OMB: Privacy assessments pass muster

The Office of Management and Budget is pleased with agencies' initial attempts at developing privacy impact assessments for major systems.

The quality of the more than 300 assessments the agency received with the fiscal 2005 budget submissions was good, said Eva Kleederman, an OMB policy analyst focusing on privacy.

The E-Government Act of 2003 requires agencies to submit the assessments for major systems that will collect new information and for any new system that will collect personal information. OMB in September issued an assessment how-to guide.

Besides the required assessments for major systems, many agencies also provided reviews for many of their smaller systems, too'although OMB did not count these toward the total number of assessments, Kleederman said.

'We were inundated with PIAs,' she said during a panel discussion at the International Association of Privacy Professionals' recent Privacy and Data Security Summit and Expo in Washington. 'Agencies really responded to the full spirit of the act. This was a good first start.'

For the 2006 budget cycle, OMB wants to work with the CIO Council to identify best practices by analyzing agencies' experiences in developing the assessments for this year, Kleederman said.

'We are not trying to find a one-size-fits-all template,' she said. 'But we want to find out what PIA format is easily readable and what are the best-practice attributes of the narrative that can be included."

To improve assessment development, OMB also will revise Circular A-11 on the budget submission process, Kleederman said. The revisions will give agencies more specifics on when an assessment is required.

Although agencies were fairly successful in crafting the assessments, many agencies said they still are struggling with how to publicize them.

The Census Bureau announced through the Federal Register that it would post short descriptions of its 20 assessments on its Web site and people would be able to request to receive the assessments by postal mail, fax or e-mail, said Gerry Gates, chief of the Census Privacy Office.

The Postal Service will post its more than 300 assessments on its Web site and make them available to the general public, USPS chief privacy officer Zoe Strickland said.

And the IRS will post about 200 assessments after senior officials approve them, any questionable information has been removed and the redacted reviews have been converted to an Adobe Portable Document Format, IRS privacy advocate Maya Bernstein said.

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