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502.5 - Fundamental Science Practices: Safeguarding Unpublished USGS Scientific Information and Associated Materials

This chapter provides the requirements for safeguarding unpublished U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) predecisional, proprietary, and provisional or preliminary scientific information (including data and software) and associated materials. 

Date:  2/25/2019

OPR: Office of Science Quality and Integrity

Instruction:  This replaces Survey Manual Chapter 502.5 - Safeguarding Unpublished USGS Scientific Data, Information, and Associated Scientific Materials, dated December 19, 2012.


1. Purpose.

A.  This chapter provides the requirements for safeguarding unpublished U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) predecisional, proprietary, and provisional or preliminary scientific information (including data and software) and associated materials.  The term “unpublished” as used in this chapter refers to the draft, interim, or background information and materials developed or collected and used to finalize USGS scientific information products for approval and release. 

B.  USGS Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) underlie USGS science activities, uphold the Bureau's scientific reputation, and underscore our mission to provide reliable science to address important societal issues (SM 502.1).  The Bureau’s rigorous quality-assurance procedures embodied in the USGS FSP ensure that the published results of USGS science activities are unbiased and reliable and that USGS scientific information products (defined in SM 502.1) are appropriately reviewed, approved, and released as described in SM 502.4.

2.  References.

A.  SM Part 502 - USGS FSP SM Policy Chapters

B.  SM 500.2 - Policy on Work for Non-Federal Agencies

C.  SM 500.3 - Policy on Work for Other Federal Agencies

D.  SM 205.13 - Delegations of Authority to Enter into Agreements and to Accept Contributions

E.  SM 500.19 - Contributions and Grants to USGS from Outside Sources

F.  SM 500.20 - Technology Transfer Authority

G.  SM 500.25 - Scientific Integrity

H.  SM 500.26 - Domestic Memorandum of Understanding

I.  SM 500.27 - Intergovernmental Cooperation Act Agreements with State and Local Units of Government

J.  SM 431.1 - Records Management Program

K. SM 431.3 - Electronic Mail

L.  SM 431.11 - Litigation

M.  Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), National Archives

N.  32 CFR 2002 - Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)

O.  Fundamental Science Practices of the USGS (website)

3.  Policy.

A.  It is the policy of the USGS to conduct its activities and to make the results of its scientific investigations available in a manner that will best serve the whole public rather than the interest or benefit of any particular group, corporation, individual, or other entity. Therefore, unpublished scientific information and associated materials that are produced by USGS employees, volunteers, and contractors working on behalf of the USGS must not be publicly released or disclosed exclusively to any group or individual unless the release is required by Federal law or court order or the release is allowed in other instances described in this policy chapter.

B.  This policy does not include unpublished scientific information and associated materials disclosed to or shared with Federal, State, Tribal, local, and governmental agencies and nongovernmental or academic organizations under joint-funding agreements or other collaborative arrangements for the purpose of preparing and finalizing unpublished information for public release.  This policy also does not include information and materials disclosed to or shared with an individual or group for the purpose of peer review or collaborator/partner courtesy review (refer to SM 502.4).

C.  Unpublished USGS results such as energy and mineral resource assessments and mineral commodity information that typically have significant economic implications are not disclosed or shared in advance of public release, because early or pre-release in these cases could result in an unfair advantage or the perception of unfair advantage.

D.  Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions, such as those related to predecisional and deliberative information, personally identifiable information (refer to section 4.A), and proprietary information (refer to section 5), may apply with regard to safeguarding unpublished USGS information and material from disclosure unless that disclosure or release is required by Federal law or court order.  In most cases, FOIA exemptions do not apply to unpublished data, particularly raw data that are in the process of being interpreted.

E.  In cases of disclosing or sharing unpublished information and materials as described in section 3.B or as required by Federal law or court order, refer to the FSP disclaimers page for disclaimer statements to use, including those related to provisional or preliminary information and nondisclosure of manuscripts submitted for peer review.

F.  Some unpublished information created by the USGS or received from a USGS collaborator may contain sensitive information with access restrictions and is subject to safeguarding under USGS access constraints (refer to SM 502.4) and Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) requirements, including use of specific markings (refer to CUI registry of categories and subcategories). 

4. Predecisional.

APredecisional information and materials are considered by the USGS to be unpublished drafts of documents used in the internal development, review, and reconciliation decision-making process prior to Bureau approval being granted, and thus may be protected from public release unless the release is required or allowed as stated in section 3.A.  Predecisional USGS information and materials may include original and revised manuscript drafts; related documents such as working papers; any required justifications and permissions; comments from peer reviewers (both internal and external), collaborators/partners, and editors; authors’ reconciliation of review comments; related background materials or historical records; personally identifiable information (including attributable reviewers’ comments); and other materials, documents, and communications exchanged during the preparation and development of USGS scientific information products intended for public release.  The FSP review and approval process as described in SM 502.4 encourages candid and frank discussions among scientists and agency officials and is part of the deliberative communication exchange that takes place during the scientific process that leads to final approval of USGS information products for release.  Authors, agency officials, and peer and other reviewers must be able to discuss issues freely and modify their conclusions or opinions based on those discussions without concern for misunderstanding or misrepresentation due to inappropriate, untimely release.

B.  As part of the response to a FOIA request, all related predecisional, unpublished USGS information must be provided to the USGS FOIA Office.  The USGS FOIA Office will process all FOIA requests in accordance with the DOI FOIA regulations, Handbook, and SM 318.1 to determine what is appropriate to be released.  USGS employees, volunteers, and contractors should refrain from sharing predecisional materials with non-Federal colleagues who are not directly involved with the study/project because this affects the FOIA exemption 5 protections of the deliberative process privilege.

C.  Release of predecisional and deliberative scientific information and materials could compromise the USGS mission of providing unbiased, objective scientific information upon which other entities may base judgments and could cause the public harm if incorrect or out-of-context information were used for public policy-making or resource-management decisions.  Therefore, predecisional unpublished USGS information and materials should not be released or disclosed unless required by the FOIA as described in the Department of Justice (DOJ) FOIA Guide or another Federal law or court order.  Under the FOIA, the USGS must consider the foreseeable harm of releasing the information. If a foreseeable harm does not exist, then the USGS must release the information.  The FOIA does not protect predecisional and deliberative materials that are 25 years or older from the date that the Federal agency received a FOIA request.

D.  Predecisional information and materials are Federal records documenting the development of USGS science and should be organized, retained, and disposed of in accordance with Bureau requirements (refer to the USGS records disposition schedules with the embedded filing codes or contact the USGS Records Management Program for additional information). Additionally, in accordance with SM 431.1, approval is required prior to removal of record, non-record, or duplicate copies of predecisional information and materials.

5.  Proprietary.  Proprietary information and materials are owned by non-USGS entities and are used or acquired by the USGS with the owner’s permission.

A.  Owned by Other Federal Agencies.  The USGS gathers and analyzes proprietary information and materials for other Federal agencies that fund the work.  This work involves providing only these funding Federal agencies with the USGS-prepared scientific or technical studies or data or reports in recognition of the agency’s proprietary interests.  Such information is considered to be unpublished by the USGS and may not be cited or quoted except in follow-up reports to the same agency, unless that owning Federal agency releases the information to the public or authorizes the USGS to publish the information (refer to SM 500.3).

B.  Owned by Non-Federal Sources.  The USGS receives, gathers, and analyzes proprietary information and materials for private persons, organizations, or other non-Federal entities that fund the work.  This information may be provided voluntarily (must be documented in writing) or under contract with the funding entity.  Permission for use, disclosure, and release by the USGS of non-Federal proprietary information and materials must be stipulated in written and approved agreements (refer to SM 205.13) in accordance with the terms agreed to by all parties involved.  Some non-Federal proprietary information and materials may be considered under FOIA exemption 4, which ensures the protection of trade secrets and privileged confidential commercial or financial information, and some may be considered under FOIA exemption 6, which ensures personal privacy protections.  The determination regarding whether or not proprietary information and materials owned by non-Federal sources are released, under a FOIA request, is made by the USGS FOIA Office.

6.  Provisional or Preliminary.  Some provisional or preliminary information and materials that have not received Bureau approval for publication may be publicly released immediately by the USGS on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances and need.  Examples include information and materials that have immediate or time-sensitive relevance to public or wildlife health and safety, such as warnings or alerts related to natural hazards forecasts, data related to national security concerns, reports of real-time streamflow conditions, and provisional or preliminary data provided to a cooperator where the cooperator is using real-time data for daily operations such as allocation of irrigation water.  Quality assurance and approval requirements and methods of release for immediate need and other provisional or preliminary information and materials are determined by management at the Science Center from which the information and material originate.  The appropriate disclaimer statement must be used when releasing such provisional or preliminary information and materials (refer to

7.  Associated Scientific Materials Owned by the USGS. Associated scientific materials, including, but not limited to, water, sediment, rock, fossil, core, biological, and other samples collected by or on behalf of the USGS are maintained as determined by the Bureau.  These associated materials are not to be released or transferred without obtaining the appropriate USGS approval.  Approval may not be granted if the materials would be destroyed, degraded, or no longer usable as a consequence of that release or transfer.  USGS physical samples are not “Federal  records” (as defined in SM 431.1) and therefore are not subject to FOIA requirements (refer to the DOJ FOIA Guide). 


/s/ James Anderson                                                                      February 25, 2019

_____________________________              ______________

James Anderson                                                                            Date

Acting Associate Director, Office of Administration