HHS Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility, and Integrity of Information Disseminated to the Public. E. Overview of HHS Agency Complaint Procedures

10/01/2002

The OMB Guidelines require all agencies to establish administrative mechanisms allowing affected persons to seek and obtain correction of information disseminated by the agency that does not comply with OMB, HHS or agency-specific guidelines. Agencies also are to specify appropriate time periods for agency decisions on whether and how to correct the information, and are to notify the affected persons of the action taken. If the person who requested the correction does not agree with the agency's decision (including the corrective action, if any), that person may file for reconsideration within the agency. The agency is to establish an administrative appeal process to review the initial decision, and specify appropriate time limits in which to resolve such requests for reconsideration. The agency need not respond substantively to information not covered by the guidelines or to frivolous or repetitive requests for correction.

Requests for correction of information quality pursuant to Section 515 are to be directed to the respective agency. A common format for complaints has been developed across HHS. The approach is described below. To accompany the actual implementation of the Guidelines in October 2002, HHS has created a department-wide website describing in user friendly terms the procedures and contact persons for submitting requests for corrections. The web site can be accessed at www.hhs.gov/infoquality.

  • Responsibility of the Complainant
    In general, to seek an information quality request for correction of information disseminated by any HHS agency, individuals should follow the procedures described below. Requests for correction that are specific and provide evidence to support the need for correction will enable the agency to provide a satisfactory response. Complainants should be aware that they bear the "burden of proof" with respect to the necessity for correction as well as with respect to the type of correction they seek.

    A complaint or request for correction of information must be in written hard copy or electronic form, be sent to the agency designated address by mail or electronic-mail (e-mail); and state that an information quality request for correction is being submitted. In terms of content, the complaint letter must contain:

    • a detailed description of the specific material that needs to be corrected including where the material is located, i.e. the publication title, date, and publication number, if any, or the website and web page address (url), or the speech title, presenter, date and place of delivery;
    • the specific reasons for believing the information does not comply with OMB, HHS, or agency-specific guidelines and is in error and supporting documentation, if any;
    • the specific recommendations for correcting the information;
    • a description of how the person submitting the complaint is affected by the information error; and
    • the name, mailing address, telephone number, e-mail address, and organizational affiliation, if any, of the individual making the complaint.
  • Responsibility of the Agency
    Based on a review of the information provided, the agency will determine whether a correction is warranted and if, so what action to take. The agency will respond to the requestor by letter or e-mail. The agency's response will explain the findings of the review and the actions that the agency will take, if any. The response will consider the nature and timeliness of the information involved and such factors as the significance of the correction on the use of the information, the magnitude of the correction and the resource requirements for the correction. The response will describe how the complainant may request reconsideration. The agency will respond to all requests for correction within 60 calendar days of receipt. If the request requires more than 60 calendar days to resolve, the agency will inform the complainant that more time is required and indicate the reason why and an estimated decision date.
  • Appeals for Reconsideration
    If the individual submitting the complaint does not agree with the agency's decision (including the corrective action), the complainant may send a written hard copy or electronic request for reconsideration within 30 days of receipt of the agency's decision. The appeal shall state the reasons why the agency response is insufficient or inadequate. Complainants shall attach a copy of their original request and the agency response to it, clearly mark the appeal with the words, "Information Quality Appeal," and send the appeal to the specific agency appeals address.

    The agency official who handles the original complaint will not have responsibility for resolving the appeal. The agency will respond to all requests for appeals within 60 calendar days of receipt. If the request requires more than 60 calendar days to resolve, the agency will inform the complainant that more time is required and indicate the reason why and an estimated decision date.

  • Rulemakings and Other Public Comment Procedures
    Existing public comment procedures for rule-makings and other formal agency actions already provide well established procedural safeguards that allow affected persons to raise information quality issues on a timely basis. Accordingly, agencies will use these existing procedures to respond to information quality complaints that arise in this process.

    In cases where the agency disseminates a study, analysis, or other information prior to the final agency action or information product, requests for correction will be considered prior to the final agency action or information product in those cases where in the agency's judgment issuing an earlier response would not unduly delay issuance of the agency action or information product and the complainant has shown a reasonable likelihood of suffering actual harm from the agency's dissemination if the agency does not resolve the complaint prior to the final agency action or information product.