Policy on Release of Water Resources Division Information Products Date: Wed, 23 Dec 1998 15:27:08 -0500 To: "E - All WRD Employees"
From: Bob Hirsch Subject: WRD Memorandum No. 99.07 Cc: " WRD Archive File, " In Reply Refer To: Mail Stop 441 WATER RESOURCES DIVISION MEMORANDUM NO. 99.07 Subject: Policy on Release of Water Resources Division Information Products The Water Resources Division (WRD) policy is that, in general, no restrictions will be placed on the timing or distribution of WRD information products. There are very few exemptions to this open information release policy as described below. In the past few years, an increasing number of districts have been approached by customers requesting that various limits and restrictions be applied to the public release of our information products - - data and interpretive reports. If WRD were to restrict the release of information products whenever requested, we would give the appearance of "taking sides" by releasing data to one party while keeping it confidential from other interested parties. The Nation, however, needs scientific data that are collected by a highly respected non-regulatory agency with an unbiased and credible reputation. When negotiating with our partners, we should make it clear that our open information release policy is vital to maintaining this stature. In addition, these characteristics benefit our partners and are particularly valuable to them because many water issues involve interjurisdictional disputes. We should impress upon our partners that the open information release policy actually serves their interests by enhancing the credibility of the results. Guidelines and exemptions to this policy are as follows: This policy does not supersede the normal review and approval process that currently applies to WRD reports. This policy only applies to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) collected data and interpretive reports and not to specific information products collected from other sources and published by the USGS. Release of information collected outside the United States, through international agreements, is not subject to this policy. Procedures for releasing data collected internationally should be developed in consultation with WRD's International Water Resources Branch and should be released in accordance with the funding agreement and/or memorandum of understanding that established the international work effort. This policy limits the use of Administrative Reports as a means of supplying information to other Federal agencies. Information in an Administrative Report becomes the property of the "owner" and precludes the full and open release of the information by the USGS. An Administrative Report should not be used unless it is part of a procedure, agreed to by the USGS and the other Federal agency, that includes the timely subsequent publication of a USGS series report containing the information documented in the Administrative Report. An Administrative Report could also be used if it were part of an approved exemption as described below. Other appropriate USGS publication types, such as Open-File Reports and Water Resources Investigations Reports, should be used to ensure public access. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides the overriding guidance for valid restrictions to the release of Government information. For example, FOIA allows an agency to withhold information related to national security. FOIA also protects USGS documents from release that are predecisional and part of the deliberative process. Predecisional documents are protected to encourage candid and frank discussion among USGS officials. Examples of predecisional documents that can be withheld include colleague review comments, reports in draft form, field notebooks, and preliminary laboratory analyses. Protected information is generally analytical and subjective rather than factual in nature. The deliberative process privilege does not allow us to withhold purely factual information from a FOIA request, except where doing so would reveal the bureau's deliberative process. Refer to the Department of the Interior (DOI) FOIA Handbook and 383 DOI Departmental Manual 15 for FOIA policy. A valid FOIA justification for the restriction of the release of information DOES NOT have to be submitted to headquarters for approval. It should be noted, however, that very few of the FOIA exemptions, besides the deliberative process exemption, typically apply to WRD work. Valid reasons for an exemption (in addition to FOIA exemptions) include such things as: (1) work at the request of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to supply data to the DOJ and/or another Federal agency that is involved as a party in litigation, and (2) selected work for Indian tribes that may be required by the DOI as part of the Department's trust responsibility. Very few exemptions to this policy will be granted because of the potential harm that restrictions on the release of information have toward our reputation as an unbiased provider of hydrologic information. Agreements for work that propose restrictions to the open release of information collected by the USGS (other than valid FOIA exemptions) must be submitted through either a Regional Hydrologist or the Assistant Chief Hydrologist for Research to the Assistant Chief Hydrologist for Operations for approval. The documentation accompanying the agreement submitted for approval should contain (1) an explanation of the reason for a restriction, and (2) a justification for undertaking the work. If the agreement calls for a delay, the maximum duration of that delay must be stated in the agreement. If we are to maintain our scientific credibility, impartial reputation, and integrity as the Nation's earth science agency, we must promote the open public release of USGS information products as stated in this policy. We believe that protecting our reputation is so important that, in most cases, it would be better to decline work that requires a restriction than to risk harm to our reputation. (sgnd 12/23/98) Robert M. Hirsch Chief Hydrologist WRD Distribution:E "This WRD memorandum does not supersede any previous WRD memorandum."