The Privacy Act of 1974: An Assessment. APPENDIX 4 TO The Report of The Privacy Protection Study Commission.. The President's Annual Report


Subsection 3(p) of the Act requires the President to:

. . . submit to the Speaker of the House and the President Of the Senate by June 30 of each calendar year, a consolidated report, separately listing for each Federal agency the number of records contained in any systems of records which were exempted from the application of [the Act] under the provisions of subsections Ú) and (k) of [the Act] during the preceding calendar year, and the reasons for the exemptions, and such other information as indicates efforts to administer [the Act] fully . . . . [5 U.S.C 552a(p)]

To fulfill this requirement OMB sends out a memorandum containing questions that each agency uses to construct a report to OMB. For the 1975 and 1976 annual reports, OMB has asked each agency to describe the steps it has taken to implement the Act; to list the systems it has exempted from the Act's requirements as provided in subsections 3(j) and 3(k); to provide data on items such as the number of individuals who have asked for access to records the agency keeps on them; and to evaluate its performance in implementing the Act. For example, agencies have been asked to specify the criteria they have used in deciding whether to take advantage of the Act's exemption opportunities; to assess the extent to which the public has paid attention to their rule-making and annual system notices, as well as the extent to which they have responded to that attention; and to evaluate the Act's effect on their information collection and disclosure practices. OMB has also encouraged the agencies to suggest alternative approaches to meeting the Act's objectives.

The agencies' responses to OMB's queries promise to become successively more useful. In preparing the 1975 annual report, OMB asked the agencies to assess whether the Act had reduced the amount of information they collect and maintain on individuals, but most had not anticipated the question and thus could not answer it. They had not, for example, kept track of how many records they had destroyed prior to the Act's effective date. In the beginning, agency reports were also difficult to compare because each agency was allowed, and exercised, considerable discretion as to how much detail it would supply OMB. In its 1976 instructions, however, OMB tightened the inquiry in ways that made it more difficult for the agencies to avoid supplying details and further improve-ments in the 1977 instructions are contemplated.