Reading between the lines
- By Patrice McDermott
- Jul 10, 2000
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
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.