ARCHIVED: Legislative and Regulatory Update - February 1996

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February 1996

Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
Georgetown University Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
202/662-9200 *FAX:202/662-9202
Internet: baish@law.georgetown.edu

The 1996 Outlook: Good News/Bad News 

The mood here in Washington is fairly somber as the second government furlough reaches its 20th day. While Congress and the executive branch battle over FY '96 budget appropriations and cuts to balance the budget by the year 2002, many agencies continue to get by with minimal emergency staffing. Since President Clinton did finally sign HR 2492, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act of 1996, on Nov. 20, 1995, the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the Library of Congress (LC) have not been affected by the current government shutdown. Self-supporting agencies, such as the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) and the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), have also remained in operation even while, in their case, the FY '96 appropriations for the Department of Commerce remains a political bone of contention.

In terms of government information policy issues, I believe that 1996 will be a seminal year. The 104th Congress is determined to reassess Title 44 all the while continuing efforts initiated during the 1st Session to downsize, shift costs, and move rapidly towards a cybergovernment. We may well see the same strong determination from members of Congress, particularly from those House Republicans who are holding out on the budget issues, to make these changes quickly. So where is the good news in all of this?

Hopes to educate Congress will begin with the GPO Study which was mandated in the FY '96 appropriations bill. As you read on and learn that GPO is promising Congress a 90% electronic depository program by the end of FY '98, you'll understand why information policy developments this year will be key to the future.

The Government Printing Office

GPO ACCESS Becomes Free to All

Beginning on Dec. 1, 1995, GPO made its ACCESS system available to direct Internet and dial-in users at no charge. It noted in the press release that current paid subscribers would receive refunds as appropriate. In announcing this policy change, Public Printer DiMario remarked that depository libraries would continue to serve as important intermediaries to those individuals who don't own computers or who need assistance.

GPO has been under pressure since the ACCESS system was created to make it available at no cost. For whatever reason prompting GPO to make this change now--competition with LC's THOMAS, the unexpected ease of Internet availability of GPO ACCESS, or the relatively minimal income GPO realized from subscription fees--everyone has been pleased with this decision.

The GPO Study

In December, GPO submitted its budget request for FY '97 to Congress, along with the strategic plan mandated by HR 2492 to outline how the change to an almost total electronic depository program would be managed. As advisors to the study, the library associations had been disappointed in that the progress of the Working Group had not been available to us. At a December 8th meeting at GPO, however, Public Printer Mike DiMario made it clear that there was never an intent on the part of GPO to not involve us more in the study. Rather, Congressional staff had made it very clear to GPO that no documents were to openly circulate until they were substantially agreed on by all members of the Working Group.

We were, therefore, very pleased when GPO last week released the strategic plan, entitled "The Electronic Federal Depository Library Program: Transition Plan, FY 1996-FY 1998." It was widely made available electronically on govdoc-l and in paper through a special issue of Administrative Notes which was immediately sent to all depository libraries.

This strategic plan envisions an almost total electronic program by the end of FY 98. To get through the transition, GPO has requested level funding for the next two years, along with some additional monies to award small "technology grants" to the most needy depository libraries. The report includes a list of some twenty-odd titles which GPO recommends should always be available through the FDLP in paper. Among these are some key titles for law libraries: the bound Congressional Record, the Serial Set (for regionals only as recommended by the 1994 Serial Set Study Group), the United States Code, the Federal Register, the Code of Federal Regulations, the United States Reports, and Statutes at Large. For those of you who don't have handy access to the special December 29, 1995 issue of Administrative Notes, I have forwarded the electronic version of the Transition Plan to Aaallnet.

GPO believes that with this appropriations request they are delivering to the Hill a plan to implement what Congress has asked for, that is, an almost all electronic program. At this point, it is probably GPO's best move. The plan defines a strong role for the Superintendent of Documents and GPO in the future. However, a myriad of complex questions are clearly not resolved, and these need to be well examined and understood as the transition begins. What I believe to be a major stumbling block to this approach, however, and what may not come out of the final report of the Working Group, are the true costs of electronic dissemination both to the government and to libraries. Congress believes that big bucks will be saved, but there are lots of costs associated with an all-electronic program that are not well-documented at this point. As you may recall, GPO last fall unsuccessfully asked Congress for special funding for a technology study that would collect and analyze data on the readiness of agencies, libraries and the public for an electronic program. Along with GPO, we were very disappointed that the Joint Committee on Printing denied funding for this much-needed study as we believe that it would provide the critical information on which to base plans for change. On the positive side, the transition plan outlines a similar study and we need to support GPO in getting Congressional approval for it, hoping that it doesn't come too late.

So what does all this mean for us? There are no easy answers and the future of the program is unclear. Yet to be determined are exactly what incentives there will be for law libraries to remain in the program, and what public access responsibilities will be required of depository libraries. Scrambling to find some good news here, we are now privy to GPO's transition plan and so can respond accordingly. The Washington Office is working closely with members of the Government Relations Committee in preparing an appropriate response on behalf of AALL. Comments on the GPO study from the advisory groups, including the library associations, the Depository Library Council, and federal agencies, will be included in the final report due to Congress in March.

It is apparent that a large burden is on the library community and end-users to fight the battle over issues such as appropriate format, long-term access and preservation. And, according to what we defined in the Framework document last summer, we firmly believe that government information should be provided in THE MOST USABLE FORMAT, regardless of cost.

GPO's Initiative with GILS

The first meeting of the Government Information Locator Service (GILS) Board was held at the Department of Commerce on December 6th. Created by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, the GILS Board includes representatives from the Departments of Commerce and the Interior, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the General Services Administration (GSA), GPO and LC. Eliot Christian from the U.S. Geological Survey, who has spearheaded the development of GILS from its inception, gave an update on its implementation. According to OMB Bulletin 95-01, agencies were to have completed by Dec. 31, 1995 an inventory of their: 1)automated information systems, 2) Privacy Act systems of records, and 3) locators covering their information products.

At the meeting, GPO staff demonstrated how agencies can disseminate their GILS records through GPO ACCESS at minimal cost. The new GILS Home Page, which will provide hotlinks to agency home pages, is at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/gils/gils.html.

Additionally, U.S. Archivist John Carlin noted that NARA has partnered with GPO to have Privacy Act Notices available online through GPO ACCESS by the end of December. Carlin also made a motion that the Board initiate and complete a study during 1996 to determine who GILS users are and how well GILS is meeting their needs. The motion was unanimously passed.

"Indecency" Language Back in Telecom Bill

December was a busy month for members of the Conference Committee on the telecommunications deregulation bill. It was no less busy for the Washington Office and the myriad of AALL members in key Congressional districts who responded so willingly to our calls for grassroots support. Two House amendments regarding obscenity on the Internet were discussed by House members. The first, introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-ILL), was advocated by many conservative groups and would be more restrictive than the Senate- passed Exon amendment. A compromise draft amendment by Rep. Rick White (R-WA) was then released. The White proposal allayed some of our concerns in that the very vague "indecency" language was changed to a "harmful to minors" standard. It also included a preemption for libraries and educational institutions from any Exon-type state laws. On the negative side, it lacked the incentives contained in the House-passed Cox-Wyden amendment to use technologies to empower parents to minimize their children's access to what they might deem to be harmful materials.

On December 6th, after House members approved the compromise White amendment, they proceeded to pass by a vote of 17-16 an amendment by Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA) which reinstated the vague "indecency" standard. This came as a big disappointment. In addition, the latest draft version that we have seen includes criminal liabilities for the "display in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age" any communications that might be offensive according to community standards. If enacted, the liability from this provision on libraries which offer patrons Internet access would most likely be fought out in the courts. Our message to Congress throughout this debate has been that 1) no new criminal penalties are necessary; and 2) the "harmful to minors" language is preferable to the vague "indecency" standard. In addition to the liabilities which the indecency amendment,if enacted, will create within the United States, little has been written about the international implications. How the countries of the world will reach agreement on their different laws and definitions remains to be determined.

If there is any bright side to this bill, it is in the universal access and anti-redlining provisions agreed to by the Conference Committee. A Federal-State Joint Board and a Commission on Universal Service will be created to carry out the universal service principles defined in the legislation. These principles include the availability of quality services at reasonable and affordable rates. Advanced telecommunications services are to be equitable to all regions of the nation, including rural and high- cost areas. Discounted rates are to be available for schools, libraries and health care facilities.

In terms of timing, Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD) who has led the charge to deregulate the telecommunications industry had hoped to have a final conference committee report ready for floor action before the Christmas recess. Although the tough budget negotiations interfered, the report is due for release any day now.

Congress is back in session this week but may adjourn again until the January 23rd State of the Union Address by President Clinton, in which case further action on telecommunications will be again delayed.

LC Hearing on Security Issues

A full-day joint hearing was held on November 29, 1995 on security and financial management issues relating to the Library of Congress. According to Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), this was only the first of many hearings to be held on LC's management and financial situation. As a quick aside, Rep. Thomas chairs both the Joint Committee on Printing and the House Oversight Committee, and last summer also promised that we would have a series of hearings on GPO this spring as well. Thomas made no bones about his intent to have Congress play a strong and visible role in assessing the operations and long-term policy strategies for both Legislative Branch agencies.

Much of this hearing was spent discussing the 1991 financial audit report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and how LC has met those recommendations. No financial audit has been done in the interim to assess the effectiveness of the GAO's recommendations, and clearly all agreed that this is needed. Regarding the recent security problems, LC has contracted to have a full security analysis done by March 1996. While Rep. Thomas suggested that perhaps the collection ought to be "padlocked," other members disagreed and spoke eloquently of the need to provide access to the public.

Copyright Hearings

There are two current pieces of federal legislation on copyright of which we need to be aware. The first is HR 989, the Copyright Term Extension Act, which would give copyright owners an additional 20 years' protection. Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters has drafted an amendment which would provide libraries and educational institutions with an exemption to the added 20 years duration of copyright.

I attended a November 15, 1995 joint hearing on S. 1284/HR 2441, the NII Copyright Protection Act of 1995. This is the legislation proposed in the White Paper Report. Testimony at this first hearing was limited to government officials and was presented by Bruce Lehman (PTO), Marybeth Peters and Dr. Mihaly Ficsor (World Intellectual Property Organization). Lehman differentiated between the content of communications, BBSs, and public domain information and that which is produced and sold on a commercial basis. In briefly summarizing the White Paper recommendations, Lehman then observed that existing copyright law can support commerce in cyberspace. Marybeth Peters stressed the need to balance the exclusive rights of creators and the needs of users, including libraries. She stated that fair use should be strongly reaffirmed.

The Copyright Office is preparing an analysis of the content of the Report which did not get addressed in the legislation. This will be completed early this year. Ficsor stated that if adopted, this legislation would provide efficient protection for copyright and would facilitate the growth of the Global Information Infrastructure.

PTO Bibliographic Records on the Internet

In November, the Patent and Trademark Office announced that it would provide no-fee Internet access to the past twenty years of searchable patent bibliographic text data. Responding to swift reaction from the private sector and also to the requirement in the Paperwork Reduction Act that agencies hold public hearings when they initiate new information services, PTO's Office of Electronic Information Products held a public meeting on December 15th. In the broader context, they were also seeking comment as they prepare to draft a comprehensive dissemination plan.

In our December 28th letter to PTO, to which both the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries signed on, we applauded this decision. Part of PTO's mission is the requirement to disseminate information to the public on the patents it grants and the trademarks it registers. Public access is available at PTO's Virginia location and at the 78 Patent and Trademark Depository Libraries (PTDLs) throughout the country. In our letter, we stated our belief that PTO's decision to offer Internet access was well-founded and timely, and a logical step in fulfilling their dissemination mission. Further, it would provide access even to those individuals, often the small, independent inventor, who might be geographically far removed from a PTDL.

NJ Internet Bill Still in Limbo

Both the New Jersey Library Association and the New Jersey Law Librarians Association have worked long and hard since the spring of 1994 to gain passage of a bill to provide no-fee Internet access to N.J. legislative information (Senate Bill No. 1068). The version passed by the Senate in January 1995 included an $80,000 appropriations. A hearty grassroots effort in late November countered an attempt by the N.J. Assembly Appropriations Committee to impose usage charges while exempting publicly-supported libraries from these fees. While the usage-fee amendment was dropped from the final version of the bill, this legislation now awaits signing by Governor Christine Todd Whitman. The deadline for final enactment is only days away.

New Rand Draft Report on Preservation

The Commission on Preservation and Access and the Research Libraries Group (RLG) created a joint Task Force on Digital Archiving a year ago. The resulting Draft Report, well-worth reading, is now available electronically from the RLG home page at: http://www-rlg.stanford.edu. The report is quite lengthy and you may prefer to order the print copy which is available for $20 from the RAND Distribution Services, P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, CA. 90407-2138.

....and a Happy New Year!

The Washington Office and the Government Relations Committee have been
very active during the past two months in coalition efforts on the telecommunications bill. Letters have also been written in support of the New Jersey Internet bill and PTO's decision to provide Internet access to patent information. I would like to remind all our members that these letters are available on Aaallnet. Also, the revised Government Relations Policy approved by the Executive Board in Pittsburgh may be found on page 363 of the new AALL Directory & Handbook.

Despite the high level of discussions on these important matters and the day-by-day struggle/grind/disappointments as we strive to be visible and active in them, my hope for the New Year is that we not lose the sense of challenge and excitement of the great potential of our rapidly growing electronic world. Barriers ahead are numerous, complex, and may well be uncompromising. In light of the many challenges ahead, the Washington Office and the Government Relations Committee hope that AALL members will continue to keenly take interest in our work. Grassroots support for our efforts, particularly during the past few months, has been a tremendous boost. Our hearty thanks to all who responded to our calls! Together, we can do even better in the coming year.

1996, American Association of Law Libraries