Two Easy Steps To Enhance Accuracy of Authorities Data

The spread of misinformation is being talked about everywhere. Most complaints are directed at private individuals on social media or public figures such as reporters or politicians.

But what if government agencies spread misinformation? Shouldn’t that be a problem too?

More than 20 years ago, Congress thought so and passed the Information Quality Act. It requires federal agencies to take steps to ensure the accuracy and credibility of the information they distribute.

An important provision of the law is the requirement that the public be able to request and receive the correction of inaccurate regulatory information. The public is intended to act as a control for the authorities by helping to enforce the law.

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To date, however, courts have not found that official measures taken under the Information Quality Act (IQA) can be judicially reviewed. As a result, agencies often do not feel obliged to comply with the law.

Congress needs to fix this. Here are two simple things lawmakers should do to make sure the law works as intended.

First, Congress should make it clear that IQA measures are judicially reviewable. Once they know that courts will review their actions, the authorities will no longer ignore the requirements of the law.

Second, Congress should set clear requirements for agencies to ensure the credibility of their information. For example, influential scientific information used and disseminated by agencies should first be subjected to rigorous peer review by the agencies. Federal agencies should use solid science, not junk science.

In theory there are such requirements now. In practice, however, agencies have far too much discretion in deciding whether to meet many of these requirements. If an authority can decide whether to comply, this is not a requirement.

These two changes would greatly improve the quality of the information provided by the government. And make no mistake, that would be a big deal.

The federal government has a unique role in disseminating information to the American people and the world. When federal agencies disseminate information, from pandemic recommendations to the effects of air pollution, they shape public understanding of issues and form conventional wisdom.

The federal government’s “seal of approval” ensures a high level of public credibility.

More importantly, government-disseminated information, especially scientific information, generally shapes regulations that affect almost every aspect of life.

When authorities base regulation on junk science or other misinformation, it costs Americans enormous costs with no benefit whatsoever. The problem doesn’t end there. Authorities across government will often continue to use this misinformation to promote flawed policies.

Once regulations are in the books, they are very difficult to remove. And the costs associated with the flawed regulations and any future regulations that build on their flawed foundation will also be difficult to eliminate.

If properly implemented, IQA would require agencies from the outset to use only well-founded scientific knowledge and to disseminate accurate information. There would be adequate peer reviews and strict transparency procedures.

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If the government spread misinformation, the authorities would take action on their own initiative to correct any problems as soon as they became aware of their existence.

And the public would act as a control for the authorities to ensure that they are not spreading or using misinformation. If necessary, they could bring authorities to justice, and judges would review and adequately address the authorities’ actions, including correcting misinformation.

Judges would not be empowered to make political decisions or to question political decisions. Rather, they would focus on whether the information that supports these decisions is correct and unbiased. You would also ensure that agencies do not ignore important, well-defined procedural requirements.

By taking these sensible steps to clarify existing laws, Congress can build trust in government information and the regulations of authorities who rely on that information. Congress would also improve the policy choices that directly affect all Americans.

There is no excuse for not taking such simple steps to combat government misinformation.

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