public release of FSIS establishment-specific data, by themselves or in combination with other privately or publicly available data, could yield valuable insights that go beyond the regulatory uses for which the data were collected.
The committee concluded that the available evidence of adverse effects of public release of establishment-specific data by other government agencies is insufficient to predict specific problems that would be inherent in the release of establishment-specific data by FSIS. In the absence of information specific to FSIS, the committee identified a number of costs or unintended consequences that public release of establishment-specific data might have, including the financial commitment associated with designing and maintaining a useful data-disclosure system; the drawing of inappropriate conclusions as a result of misinterpretation of the data, particularly if appropriate context is not provided to users; adverse effects on international trade; revelation of proprietary or confidential information from the data; and adverse effects on inspector performance. Those unintended consequences might adversely affect some stakeholder groups, but other groups might not consider them adverse. For example, although the literature suggests that disclosure of information about the performance of a specific facility has the potential to affect the facility’s profitability, it is precisely this possibility that creates an incentive for improved performance, which would constitute a benefit from the perspective of the public.
On the basis of its review of information and its deliberations, the committee concluded that there are strong arguments supporting public release of establishment-specific FSIS data, especially data that are subject to release under FOIA, unless there is compelling evidence that it is not in the public interest to release them.
The committee concluded that to maximize its effectiveness and minimize its potential adverse unintended consequences, data disclosure needs to be guided by a carefully designed information-disclosure strategy. The committee also concluded that effective disclosure systems are designed to allow continuous improvement as users gain a better understanding of how the data might be used and as the agency responds to stakeholder input. The disclosure strategy would consider the utility of the data to be released, how to release them (for example, their presentation), and how to ensure that the data are continuously updated and improved. The committee identified some key features of an effective information-disclosure plan, including ensuring the integrity of the data (requiring the development of protocols to ensure that the data are accurate, timely, and likely to be useful before posting); providing precise and appropriate definitions of what is being quantified and adequate documentation of context (to mitigate the potential for misinterpretation of data); providing support for the analysis of the data by users (at a minimum providing the data in machine-readable form to facilitate third-party analysis); and providing precautions to prevent the linking of portions of the data in ways that would allow users to deduce confidential information about particular establishments. For all data types, it is important to seek periodic input from stakeholders (industrial, academic, and consumer) to understand their needs and