PCTC’s Data Quality Act Submissions – Where are They Now?

September 12, 2015 – In May, 2013, PCTC submitted its first Data Quality Act (DQA, also known as the Information Quality Act) Request for Correction (RfC) to the US Geological Survey (USGS). The DQA is described by the FindLaw web site as follows:

The Data Quality Act (DQA) is an attempt by Congress to ensure that federal agencies use and disseminate accurate information. The DQA requires federal agencies to issue information quality guidelines ensuring the quality, utility, objectivity and integrity of information that they disseminate and provide mechanisms for affected persons to correct such information.

Overall, PCTC has submitted 5 DQA RfCs – 4 to the USGS and one to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Each RfC can be accessed by clicking on the “Information Quality Act” tag in the tag cloud on the right side of this web page.

The USGS consolidated RfCs #1 and #2 and has treated the two as a single request. The two RfCs addressed issues related to the USGS’ claim that refined coal tar-based pavement sealant (RTS) is the largest source polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sediments in the eastern and central US, the USGS use of photographs of fish with horrible tumors (tumors that have nothing to do with PAHs or RTS) as a scare tactic, and the wholly misleading presentation of information in USGS press releases and its web site. Correspondence about this RfC is posted on the USGS information quality web page here. Ten months after RfC #1 was submitted, the USGS responded in March 2014 that they found no reason to make any changes other than an inconsequential change to the URL name (from “allthingssealcoat” to “sealcoat”). While granting itself unlimited time to respond to RfCs, the USGS states that appeals must be filed within 21 calendar days. So, on April 8, 2014, PCTC filed an appeal – the formal name of DQA appeals is Request for Reconsideration (RfR). As an aside, many have observed that one of the flaws of the DQA process is that the appeals are reviewed by the same federal agency as the original RfC – as a result, outcomes of appeals have historically not varied much from the agency’s original response. To its credit, the USGS seems to have assigned different people to consider the appeal. In a letter dated June 10, 2014, the USGS informed PCTC:

This is to inform that we will need to extend the time for responding to the appeal request beyond what was indicated in our April 15 letter. Your appeal will be evaluated by a panel of independent scientists not involved in the development of either the products you cited or the final USGS response that was appealed. Additional time than anticipated was needed to select the appropriate panel members and confirm their availability to serve on the panel and to subsequently get their evaluation. We anticipate sending a response to the appeal within 60 days or no later than mid-August 2014. We will let you know if additional time beyond this is needed.

At first, PCTC was encouraged to hear about the “panel of independent scientists” and began asking the USGS how PCTC could submit additional information to this panel. By this time, the USGS had begun to provide some information via PCTC’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and additional data had been obtained by appealing to the Ethics Committee of the American Chemical Society (ACS). PCTC was surprised that the USGS failed to respond to any of our inquiries. So PCTC responded by filing the fifth RfC. More about that later. One result is that it seems likely that the panel proceeded with their deliberations without complete information on the topics of RfC #1 and #2. PCTC’s initial hope was that the USGS would seek truly independent scientists by seeking panelists outside the Department of the Interior. Disappointingly, the appeal panel appears to have been made up solely by agency insiders, and to have operated in complete secrecy. A year and a half later, the outcome of the panel’s review remains unknown. On August 7, 2015, PCTC received the 7th notice of extension of time needed to respond to the appeal from the USGS, stating as follows:

This is to inform you that we will need to further extend the time for responding to the appeal request beyond what was indicated in our May 8, 2015 letter. We are in the process of reconciling comments received from the Department of the Interior and Office of Management and Budget review of the draft USGS response. We anticipate sending you a response to the appeal within 90 days, likely sooner within this timeframe than later.

PCTC’s third RfC was submitted to the USGS on Sept. 18, 2013. The RfC focused on the so-called risk assessment published by USGS authors in collaboration with a toxicologist affiliated with Baylor University. The RfC is posted here. The USGS responded in a letter dated July 18, 2014. The response essentially stated that the paper reporting the risk assessment underwent peer review by the publishing journal, so the assessment must be adequate. The failings of journal peer reviews are abundantly documented by many, including by the Retraction Watch web site.

PCTC filed an appeal on August 4, 2014. Exactly one year later, on August 4, 2015, PCTC received yet another notice of extension letter, with the following explanation:

This is to inform that we need to further extend the time for responding to the appeal request beyond what was indicated in our May 4, 2015 letter. We are engaged in continuing efforts to organize a panel to evaluate the appeal. We anticipate sending you a response to the appeal within 90 days, but will let you know if additional time beyond this is needed.

“Continuing efforts to organize a panel to evaluate the appeal?” Perhaps the USGS will not be able to put together a panel for this topic using only insiders and will find it necessary to reach outside the organization.

PCTC’s 4th RfC was filed to EPA on April 16, 2014 focused on the use EPA’s storm water program has made concerning the unsound science promulgated by the USGS and collaborators.  A response has not yet been received. The RfC is available on EPA’s information quality web site along with EPA’s extension letters. The most recent extension letter was received on Sept. 10, 2015, containing this explanation:

The internal review of the draft response is taking longer than we anticipated.

PCTC’s 5th RfC was submitted to USGS after repeated attempts to communicate with the USGS about how to submit information to the panel evaluating the appeal of the response to RfC #1 and #2 met with silence from the Survey. The USGS responded that they had already completed a response on the topic of the RfC and would not re-open the question.

 

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