From: Mara Greengrass [SMTP:MGREENGR@...
Sent: Friday, September 03, 1999 4:43 PM
Subject: Fwd: Request for Your Help and AAA Response to Data Sharing
I'm forwarding this for Peggy Overbey here at the AAA. Please direct all
responses to this message to her (poverbey@...
)> . Thanks! - Mara
>>> "Peggy Overbey" <POVERBEY@...
> > 09/03 4:39 PM >>>
As many of you know, anthropologists and the rest of the research community
have been facing since February the prospect of public access to their data
collected through federally funded grants or awards. The White House Office
of Management and Budget (OMB) is required to revise the federal guideline
for federal grants and awards (OMB Circular A-110) to ensure public access
to "underlying data" through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by Public
Law 105-277, passed last November.
AAA and other research organizations have been working in various ways to
halt, slow down, or influence the shape of the revision. While legislative
options to halt or slow down the OMB process have failed, OMB has ceded to
the research community and provided a "clarification" of the proposed
revision to Circular A-110 that accommodates and balances the needs and
concerns of researchers and the public.
Through the clarified revision, public access through FOIA is limited to
"data related to published research findings used by the federal government
in developing a regulation." "Data" is more narrowly defined and certain
exemptions are stated. "Published" is more narrowly defined, also.
OMB seeks now public comments on the "clarification." Jane Hill has written
a letter to OMB presenting AAA's response. Her letter follows this
I am writing now to ask you to submit comments as individuals to OMB. A
strong letter-writing (or e-mailing) campaign supporting the clarification
is needed. We anticipate a strong response from individuals and
organizations arguing against the "narrowed" language in the clarification,
and stating that the intent of Public Law 105-277 was to allow public access
to all underlying data of all federally funded research.
An action alert, urging anthropologists to write to OMB, has been posted on
AAA's website: http://www.aaanet.org
> . From there,
you may access all appropriate documents to assist in putting together a
response. You may e-mail your comments through the text field to OMB at:
> . Responses to OMB are due
This is the last opportunity for public comment on the revision to Circular
A-110. OMB anticipates having a final rule in place by September 30.
Thank you for your help!
Mary Margaret Overbey, PhD
Director of Government Relations
American Anthropological Association
4350 N Fairfax Dr, Suite 640
Arlington, VA 22203-1620
(703) 528-1902, ext 3006
fax: (703) 528-3546
Mr. F. James Charney
Office of Management and Budget
New Executive Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20503
Dear Mr. Charney,
I am writing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to
comment on the clarifying changes to the proposed revision of OMB Circular
A-110. The AAA, established in 1902, is the world's largest professional
organization of anthropologists. Approximately 11,000 archaeologists,
cultural anthropologists, biological and physical anthropologists, and
linguistic anthropologists constitute our membership.
Firstly, the AAA commends OMB for its efforts to accommodate and balance the
needs and concerns of the research community with those of the public in
clarifying the proposed revision of Circular A-110. We realize that OMB
must comply with Public Law (PL) 105-277 requiring public access to
federally funded data through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). We
recognize, too, that OMB has considered seriously the intent of the law as
well as the potential adverse impacts of the law on the conduct of research.
Secondly, the AAA supports the clarification of the proposed revision of
Circular A-110. We believe that OMB has produced, through the clarifying
language, a data sharing solution that is both livable and workable for
anthropologists. Importantly, the clarification explicitly narrows the
application of FOIA to data used by the federal government in developing a
regulation. The clarification defines more clearly what is meant by "data,"
and excludes certain information from being released. The clarification
allows the researcher to determine what constitutes data and enables the
researcher to withhold information that may compromise the personal privacy
of research subjects. The clarification clearly defines what is meant by
"published." These issues are of great concern to AAA and anthropologists
in general and were identified in AAA's response to OMB's February 4
proposed revision of Circular A-110.
Thirdly, the AAA addresses specifically the proposed clarifying language of
the proposed revision to Circular A-110. These include the definitions of
the terms "data," "published," "used by the federal government in developing
policy or rules," and an explanation of what is meant by "cost
In the clarification, "data" are more narrowly defined and exemptions are
stated explicitly. AAA supports the clarification of "data," and
appreciates greatly the exclusion of "physical objects" and "similar files
the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of
personal privacy, such as information that could be used to identify a
particular research subject in a research study." Physical objects
constitute some of the data collected and studied by anthropologists and
include archaeological specimens or fossil remains, objects of biological
origin such as DNA and skeletal remains as well as photographs, tape
recordings or transcriptions, videotapes, and diaries. Additionally, the
exclusion of information that could be used to identify research subjects
enables anthropologists to provide research subjects the confidentiality
that AAA's Code of Ethics and existing federal rules and regulations
Importantly, the clarification of "data" addresses the concern of
anthropologists and other researchers that the grant recipient would have to
turn over all information to the federal agency which in turn would
determine whether or not existing exemption to FOIA apply. In the response
to OMB's proposed revision of February 4, AAA stated that the researcher
should be able to determine what information may be shared with the public.
The clarification does just that by not requiring the researcher to transmit
information deemed to be excluded by the definition of "data." The
clarification allows the federal agency to request additional information
from the researcher if it believes that the researcher applied this
principle improperly. The AAA strongly supports this provision of the
In the clarification, "published" is more narrowly defined to refer to
publication in a peer-reviewed scientific or technical journal or citation
in the findings of a federal agency in support of an agency action. The AAA
endorses this provision of the clarification.
Significantly, "used by the federal government in developing policy or
rules" is more narrowly defined in the clarification to refer explicitly to
"used by the federal government in developing a regulation." The AAA
strongly supports the application of FOIA to data relating to research
findings used by the federal government in developing a regulation. The AAA
agrees with OMB's interpretation that the intent of PL 105-277 was to allow
public scrutiny of data related to a proposed federal regulation that may
affect their lives and livelihood. Too, the AAA supports the limiting of
the scope of proposed revision to regulations that meet the $100 million
threshold. This would deter frivolous FOIA requests for data of research
findings related to regulations with little or no economic impact, where the
purpose of such requests may be used solely to harass researchers or to stop
The AAA appreciates OMB's intent to interpret "cost reimbursement" in such a
way that federal agencies, recipients and subrecipients of federal grants or
awards would be able to be reimbursed for their costs in responding to a
FOIA request. The major cost to the recipients and subrecipients of federal
awards or grants is that of the time required to compile, review and
transmit the data to the federal agency. Given that these costs are accrued
after the federal grant or award has expired, it would be difficult if not
impossible for the recipient to charge the costs to the award through
"direct" or "indirect" costs. These costs would have to be determined
before the award or grant is bestowed. A better mechanism for handing the
reimbursement may be by contract between the recipient and subrecipient with
the federal agency, entered into as a result of the FOIA request.
Recovering the costs of obtaining the requested data from the individual
making the FOIA request would deter, also, frivolous requests for data.
The AAA appreciates greatly the narrowing of the proposed revision of
Circular A-110 through the clarification. The clarification ensures the
continued conduct of federally funded research and provides a workable
process for public access to research data.
Jane H. Hill
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