ALMANAC BETWEEN ISSUES August 26, 1999
From the Office of Federal Relations at the University of Pennsylvania:
To the Penn Research Community:
August 31 Deadline for Commenting on Disclosure of Research Data
The Federal Government, through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is seeking comments on how to implement a new law that subjects all research data, generated in whole or in part through federal funds, to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). On August 11, 1999, OMB published a second notice in the Federal Register seeking comment on changes to a proposed revision to OMB Circular A-110, "Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements with Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit Organizations." The revision to Circular A-110 is the result of a recent change in the law, authored by Senator Richard Shelby (AL), that requires OMB to amend Circular A-110 "to require Federal awarding agencies to ensure that all data produced under an award will be made available to the public through the procedures established under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)."
As directed by law, OMB published, on February 4, 1999, a Notice of Proposed Revision. This notice generated several thousand comments concerning the impact the proposed revision and change in law would have on university-based research. While OMB received a significant number of comments from universities and other parts of the scientific community opposing this use of FOIA, it also received significant numbers of comments from the business community and regulated industries in support of the rule. The comments received by OMB also sought clarification on a number of key terms included in the proposed revision, mainly those of: "data," "published," "used by the Federal government in developing policy or rules," and cost reimbursement. Penn filed comments with OMB in response to their Notice of February 4, citing several concerns, namely: the application of FOIA to data; the unclear definitions of "data" and "publication"; adequacy of confidential record protection; patent, privacy, and intellectual property concerns; and, cost reimbursement issues. A copy of the University's comments can be found at http://www.upenn.edu/almanac/between/OMB2.html; see also Almanac March 30, 1999.
In response to the comments received regarding the Notice of February 4, OMB's Notice of August 11, proposes clarifying definitions of "data," "published," and "used by the Federal government in developing policy or rules," and has also provided additional discussion regarding cost reimbursement. Comments on the clarifying changes are due to OMB by September 10, 1999, and they intend to publish a final revision on or before September 30, 1999. While this revision addresses many concerns raised by the research community there are still serious questions about subjecting data to the FOIA.
Faculty who are interested in contributing in the development of comments to be filed by the University are urged to provide their suggestions to the Office of Federal Relations no later than August 31, 1999. The links listed below may also provide some useful background information regarding the proposed revision.--Carol R. Scheman Vice President for Government, Community, and Public Affairs, University of Pennsylvania