June 12, 1997
The Honorable Robert F. Bennett, Chair
Subcommittee on Legislative Branch
Senate Committee on Appropriations
Washington, DC 20510-6035
Dear Mr. Chairman,
On behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries and the Special Libraries Association, we urge the Committee to support fully the FY 1998 budget request of $30,477,000 for the Superintendent of Documents Salaries and Expenses appropriation. We believe that this amount is necessary to maintain the Federal Depository Library Program, through which citizens have no-fee access to government information, as it moves towards a more electronic program. This appropriation request was made by the Public Printer at the June 5, 1997 hearing on the Government Printing Office. We ask that this letter be added to the public record of that hearing.
Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program
Recognizing the need to centralize government printing and to establish a mechanism to provide our Nation's citizens with no-fee access to Federal government information, Congress passed the Printing Act of 1895 that created the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) within the Government Printing Office. The FDLP has evolved over more than one hundred years to become today one of the most effective and successful partnerships between the Federal government and the American people. The goals of the FDLP are based on principles that Congress and the library community have long affirmed as being essential to our democratic society. These principles were most recently expressed in the Government Printing Office's Study to Determine Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program (June 1996). This study was conducted at the request of the conference committee on the FY 1996 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act.
We urge this Subcommittee to reaffirm these important principles and to support their implementation through adequate funding for the FDLP:
Principle 1: The Public Has the Right of Access to Government Information.
Principle 2: The Government Has an Obligation to Disseminate and Provide Broad Public Access to its Information.
Principle 3: The Government Has an Obligation to Guarantee the Authenticity and Integrity of its Information.
Principle 4: The Government Has an Obligation to Preserve Its Information.
Principle 5: Government Information Created or Compiled by Government Employees or at Government Expense Should Remain in the Public Domain.
The public's access to government information and the future success of the FDLP will only be achieved if the government, as creator and disseminator of information, staunchly upholds these principles.
Under the direction of the Public Printer, the GPO Study was successful in analyzing many of the complex issues regarding the government's use of electronic information dissemination technologies. Attached to this statement is a letter from our associations to the Public Printer reiterating the continuing concerns of the library community during the transition years to a more electronic-based FDLP. Our two most critical concerns are the public's ability to locate information in a distributed electronic environment and the fundamental need to guarantee that electronic government information will be permanently accessible.
We believe that, as the average user requires assistance in navigating through the complex layers of technology and the confusing maze of government to find the information they require, the role of depository libraries and librarians is more important than ever before. These libraries willingly invest substantial funds to provide highly trained staff, adequate space, costly equipment, and Internet connections so that the public has equitable, ready, efficient and no-fee access to government information in both print and electronic formats.
Your constituents, whose tax dollars fund the collection and dissemination of information from agencies in all three branches of government, use the resources of their local depository library daily to access needed information. The results of GPO's most recent Biennial Survey are startling. In 1995, an estimated 189,000 to 237,000 users each week were provided expert service in locating and using depository materials at the 1,370 partner libraries. These numbers represent people from all walks of life and all levels of experience and technical sophistication. Without the local resources and services provided at depository libraries, these requests for government information would go unmet.
FY 1996 Enhancements to GPO Access Commendable
GPO is to be commended for the steady progress in moving towards a more electronic FDLP. The development of the GPO Access system in terms of both increased public use and the growing number of electronic information products that are now available is laudable. With the passage of the GPO Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993 (Public Law 103-40), Congress sought to develop an access point to information from all three branches of government. In December 1995, we applauded the decision of the Public Printer to provide free public access to all GPO Access products and services. As a result of that decision and the addition of many new titles to the system, recent monthly usage statistics are dramatic. In March 1997, over 4 million documents were downloaded from GPO Access.
GPO has added many new electronic online products that provide timely and important information to your constituents. GPO Access continues to grow and currently includes 48 titles from all three branches of government in more than 70 databases. Some recent additions include the Congressional Pictorial Directory; the Annotated Constitution; the Code of Federal Regulations; historical Supreme Court opinions from the U.S. Air Force's Federal Legal Information Through Electronic (FLITE) file; and the Commerce Business Daily. These databases exemplify GPO's commitment to the continued development of GPO Access to meet the government information needs of the public.
Another example of this commitment is the development in FY 1996 of the Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc) Web site (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs). With the rapid and pervasive growth of electronic government information, one of the greatest challenges for users is simply identifying and locating the database or source that they need. GPO's SuDoc Web site provides centralized bibliographic access to government resources in all formats through the online Monthly Catalog. Another valuable finding tool, GPO's electronic Pathway Indexer, links users to information resources at over 1,274 other federal agency Web sites and indexes over 112,000 pages. In addition, GPO maintains a centralized database that allows users to search through the Government Information Locator Service (GILS) records of twenty-six federal agencies. These finding tools are essential services in a distributed electronic environment.
GPO FY 1998 Budget Request Essential
To ensure the continued transition to a more electronic FDLP and continued improvement of GPO Access to meet the government information needs of the public, we urge the Subcommittee to fully support the Public Printer's FY 1998 appropriations request of $30,477,000 for the Superintendent of Documents Salaries and Expenses, of which $25,886,000 will maintain the FDLP. While some may view the move to electronic information as a means of cutting government costs, no data exists to support this assertion. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true particularly during the transition period.
Congress and agencies are channeling substantial funds into developing information resource systems that take advantage of new technologies. It is equally important, however, that the channels of public access to government information remain open, efficient, and technologically relevant. Libraries and your constituents are doing their part by investing in technologies to assist them in accessing electronic information. Congress and the Federal government must continue to invest in systems and services like GPO Access that provide the public with government information. It is essential that GPO receive adequate funding for its many electronic initiatives so that the substantial progress of the past year continues.
Erosion of Federal Government Information from the Public Domain
One of the most serious concerns of the library community is that government entities, pressured by growing fiscal constraints or a failure to understand their full responsibilities under Title 44, circumvent the letter and spirit of the law. Unfortunately, librarians have long found it necessarily to track down missing or fugitive documents for your constituents. Now librarians and users are increasingly frustrated by the steady removal of important government resources from the public domain. The information needs of the American public are not served when agencies move to contract with private publishers and fail to supply these resources to the Superintendent of Documents for distribution to depository libraries. Furthermore, wide access and use of publicly-funded information is substantially impaired when licensing agreements prevent or curtail redissemination. To copyright or restrict distribution and use of government information is anathema to the principles of access that we uphold.
The historical record of key government titles is also jeopardized by the discontinuation of print formats in favor of electronic distribution only. We have long recommended that format decisions should be based on the value and usability of the materials, and not solely on cost concerns. As directed by the FY 1997 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, the distribution of two of the most important historically-significant Congressional titles, the U.S. Congressional Serial Set and the bound Congressional Record, has been severely cut. ALA and AALL have formally expressed concern with the impact of this decision on long-term public access.
The Serial Set will be limited to only one depository library in each state. The bound Congressional Record, previously limited to only one copy per state, has been eliminated altogether. In neither case has a proven, comprehensive, permanent electronic replacement been developed that ensures long-term public access with the ability to migrate from one technological platform to another. We consider these titles among the core documents of our democracy and vital to the public's right to know. Electronic formats such as CD-ROM at this time fail to meet the necessary standards to ensure permanent long-term access and preservation, nor are they the official, authoritative versions (see attached AALL Resolution and Scientific American article). We welcome the opportunity to work with the Subcommittee on a timetable to guarantee that these core Congressional materials are usable, effective, permanently accessible, archivable and authoritative.
Revision to Title 44 Needed Now
The GPO Study provides a necessary framework to assist Congress in analyzing some of the very complex technical and policy issues that must be addressed as revisions to Title 44 are debated. Despite provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 and OMB Circular A-130, electronic information is not systematically made available to depository libraries. We strongly urge members of the 105th Congress to implement necessary changes to Title 44 so that there is no longer any doubt that the definition of government information extends to electronic resources. In addition, Congress must also continue its oversight of the FDLP and develop incentives to assure that all entities of the Federal government comply with the law. There are complex implementation challenges and significant costs ahead, particularly in terms of preservation and permanent public access of electronic information. Valuable government information resources, made available through agency Web sites, disappear daily. If these are not systematically captured for permanent, continuous public access, the information is useless to the American public. Any revisions to Title 44 must establish a systematic and comprehensive means for ensuring the preservation and permanent public access of government information. In the print world, this role has been uniquely filled by regional depository libraries. Their collections, located in every state, guarantee that the public will have ongoing and long-term access to publications from all agencies in the federal government. In the electronic environment, however, no equivalent system exists. Publishing agencies are not equipped to permanently maintain online access to electronic data, nor is it in their mission to do so. Nor is it within the mission or scope of the National Archives to provide the general public with ready and reliable access to this information on an ongoing basis.
Libraries play an important part in providing the public with access to online services, and some libraries may have a role in electronically storing and maintaining databases in cooperation with publishing entities. But in the absence of a coordinated national program to systematically capture, preserve, and maintain ongoing access to electronic government data, important information is lost everyday as files come and go from agency web sites and computer servers. GPO has taken a lead in investigating partnership opportunities with agencies and libraries to develop models for permanent public access. These efforts must be supported with appropriations and based in statute on the government's affirmative responsibility to preserve and provide long-term public access to its information.
Mr. Chairman, we are in the process of working with Congress to draft revisions to Title 44 that will guarantee that new technologies realize the potential of the information age by improving public access to government information. Our associations consider the problems of access to government information so pressing that in January we formed an Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy. This group has identified the key issues that need to be addressed by legislation. Our Goals for Revising U.S.C. Title 44 to Enhance Public Access to Federal Government Information are attached.
In addition, we have recently transmitted to members of the Joint Committee on Printing a legislative proposal from the library community to amend Chapter 19, Title 44. This draft bill, the "Federal Information Access Act of 1997," meets our goals to improve the public's ability to access and use government information, paid for by their tax dollars, in all formats. We will be pleased to share the progress of this important endeavor with this Subcommittee. We thank you for your continued strong support for the Federal Depository Library Program and for this opportunity to enter our statement into the record of your recent hearing.
Robert L. Oakley
Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries
Carol C. Henderson
Executive Director - Washington Office
American Library Association
Prudence S. Adler
Assistant Executive Director
Association of Research Libraries
David R. Bender
Special Libraries Association
- Joint library association letter to the Public Printer on draft Study to Identify Measures Necessary for a Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program (April 26, 1996).
- AALL Resolution on the U.S. Congressional Serial Set and the Bound Congressional Record (July 1996).
- Scientific American article regarding archiving electronic files, "Ensuring the Longevity of Digital Documents," (January 1995).
- Goals for Revising U.S.C. Title 44 to Enhance Public Access to Federal Government Information,
Draft Working Document prepared by the Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy (May 1997).
- Organizational biographies.