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16 Agencies Create One Confidential Data Process to Rule Them All

NextGov: “Through three years, 16 federal agencies, more than 1,300 datasets and a cascade of privacy laws and interagency agreements underpinned by decades-old entrenched processes, a team of federal employees launched the Standard Application Process in December, creating for the first time a single portal for U.S. researchers to request access to the mountains of confidential statistical data generated by the federal government. The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018—better known as the Evidence Act—requires federal agencies to generate, use and share more data to improve all aspects of society. That includes sensitive and confidential data that could be useful for researchers in and out of government but must be treated with utmost care and only shared with responsible parties. The Evidence Act acknowledges this issue and calls for the creation of a standardized application process to better enable researchers to apply for access to confidential data held by the federal government’s 16 statistical agencies. Each agency is charged with collecting important data on its niche topic and maintaining those datasets for the public benefit. However, while the data is generated in order to be used, the subjects of that data—real people with privacy to protect—must be kept confidential and anonymous. “The purpose of the SAP is to try to streamline the process by which researchers and data users request access to confidential data,” said Heather Madray, program director for the Data Access, Confidentiality and Quality Assessment project based out of the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. “This isn’t public use data,” she said. “This is data that’s protected by various confidentiality laws.”

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