Protect Your Customer’s Privacy
Federal agencies must follow various laws and regulations, including the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) and the Privacy Act, when collecting information from the public. You should also be familiar with SORN (Systems of Records Notice), as well as rules around personally identifiable information, and laws that relate to your specific method of feedback collection (such as Section 508 compliance for online surveys).
Paperwork Reduction Act
The PRA was designed, among other things, to maximize the quality and usefulness of information created, used and shared by the federal government, while preventing unnecessary burdens on respondents. Before requiring or requesting information from the public, the PRA generally requires Federal agencies to:
- Post a 60-day Federal Register notice for public comment on the proposed collection;
- Post a subsequent 30-day Federal Register notice; and,
- Submit the proposed collection for review and approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) concurrent with the 30-day Federal Register notice.
Fast-Track PRA Process
OMB worked with agencies to create a fast-track process for information collections that focus on the awareness, understanding, attitudes, preferences, or experiences of customers or other stakeholders (e.g., delivery partners, co-regulators, or potential customers) relating to existing or future services, products or communication materials. The fast-track process allows agencies to submit such collections directly to OMB without posting in the Federal Register, since these agencies will have already created a generic clearance for these types of collections. The collection can then be quickly approved, unless OMB identifies any problems, and if so, they will notify the agency within five business days of submission. Consider using the fast-track process for your data collection activities when:
- The data collection is focused on improving existing or future services, products, or communication materials;
- The data collection is voluntary;
- Statistical rigor is not required;
- The burden on participants is not high; and
- Public dissemination of results is not intended.
Generally, these service-delivery-focused, voluntary collections fall under the fast-track process: focus groups; one-time or panel discussion groups; customer satisfaction qualitative surveys; post-transaction customer surveys; online surveys; comment cards or complaint forms; moderated, un-moderated, in-person, and remote usability studies; and testing of a survey or other collection to refine questions. Examples of collections that would not generally fall under the fast-track process are: (i) surveys that require statistical rigor because they will be used for making significant policy or resource allocation decisions; (ii) collections whose results are intended to be published; and (iii) collections that are intended for basic research and that do not directly benefit the agency’s service delivery.
Ask your agency PRA or Privacy Officer, or Counsel’s office, if your survey is eligible for the fast-track process.
- Fast-Track PRA Frequently-Asked Questions (PDF, 370 KB, 8 pages, February 2012)
- Fast Track PRA Submission Short Form (Word document, 53 KB, 3 pages, February 2012)
Traditional PRA Process
To collect service delivery information not covered by the fast-track process (also known as the Generic Clearance for the Collection of Qualitative Feedback on Agency Service Delivery), you must draft the information collection instrument, and then submit a 60-day Federal Register notice to solicit public comment on the information collection. (OMB does not need to be notified before this submission, and agencies have latitude in how specific they are in these notices. Some agencies post draft questionnaires and then use the 60 days to refine the survey.) After the 60 days, you must post a 30-day Federal Register Notice seeking public comment again, and submit the supporting statement and information collection instrument concurrently to OMB/OIRA. Some agencies can post this immediately after the 60-day notice is complete if no substantive comments are received. OIRA will approve the collection as is, recommend edits, or disapprove the request. Once OIRA has approved, your agency may proceed with the collection.
Your agency may also have an existing generic clearance for other reasons, or you may develop a generic clearance, which eliminates the need for posting each information collection that falls under the generic clearance in the Federal Register. Generic clearances are particularly useful if an agency wants to perform similar information collections multiple times (e.g., a series of similar surveys on the same general topic).
For more information about requesting generic clearances please see Paperwork Reduction Act – Generic Clearances (PDF, 92 KB, 8 pages, May 2010).
The Privacy Act and Other Legal and Regulatory Considerations
All agency collections of customer feedback must adhere to the Privacy Act and all other legal and regulatory requirements. In particular, personally identifiable information (PII) should only be collected to the extent necessary, and agencies must meet Privacy Act requirements to the extent they collect, retain and retrieve PII. In addition, program manager should be aware of other rules when collecting customer feedback, including Section 508 compliance, as well as rules around data security and privacy. Contact your legal department for more information.