Data Accountability: Starting Over With a New Administration

Over the next few months, precious time will be lost trying to quickly update newly elected officials on key health and life safety issues that have been discussed for years among their predecessors and the public. Only time will tell how the new occupants of the White House and Congress embrace and address such issues and the long-term implications.

Data accountability involves fact checking and data verification for quality assurance and quality control to ensure that the nation as a whole has access to accurate information. After many years of discussion about the data problems discovered in the national system, tragic incidents such as the massive explosion in West, Texas, in 2013 expose the consequences of having inaccurate databases for safety-related data and information on toxic chemical sources.

Those working in Washington, D.C., under the current administration have been briefed on the linkages between incidents like the West, Texas, explosion and the assessments and points raised in a previous 2012 article on “scrubbing” data (i.e., fact-checking information and looking for errors) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s response. By ensuring that data is accurate, communities can mitigate threats and potential consequences of high-risk threats that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Perhaps it was the amount of problems discovered that motivated President Barack Obama to address these concerns by issuing Executive Order 13650 (“Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security”) on 1 August 2013. Unfortunately, despite the President’s Working Group having years to reduce training issues for responders through national programs such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Fire Administration, and to establish a Global Information System parameter or standard for information collection and reporting, gaps still exist. If the locational information for toxic substances is not correct for a site of interest that is already recorded in the federal database system – as required by policy, guidelines, or statutes – then communities and the nation as a whole have a major problem!

The Trump Administration will now be faced with the challenge of cleaning up these data problems. Simply put, when using information contained in federal websites during times of crisis or need, decision makers and the public have a high expectation that the information being presented is correct. However, if the first thing that the database users see is inaccurate, incomplete, and/or misleading information, then it can become extremely difficult to restore trust in a national system unless major changes are made.

Responders throughout the nation need accurate information about the locations and types of toxic substances with which they may come into contact. Now the nation has to wait to see if President Donald Trump’s administration will decide to take a more aggressive approach to fixing the discrepancies in federal databases. Unfortunately, some of this information may date back to the beginning of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) in the 1980s, which means there could be three decades of bad information recorded in the systems that others were using to make decisions. It is no wonder that problems exist.

For updated data verification information for responders or awareness information containing examples of what to look for when fact-checking or “scrubbing” community information, contact the author at:

Michael Jacoby
Michael Jacoby

Michael Jacoby is a resident of York County, Pennsylvania, who has been actively concerned for some time about various environmental, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Labor protection of public health and life safety issues. York County is a major community in EPA Region III, and is represented in Congress since 2013 by U.S. Representative Scott G. Perry (PA 4th).



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