OMB-led effort would offer single format for companies

The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee recently passed legislation that would require the Office of Management and Budget to appoint a committee of industry and government representatives to establish standards for data reported to multiple agencies by private companies.

Rep. Steven Horn (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology and sponsor of the Electronic Reporting and Streamlining Act, said the bill would prevent businesses that are required to report data to the government from having to report it numerous times to different agencies and in different formats.

"The bill would help reduce costs to businesses and government by avoiding further proliferation of incompatible formats and methods for transmitting data," Horn said at the subcommittee markup last week. "It would also increase effective public access to data and other forms of information transmitted to or from the federal government through electronic means."

But sources said OMB officials were "not thrilled about managing the project" because it would further tax the limited manpower at the agency's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Sally Katzen, the administrator at OIRA, wrote to committee chairman Rep. William Clinger (R-Pa.) last week to question whether OMB should have the ability to convene a standards organization "with apparent authority to dictate agency administrative and regulatory practices."

Resources, Priorities Needed

Katzen's letter also cited her testimony from a May hearing in which she said the law would not achieve its objectives. She said the government does not suffer from a lack of standards or from deficient procedures for setting standards.

"Rather, the problem is one of agency resources and priorities, and the draft legislation does not and cannot realistically address these issues," she wrote.

A member of Horn's staff said OMB could designate another agency to conduct the committee's business.

The staff member said the bill got its start after companies in California complained to Horn about the difficulties they had filing environmental data to different federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In addition, Environmental Defense Fund activists were clamoring for standards to make it easier for them to access the data submitted by the private sector.

Because of the committee's jurisdiction, Horn could not propose an environmental bill, so he opted for one that would standardize the electronic interchange of any type of data reported to three or more agencies.

One-third of the members of the Electronic Data Advisory Committee, appointed by the director of OMB, would represent private industry, the bill said. The committee would also include at least one representative from each of the agencies with regulatory authority over the industry groups as well as representatives from public interest groups, it said.

The bill, co-sponsored by subcommittee minority leader Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), received the unanimous support of Democrats on the committee.

"This an example of another good government bipartisan proposal," Horn said at the markup.

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