8051 or by e-mail to [email protected]

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: VA has developed guidelines for reviewing 
and substantiating (by documentation or other means selected by the 
agency) the quality (including the objectivity, utility, and integrity) 
of information before it is disseminated. In addition, VA has 
established administrative correction procedures allowing affected 
persons to seek and obtain, where appropriate, correction of 
information disseminated by VA that does not comply with OMB or VA 
guidelines. VA will apply these standards with flexibility in a manner 
appropriate to the nature and timeliness of information to be 
disseminated and incorporate them into existing VA information 
resources management and administrative practices.
    The guidelines are also available at www.va.gov/oirm/s515.

    Dated: September 25, 2002.

    By direction of the Secretary:
Ernesto Castro,
Director, Records Management Service.

Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, 
Utility and Integrity of Information Disseminated By VA

I. Introduction

    The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) required VA to prepare 
guidelines to ensure the quality of information disseminated by the 
Department. This is in response to Section 515 requirements of the 
Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 
2001 (Pub. L. 106-554; H.R. 5658). Section 515 directed OMB to issue 
Government-wide guidelines that provided policy and procedural 
guidance to Federal agencies for issuing their own guidelines for 
ensuring the quality of disseminated information.
    The guidelines contained herein will apply flexible, 
appropriate, and timely quality standards to the review and 
substantiation of data and information before it is disseminated to 
the public. They will be incorporated into existing VA information 
resources management and administrative practices and will include 
an administrative procedure to allow affected persons to seek and 
obtain corrected information. VA will report annually, beginning 
January 1, 2004, to the Director of OMB, the number and nature of 
complaints received and the resolutions issued.
    These guidelines are subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act 
(PRA) of 1995 (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35); OMB Circular A-130; Freedom of 
Information Act (FOIA) (5 U.S.C. 552); the Computer Security Act of 
1987; and VA Directive 6102, Internet/Intranet Services.

II. Policy

    VA will ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, 
and integrity of information it disseminates to the public. VA will 
take appropriate steps to incorporate information quality criteria 
into its information dissemination practices, and will ensure that 
the quality of disseminated information is consistent with VA's and 
OMB's performance standards. Additional levels of quality standards 
may be adopted as appropriate for specific categories of 

III. Implementation

    Except for those categories of information that are specifically 
exempted from coverage, (see section C, Exceptions), these 
guidelines apply to all information disseminated by VA and VA 
initiated or sponsored dissemination of information by VA grantees, 
contractors, or cooperators on or after October 1, 2002, regardless 
of when the information was first disseminated.
    VA's Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology/Chief 
Information Officer (CIO) serves as the Department official charged 
with oversight of these guidelines. VA officials are responsible for 
distributing these guidelines and any modifications hereafter to 
appropriate offices within their organizations.

[[Page 61727]]

A. Scope

    The guidelines apply to all information VA disseminates to the 
public (except as noted in section C) in all forms of media, e.g., 
printed and electronic (the Internet and other technologies). 
Information dissemination products include books, papers, CD-ROMs, 
electronic documents, or other documentary material.
    The guidelines apply to information disseminated by VA from a 
web page except for requests for corrections of typographical 
errors, web page malfunctions, or non-VA hyperlinks from VA's 
    VA will apply a higher quality standard for ``influential'' 
information that has a capacity to cause an adverse or financial 
impact on public policy or legislative matters relative to services 
provided to veterans. The more important the information, the higher 
the standard that is applied, e.g., influential scientific, 
financial or statistical information.
    As recommended by OMB, in some cases, when VA-disseminated 
information is collected from a variety of sources, the Department 
will ensure the information is regularly updated, revised and held 
in strict confidence. In such cases, the essence of the guidelines 
will still apply.
    The guidelines will be applied in a common sense and workable 
manner. They will not impose unnecessary administrative burdens that 
would inhibit VA organizations from taking advantage of the Internet 
and other technologies to disseminate information to the public.

B. Application

    VA Administrations and Staff Offices will develop processes for 
reviewing the quality of information before it is disseminated. VA 
offices will treat information quality as an integral part of the 
development of information, including creation, collection, 
maintenance, and dissemination, and will substantiate the quality of 
information disseminated through documentation or other means 
appropriate to the information. Originating offices will use 
internal peer reviews and other review mechanisms to ensure that 
disseminated information is objective, unbiased and accurate in both 
presentation and substance. It is important that VA offices make use 
of the PRA clearance process to help improve the quality of 
information before it is disseminated to the public. The PRA 
clearance submission to OMB will include the additional requirement 
that all proposed collections of information that will be 
disseminated to the public should be collected, maintained, and used 
in a way consistent with VA's and OMB's information quality 
    VA will apply reproducibility standards to applicable original 
and supporting data according to ``commonly accepted scientific, 
financial, or statistical standards.'' VA organizations will be 
flexible in determining what constitutes ``original and supporting'' 
data. When original or supporting data must be generated, sound 
statistical methods will be applied. VA will apply a consistent 
reproducibility standard to transparency for how analytical results 
are generated (e.g., specific data used, various assumptions 
employed, specific analytical methods used, and statistical 
procedures employed). These methods will allow any qualified person 
to conduct an independent re-analysis, if necessary. This 
independent re-analysis should produce substantially the same 
results as the original research.
    In cases where public access to data and methods may not occur 
due to other compelling interests, (i.e., ethical, feasibility, or 
confidentiality constraints), VA will perform rigorous robustness 
checks to analytic results and document what checks were undertaken. 
VA offices should; however, disclose the specific data sources that 
have been used and the specific quantitative methods and assumptions 
that have been employed. VA will address ethical, feasibility, and 
confidentiality issues with care. Reproducibility of data is limited 
by the requirement that VA comply with Federal confidentiality 
statutes, such as the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a, and 38 U.S.C. 
5701, 5705, and 7332.

C. Exceptions

    The guidelines do not apply to the dissemination of information 
limited to Government employees or Department contractors or 
grantees, intra- or inter-Departmental use or sharing of Government 
information. They do not apply to correspondence with individuals, 
press releases (unless they contain new substantive information not 
covered by a previous information dissemination subject to the 
guidelines), archival records, library holdings and distribution 
limited to: public filings, subpoenas, or adjudicative processes. 
These guidelines also do not cover responses to requests for 
Department records under the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy 
Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, or other similar laws.
    The guidelines are not designed for individuals who are seeking 
corrections of personal information or information related to death 
and disability payments, education, home loans, disability, medical 
care, insurance, burial and survivor benefits or related information 
pertaining to specific VA claims, benefits records, or services 
delivered. Information pertaining to VA services can be obtained by 
calling VA's toll-free number at 1-800-827-1000.
    The guidelines generally do not govern a third-party's 
dissemination of information (the exception being where VA adopts 
the information as its own).
    The guidelines do not apply to opinions, if it is clear that 
what is being offered is someone's opinion, rather than fact or the 
Department's views.
    Excluded also from the definition of dissemination are responses 
to FOIA requests and some scientific research (see section on 
``Third Party Dissemination'').

D. Policy for Release of Information

    Under the Freedom of Information Act requirements, VA's policy 
is to disclose its records upon request, except for those records 
that are protected from disclosure by law.

E. Third-Party Dissemination

    The standards of these guidelines apply not only to information 
that VA generates, but also to information that other parties 
provide to VA, if the other parties seek to have VA rely upon or 
disseminate this information or if VA decides to do so. If VA is to 
rely on technical, scientific, or economic information submitted by 
a third party, that information would need to meet appropriate 
standards of quality, including objectivity and utility.
    VA does not ``initiate'' the dissemination of information when 
Federally employed scientists, Federal grantees, or contractors 
publish and communicate their research findings in the same manner 
as their academic colleagues. This applies even though VA has funded 
the research and may retain ownership or other intellectual property 
    If VA, through a procurement contract or a grant, provides for a 
person to conduct research, and VA directs the person to disseminate 
the results (or VA reviews and approves the results before 
dissemination), then VA has ``sponsored'' the dissemination of this 
information, and the information is subject to these guidelines.
    By contrast, if VA provides funding to support research, and if 
the researcher (not VA) decides to disseminate the results and 
determines the content and presentation of the dissemination, then 
VA has not ``sponsored'' the dissemination. The information is not 
subject to these guidelines even though VA has funded the research 
and may retain ownership or other intellectual property rights.
    To avoid confusion regarding whether the Department is 
sponsoring the dissemination, the researcher should include an 
appropriate disclaimer in the publication or speech to the effect 
that the ``views are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the 
views'' of VA. On the other hand, subsequent VA dissemination of 
such information requires that the information adhere to VA's 
information quality guidelines.

F. Peer Review Process

    VA will use peer reviews for covered information that are 
consistent with VA's and OMB's peer review standards. Transparency 
is important for peer review, and VA's guidelines set minimum 
standards for the transparency of VA-sponsored peer review. If data 
and analytical results have been subjected to formal independent, 
external peer review, the information may generally be presumed, 
subject to possible rebuttal, to be of acceptable objectivity. The 
intensity of peer reviews will be commensurate with the significance 
of the risk or its management.
    Peer reviewers must be selected primarily on the basis of 
technical expertise, be expected to disclose to VA prior technical/
policy positions they may have taken on the issues at hand, be 
expected to disclose to VA their sources of personal and 
institutional funding (private or public sector), and conduct their 
reviews in an open and rigorous manner.
    As an organization responsible for dissemination of vital health 
and medical information, VA will interpret reproducibility and peer-
review standards in a manner appropriate to assure timely flow of 
vital information from VA to medical providers, patients, health 
agencies and the

[[Page 61728]]

public. VA may temporarily waive information quality standards in 
urgent situations (e.g., imminent threats to public health or 
homeland security) in accordance with the latitude specified in 
OMB's and VA's guidelines.
    When VA disseminates influential analyses of risks to human 
health, safety, and the environment, if at all, it will apply the 
quality principles applied by Congress to risk information used and 
disseminated pursuant to the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 
1996 (42 U.S.C. 300g-1(b)(3)(A) & (B)) to the extent feasible.

IV. Administrative Correction Procedures

    An administrative process is available to allow affected persons 
to seek and obtain, where appropriate, timely correction of 
information that does not meet the stated VA or OMB guidelines. The 
correction and appeal processes have been designed to be flexible, 
appropriate in nature, and timely in responding to a request for 
correction. It is available for genuine and valid requests for 
correction of information that do not meet the stated guidelines. In 
determining whether to accept a request for correction of 
information, VA will consider whether the information or request for 
correction is obsolete. If the information was disseminated more 
than a year before the request for correction is received, and it 
does not have a continuing significant impact on VA projects or 
policy decisions or on private sector decisions, VA may regard the 
information as obsolete for purposes of processing a correction 

A. Information Correction Process

    If an affected person believes that disseminated information is 
not accurate, clear, complete or unbiased because it is not 
consistent with OMB's and VA's standards, he or she may challenge or 
submit a complaint by written correspondence or via VA's homepage:
    1. Write to: Director, Records Management Service (005E3), 
Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue, NW., Washington, 
DC 20420. In submitting written requests, the envelope and the 
request both should be clearly marked ``Data Quality Complaint'; or
    2. Access VA's home page at www.va.gov and select the ``Contact 
VA'' link that appears at the bottom of the page.
    Requests for correction of information will be routed to the 
appropriate VA Administration or Staff Office for review. VA will 
respond to all requests for corrections within 60 calendar days of 
receipt. If the request requires more than 60 calendar days to 
resolve, VA will inform the complainant that more time is required 
and indicate the reason why and an estimated decision date. If the 
VA office receiving the complaint determines that the request does 
not adequately and reasonably describe the disseminated information 
source, the complainant will be advised that additional information 
is needed. If the challenged information is determined to be correct 
or valid, the complainant will be provided with a statement as to 
why the request for correction is not processed and how to file an 
appeal. If the challenged information is determined to be incorrect, 
VA will notify the complainant of its intent to correct the 
information, and the corrective steps proposed.
    In cases where VA disseminates a study, analysis, or other 
information prior to final VA action or information product, 
requests for correction will be considered prior to final action or 
information product in those cases where VA has determined that an 
earlier response would not unduly delay issuance of VA's action or 
information product, and the complainant has shown a reasonable 
likelihood of suffering actual harm from VA's dissemination if the 
complaint is not resolved prior to VA's final action or information 

B. Information Appeal Process

    If affected persons who request corrections of information do 
not agree with VA's decision (including the corrective action, if 
any), they may file an appeal in writing within 60 calendar days to 
the office indicated in the denial correspondence. The envelope and 
reconsideration request both should be clearly marked ``Information 
Correction Reconsideration Request.'' It is important that 
correspondents state why they disagree. The appropriate VA 
organization will review the appeal and act upon the request for 
reconsideration. The correspondent will be notified within 60 
calendar days whether the request was granted or denied and what 
corrective action, if any, VA will take on the appeal. If the 
request requires more than 60 calendar days to resolve, the agency 
will inform the complainant that more time is required and indicate 
the reason why and an estimated decision date.
    To ensure objectivity, the VA organization that originally 
disseminated the information does not have responsibility for both 
the initial response and any subsequent appeal. In addition, if VA 
believes other agencies may have an interest in the appeal, VA will 
consult with those other agencies about their possible interest.

C. Administrative Management of Corrected Records

    Corrective actions will vary. Possibilities include immediate 
correction or replacement of information on the Department of 
Veterans Affairs Web site (), revision 
of subsequent issues of recurring products, and issuance of errata 
for printed reports and other data products.

V. Reporting Requirements to OMB

    On October 1, 2002, VA must publish notice in the Federal 
Register of the availability of the Department's final information 
quality guidelines, and also post them on VA's Web site.
    On January 1, 2004, VA will electronically submit an annual 
fiscal report to OMB, with a recurring report due on January 1 each 
year thereafter. The report will provide information (both 
quantitative and qualitative where appropriate) on the number, 
nature, and resolution of complaints received by VA regarding its 
perceived or confirmed failure to comply with OMB and VA guidelines.

VI. Definitions

    VA has adopted the definition of terms set forth in the OMB 
guidelines. The following information explains further the way VA 
uses some of the terms:
    A. ``Affected'' persons are individuals or entities that may 
use, benefit or be harmed directly by the disseminated information 
at issue. These guidelines are not designed for individuals to seek 
corrections of personal information or information related to 
personal services, benefits, or claims for benefits.
    B. ``Dissemination'' of information means VA-initiated or 
sponsored distribution of information to the public.
    C. ``Influential'' information is determined when VA can 
reasonably discern that dissemination of information will, or does 
have, a clear and substantial impact on important public policies or 
important private sector decisions. This type of information must 
have a significant impact on VA's public policy or legislative 
matters relative to delivery of veterans' benefits or health care 
services. VA's influential information includes the following 
    1. Statistical information obtained from original data 
collections; administrative records; compilations of data from 
primary sources such as forecasts and estimates derived from 
statistical models, expert analyses, data collection, and analysis 
and interpretations of statistical information.
    2. Financial information referring to Government revenues and 
    3. Scientific information designating the method of research in 
which a hypothesis, formulated after systematic, objective 
collection of data is tested empirically (relying on experiment and 
observation rather than theory).
    D. ``Information,'' for purposes of these guidelines, including 
the administrative correction/appeal procedures, means any 
communication or representation of knowledge such as facts or data, 
in any medium or form, including textual, numerical, graphic, 
cartographic, narrative, or audiovisual forms. This definition does 
not include:
    1. Opinions, where the presentation makes clear that the 
statements are subjective opinions, rather than facts, or a 
determination of the Department. However, any underlying information 
published by the Department upon which the opinion is based may be 
subject to these guidelines.
    2. Information originated by, and attributed to, non-Department 
sources, provided the Department does not expressly rely upon that 
information in formulating policy. Examples include: information 
reported and duly attributed in materials prepared and disseminated 
by the Department's hyperlinks on the Department's Web site to 
information that others disseminate; and reports of advisory 
committees and international organizations published on the 
Department's Web site;
    3. Statements related solely to the internal personnel rules and 
practices of Department and other materials produced for Department 
employees, contractors, agents or alumni;
    4. Descriptions of VA, its responsibilities and its 
organizational components;

[[Page 61729]]

    5. Statements, the modification of which might cause harm to 
national security, including harm to the national defense or foreign 
relations of the United States and statements of U.S. foreign 
    6. Materials covered by the United States Information and 
Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (the Smith-Mundt Act), 22 U.S.C. 
Sec. 1416-1a (Ban on domestic activities);
    7. Testimony and other submissions by Department officials to 
Congress and administrative bodies;
    8. Submissions by Department officials in court;
    9. Testimony by Department officials in court (unless it 
contains new substantive information not covered by previously 
disseminated information subject to these guidelines).
    10. Investigatory material compiled pursuant to U.S. law or for 
law enforcement purposes in the United States or abroad; or
    11. Statements which are, or which reasonably may be expected to 
become, part of subpoenas or adjudicative processes, the subject of 
litigation, or other dispute resolution proceedings.
    E. ``Quality'' is the encompassing term of which ``utility,'' 
``objectivity,'' and ``integrity'' are constituents. VA applies 
these terms to the guidelines as follows:
    1. ``Utility'' refers to the usefulness of the information to 
the intended users. VA will achieve utility by staying informed of 
information needs and developing new data, models, and information 
products where appropriate.
    2. ``Objectivity'' focuses on whether the disseminated 
information is being presented in an accurate, clear, complete, and 
unbiased manner, and as a matter of substance, is accurate, 
reliable, and unbiased. VA will achieve objectivity by using 
reliable data sources and sound analytical techniques, and preparing 
information products that are carefully reviewed and use proven 
methods by qualified people. The objectivity standard will not 
override other compelling interests such as privacy, intellectual 
property, and other confidentiality protections.
    3. ``Integrity'' refers to the protection of VA information from 
unauthorized, unanticipated, or unintentional access or revision to 
ensure that the information remains authentic and is not 
compromised. To ensure the integrity of information that the 
Department collects, administers, and disseminates, VA has 
implemented rigorous information security controls to protect its 
information systems and resources. VA protects the confidentiality 
of its sensitive information by implementing security policies, 
programs, and procedures mandated by Federal law and guidance. These 
Department-wide activities comply with the statutory requirements 
created to protect sensitive information gathered and maintained on 
individuals by the Federal Government. These requirements are 
contained in the following Federal information security laws and 
    [sbull] Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.
    [sbull] Computer Security Act of 1987 (Pub. L. 100-235).
    [sbull] Government Information Security Reform Act (GISRA) (Pub. 
L. 106-398, Title X, Subtitle G).
    [sbull] Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 
1996 (HIPAA).
    [sbull] OMB Circulars A-123, A-127, and A-130 and their 
    [sbull] Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.
    [sbull] Privacy Act of 1974.
    F. ``Reproducibility'' means that information is capable of 
being substantially reproduced with essentially the same result, 
subject to an acceptable degree of imprecision or margin. With 
respect to analytical results, ``capable of being substantially 
reproduced'' means that independent analysis of the original or 
supporting data using identical methods would generate similar 
analytical results.
    G. ``Transparency'' refers to the clear, obvious and precise 
nature of the information. When VA disseminates influential 
information, a high degree of transparency about data and methods 
will be maintained to facilitate its reproducibility by qualified 
third parties. Methods to implement VA's guidelines will be 
transparent by providing documentation, ensuring quality by 
reviewing underlying methods used in developing data, consulting (as 
appropriate) with experts and users, and keeping users informed 
about corrections and revisions.

[FR Doc. 02-24917 Filed 9-30-02; 8:45 am]