Washington, DC — The US Army Corps of Engineers admits that it has failed to adopt required rules to allow public review of its studies, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). More than six months after an October 1, 2002 statutory deadline, the Corps acknowledged that it has taken no steps to implement the Data Quality Act of 2000.
The Data Quality Act (DQA) requires each federal agency to develop “administrative mechanisms allowing affected persons to seek and obtain correction of information maintained and disseminated by the agency.” The stated purpose of the act is “ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity and integrity of information” used by agencies.
The President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published rules governing agency DQA implementation on February 22, 2002, requiring every federal agency to publish its own guidelines for public review by October 1. Since October, industry groups have filed several DQA challenges against EPA studies as a result of that agency’s compliance with the DQA deadline. PEER is preparing a series of DQA challenges of agency studies that understate environmental consequences or overstate development benefits, but the failure of the Corps to meet the DQA requirements has prevented any public review of their studies.
“If ever an agency needed a Data Quality Act it is the Army Corps of Engineers,” commented PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer. PEER represented Corps economist Dr. Don Sweeney, who exposed an attempt by the Corps to justify a $1.5 billion reconstruction of the lock and dam system of the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway by cooking the books on its cost/benefit analysis.
Citing scathing reviews of Corps planning studies by the National Academy of Sciences and the General Accounting Office, congressional critics of Corps planning have called for independent peer review of agency studies. The Corps has resisted suggested reform, insisting on controlling the composition and format of any such reviews. “Apparently, the Corps cannot abide having its studies subjected to scrutiny or having to defend its methodologies in public,” Meyer added.
On February 13, 2002, PEER submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the corps for its DQA guidelines. On March 26, 2003, Corps Counsel Richard Frenette reported that the agency had no responsive documents:
“I have been advised that the Corps has not prepared the Information Quality Guidelines that you are seeking. The Corps has been instructed not to proceed until it receives final guidance from the Department of Defense and from the Army, and that guidance has not yet been received.”
Today, PEER also sent a letter to OMB, the agency responsible for ensuring compliance with the DQA, asking it to take action to ensure compliance by Pentagon agencies. “As things stand, the Corps has no set date to even begin complying with the Data Quality Act, suggesting that the Corps can continue to play by its own rules as long as it chooses,” Meyer concluded.