Reading between the lines

The comment period recently closed on the proposed revisions to the Office

of Management and Budget's Circular A-130 — the central rule for federal

information system management — to bring it into accord with the Paperwork

Reduction Act, the Electronic Freedom of Information Act amendments and

the Clinger-Cohen Act. It is clearly the intent of Congress to ensure public

access to information about agency activities.

Revisions to Circular A-130 are long overdue, as they incorporate statutory

changes or requirements dating back to 1995 and 1996. However, there are

some odd commissions and omissions in the proposed revisions.

In a section intended to bring Circular A-130 into accord with the PRA's

and EFOIA's requirements for creating inventories of agency systems, OMB

added the language, "an inventory of the agency's other information systems,

such as personnel and funding (at the level of detail that the agency determines

is most appropriate for its use in managing the agency's information resources)."

Section 3506 of the PRA requires agencies to "maintain a current and

complete inventory of the agency's information resources, including directories

necessary to fulfill the requirements of [the Government Information Locator

Service] section 3511 of this chapter." Is OMB intending to signal agencies

that they can very narrowly limit these requirements?

The language becomes more disturbing when it is read together with Section

8a(5), the proposed revision outlining agency compliance with the EFOIA

amendments' requirements that "an agency must place its index and description

of major information systems and record locator systems in its reference

material or guide."

OMB states that this index and description would include "any...major

information and record locator systems the agency has identified." Does

this mean that if any agency has not bothered to "identify" an information

or record locator system, it does not have to include them?

This language, taken with the revisions above, may encourage agencies

to continue failing to comply with the requirements of the PRA, the EFOIA

amendments and the Clinger-Cohen Act.

OMB has conspicuously failed to include Section 5403 of the Clinger-Cohen

Act, which requires that "if in designing an information technology system

pursuant to this division, the head of an executive agency determines that

a purpose of the system is to disseminate information to the public, then

the head of such executive agency shall reasonably ensure that an index

of information disseminated by such system is included in the directory

created pursuant to section 4101 of title 44, United States Code."

The code requires the superintendent of documents, under the direction

of the public printer, to "maintain an electronic directory of federal

electronic information."

Complying with these requirements isn't easy, but the seeming intent

of OMB to encourage partial or full noncompliance with the law is unacceptable.

—McDermott is an information policy analyst with OMB Watch, a government

watchdog group in Washington, D.C.

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