OVERVIEW OF THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974

ROLE OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET

Subsection (v) of the Privacy Act requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to: (1) prescribe guidelines and regulations for the use of federal agencies in implementing the Act, see 5 U.S.C.  552a(v)(1); and (2) provide continuing assistance to and oversight of the implementation of the Act by agencies, see 5 U.S.C.  552a(v)(2).

The vast majority of OMB's Privacy Act Guidelines [hereinafter OMB Guidelines] are published at 40 Fed. Reg. 28,948-78 (1975). However, these original guidelines have been supplemented in particular subject areas over the years. See 40 Fed. Reg. 56,741-43 (1975) (system of records definition, routine use and intra-agency disclosures, consent and congressional inquiries, accounting of disclosures, amendment appeals, rights of parents and legal guardians, relationship to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)); 48 Fed. Reg. 15,556-60 (1983) (relationship to Debt Collection Act); 52 Fed. Reg. 12,990-93 (1987) ("call detail" programs); 54 Fed. Reg. 25818-29 (1989) (computer matching); 56 61 Fed. Reg. 6428, 6435-39 (1996) ("Federal Agency Responsibilities for Maintaining Records About Individuals").

As a general rule, the OMB Guidelines are entitled to the deference usually accorded the interpretations of the agency that has been charged with the administration of a statute. See Quinn v. Stone, 978 F.2d 126, 133 (3d Cir. 1992); Baker v. Department of the Navy, 814 F.2d 1381, 1383 (9th Cir. 1987); Perry v. FBI, 759 F.2d 1271, 1276 n.7 (7th Cir. 1985) (citing Bartel v. FAA, 725 F.2d 1403, 1408 n.9 (D.C. Cir. 1984); Albright v. United States, 631 F.2d 915, 919 n.5 (D.C. Cir. 1980)), rev'd en banc on other grounds, 781 F.2d 1294 (7th Cir. 1986); Smiertka v. United States Dep't of the Treasury, 604 F.2d 698, 703 n.12 (D.C. Cir. 1979); Rogers v. United States Dep't of Labor, 607 F. Supp. 697, 700 n.2 (N.D. Cal. 1985); Sanchez v. United States, 3 Gov't Disclosure Serv. (P-H)  83,116, at 83,709 (S.D. Tex. Sept. 10, 1982); Golliher v. United States Postal Serv., 3 Gov't Disclosure Serv. (P-H)  83,114, at 83,703 (N.D. Ohio June 10, 1982); Greene v. VA, No. C-76-461-S, slip op. at 6-7 (M.D.N.C. July 3, 1978); Daniels v. FCC, No. 77-5011, slip op. at 8-9 (D.S.D. Mar. 15, 1978); see also Martin v. Office of Special Counsel, 819 F.2d 1181, 1188 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (OMB interpretation is "worthy of our attention and solicitude"). However, a few courts have rejected particular aspects of the OMB Guidelines as inconsistent with the statute. See Kassel v. VA, No. 87-217-S, slip op. at 24-25 (D.N.H. Mar. 30, 1992) (subsection (e)(3)); Saunders v. Schweiker, 508 F. Supp. 305, 309 (W.D.N.Y. 1981) (same); Metadure Corp. v. United States, 490 F. Supp. 1368, 1373-74 (S.D.N.Y. 1980) (subsection (a)(2)); Florida Med. Ass'n v. HEW, 479 F. Supp. 1291, 1307-11 (M.D. Fla. 1979) (same); Zeller v. United States, 467 F. Supp. 487, 497-99 (E.D.N.Y. 1979) (same).

On May 14, 1998, President Clinton called upon all federal agencies to take further privacy-protection steps within the next year. Memorandum on Privacy and Personal Information in Federal Records, 34 Weekly Comp. Pres. Doc. 870 (May 14, 1998), available in Westlaw, 1998 WL 241263 (May 14, 1998). Specifically, the President directed each agency to designate a senior official with responsibility for privacy policy, to apply the Principles for Providing and Using Personal Information that were developed through the Information Infrastructure Task Force under the auspices of the Department of Commerce in 1995, and to conduct a series of reviews of agency record systems in order to ensure compliance with Privacy Act requirements. Id. The agencies reported the results of their reviews to OMB, where they are to be summarized. Id. The memorandum also provided that OMB will issue further guidance on the making of "routine use" disclosures under the Act. Id.

Questions concerning the Act should first be directed to agency Privacy Act officers. However, important policy/litigation questions, or questions concerning the OMB Guidelines, may be directed to the Office of the Chief Counselor for Privacy, OMB, at (202) 395-1095.


Go to Table of Contents || Previous Section Role of the Privacy Protection Study Commission || Next Section Computer Matching