releasing the data. The committee does not know the specific trade-offs that were considered and ultimately made in arriving at the redaction strategies. It can comment only on the severe negative impact of the chosen redaction strategy on the data analysis.
The issue of preserving the privacy and confidentiality of survey participants is not a new problem. It has been studied extensively, and considerable literature was published on the topic even prior to 2000.10 In fact, many federal agencies have faced this problem regularly over the years. The NAOMS study would have benefited considerably if it had anticipated the problem in the planning stage. Consultation with other federal agencies (for example, the U.S. Census Bureau) would have avoided many of the problems, both with data release and in losing information content in the released data.
Finding: The issues associated with preserving respondents’ anonymity and confidentiality and with the public release of data should have been anticipated and addressed at the design stage of the NAOMS project. There is considerable expertise in this area in both the research literature and among practitioners in the federal agencies. Such advance planning would have avoided the need for after-the-fact, ad hoc redaction methods and the resulting loss of information.