ARCHIVED: Washington Report - September 1999

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Mary Alice Baish
AALL Assistant Washington Affairs Representative

July 23, 1999

Update on FY 2000 Appropriations Requests

House and Senate conferees will be meeting shortly to reach consensus on H.R. 1905, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act for FY 2000. Both House and Senate have agreed to fund the Superintendent of Documents Salaries and Expenses for the Federal Depository Library Program at $29,986,000, an increase of $722,000 over FY 1999 (H. Rept. 106-156). This amount is, however, a reduction from the $31.2 million requested by the Government Printing Office and there are concerns about a last-ditch effort by some House members to do an across-the-board cut that might reduce it further. No funds were requested for the Joint Committee on Printing for FY 2000.

In an usual twist that highlights their shaky financial situation, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) requested $2 million for their Revolving Fund as part of the Department of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY 2000 (S. 1217). The Senate Appropriations Committee denied the request, noting that NTIS has been self sustaining in previous years through the sale of information products to the public and from providing services to federal agencies on a reimbursable basis. According to S. Rept. 106-76, the Committee expects NTIS to utilize fiscal year 2000 receipts to cover agency expenses.

The Committee report noted additional concerns that NTIS may be pursuing opportunities where it competes against privately financed businesses beyond the scope of its statutory mission. The Committee requested that the General Accounting Office (GAO) review NTIS operations to determine the extent the statutory mandate is exceeded beyond offering unclassified technical, scientific, or engineering information to the public. NTIS's costs to create, maintain and provide access to the World News Connection (WNC) are to be part of the GAO audit. The Senate Report also pointed out that NTIS's WNC is in direct competition with private companies in the electronic news information publishing business. This issue was presumably brought up by members of the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) who believe that the government should not expend taxpayer funds to develop products and services that compete with those in the private sector. The Senate Report, not surprisingly, made no mention about access to NTIS materials for depository libraries, an issue on which we will be working with members of the House Appropriations Committee in hopes of getting some FDLP language incorporated into the House report.

In related news, in early May NTIS was sharply criticized for its plan to charge subscription fees for usgovsearch, a new search engine developed as a joint venture between NTIS and Northern Lights that allows users to search through millions of federal online materials. Reacting to strong public criticism questioning whether a federal agency should be allowed to charge for access to government information that has been created at taxpayer expense, the Department of Commerce initially decided to provide this new service free to the public for a limited period of time. Following a closed meeting with the NTIS Advisory Board, the Department of Commerce withdrew from the joint venture and subsequently announced that the new service would indeed be fee-based but that it would be available as well at no cost to schools and libraries. In a recent letter to the Chief Executive Officer of Northern Lights, Superintendent of Documents Francis Buckley has requested that no-fee access to the new service be extended to all 1,351 depository libraries, 20% of which are public libraries.

New Title 44 Draft Legislation

The Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy (IAWG) has completed its work and has been formally disbanded. Nonetheless, building on the library community's cooperative legislative efforts during the 105th Congress that were included in S. 2288, the omnibus Wendell H. Ford Government Publications Reform Act of 1998, several former IAWG members have continued to work together, with the help of ALA Counsel Tom Susman, to develop a new draft bill. This new draft legislation was reviewed by the GODORT Legislation Committee, the Government Information Subcommittee and the Committee on Legislation during the recent ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans and it was agreed that the library community could move forward with it.

This draft legislation amends Chapter 41 of U.S.C. Title 44, the Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993 (P.L. 103-40), that established the award-winning GPO Access online system. The proposal builds on the success of GPO Access and updates the law to address obstacles to public access to electronic government information in the 21st century. The Next Generation Electronic Government Information Access Act of 1999 is a focused and incremental approach that will close loopholes in current law and improve and enhance public access to electronic publications from all three branches of government. It provides solutions to two of the most urgent challenges of electronic government information,

 

  1. to broaden, strengthen, and enhance public access to electronic government information, including both tangible and online; and

     

  2. to provide permanent public access to and ensure authenticity of electronic government information.

     

The key provisions of the Next Generation Electronic Government Information Access Act of 1999 are that:

 

     

  • It explicitly expands the scope of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) to include electronic publications from all three branches of government while recognizing the challenges and opportunities of electronic information technologies.

     

  • It requires the Superintendent of Documents to coordinate with Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, and the National Archives and Records Administration to develop and establish uniform standards for the dissemination of electronic government information products, including standards for ensuring authenticity.

     

  • It establishes a council to advise the Superintendent on products to be included in the Program, appropriate format(s), and other policy matters.

     

  • It requires the Superintendent of Documents to maintain and make available an electronic directory or locator to identify, describe and dynamically link users to web-based government information products and to operate an electronic storage facility to which online access is made available to the public.

     

  • It addresses the loss of electronic government information by establishing in law the affirmative responsibility of the federal government to provide current, continuous, and future public access to electronic publications at no fee to the public.

     

  • It requires publishing agencies to notify the Superintendent of their intent to produce, procure, substantially modify, or terminate an electronic government publication so that the Superintendent may include the publication in directory and locator services.

     

  • It allows the Superintendent to request the electronic source files of government publications from agencies so that the Superintendent may produce the publication in an appropriate format for the program, and to enable the Superintendent to provide permanent public access to electronic publications.

     

  • It prevents any agency from delegating or contracting for the creation, storage, reproduction, or dissemination of a government publication, or from offering electronic products for sale or through a fee-based service, without providing in advance for the full content of that information to be made available to the Superintendent for inclusion in the program.

     

  • It places oversight responsibilities for agency compliance within each branch of government to ensure the timely dissemination of electronic government information to the public by the Congress, the executive branch, and the judicial branch.

     

  • It requires the Superintendent to establish a committee to make recommendations within two years on the components of a distributive system for permanent public access to electronic government publications.

     

  • It makes agencies responsible for maintaining permanent public access to their electronic information products until a comprehensive government wide system of continuous and permanent public access is in place.

1999 FDLP Spring Conference/Depository Library Council

More than 550 government documents librarians met in Washington the week of April 12th for the annual Spring Federal Depository Library Conference and meetings of the Depository Library Council (DLC). Morning plenary sessions included GPO updates on their progress in developing the FDLP Electronic Collection; on cataloging and locator issues; and on developing more partnership models to ensure permanent public access to agency electronic information. If you missed the conference, some GPO handouts are in the April 15, 1999 issue of Administrative Notes (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/dpos/ad041599.html). The conference agenda was jam- packed with excellent informational and training programs. Members of the Depository Library Council drafted thirteen new recommendations to the Public Printer on a wide range of issues: fee-based products, outreach to federal agencies, the partnership program, a permanent public access archive, and guidelines for substituting electronic for tangible versions of publications. You'll find them on the DLC's homepage at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/dpos/council/rsp99.html

The new members of the DLC who will begin their three-year terms at next fall's meeting in Kansas City, MO, are Linda Fredericks, King County Library System, Bellvue, WA; Bob Hinton, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis; Sharon Hogan, University of Illinois at Chicago; Mary Redmond, New York State Library; and Andrea Sevetson, University of California at Berkeley.

GPO/NCLIS Assessment Report Published

GPO and the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) have released the long-awaited Report on the Assessment of Electronic Government Information Products (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/nclisassessment/report.html) commissioned by GPO and prepared by Westat, Inc. under a contract from NCLIS. This assessment had originally been conceived as a necessary part of the 1995-96 GPO Study on the Transition to a More Electronic FDLP but it lacked congressional support at the time. Funding was finally approved in 1997, and the library community and the DLC participated in meetings to plan the assessment study, to review various drafts of the survey instrument, to recommend titles to be surveyed, and to review several pre-publication drafts.

Thanks to the tremendous efforts of NCLIS survey coordinator Woody Horton, an impressive 74% of the surveys were returned from twenty-four federal entities, including Congressional committees, the Supreme Court, one regulatory commission and 19 executive branch agencies. While the survey data is very interesting in terms of issues such as preferred mediums and formats used by agencies, Horton was quick to point out that the survey process was as revealing as are the results. Indeed, the two most notable of the sixteen key findings should come as no surprise: first, that "there is an overall lack of government information policy guiding electronic publishing, dissemination, permanent public access, or the information life cycle management" that is apparent at the branch and agency levels; and second, that "responsibility for electronic publishing within agencies is decentralized, diffuse and unclear." NCLIS plans to begin Phase III of the study this summer to analyze the findings, draw conclusions and make recommendations from the survey.

Update on EPA and WCS Data

The American Association of Law Libraries and ALA have been aligned with right-to-know and other non-profit organizations to ensure that the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) complies with the public access provisions of the Clean Air Act of 1990 in releasing the Risk Management Plans (RMPs) of U.S. chemical companies. S. 880, which recently has passed both the Senate and the House, would exempt hazardous information, called "worst-case scenario" (WCS) data, from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and would severely restrict the public's access to this important safety and health information. The FBI claims, with little evidence to support it, that release of WCS data through the Internet will create a national security threat. In addition to exempting this data from FOIA, S. 880 originally proposed that federal depository libraries provide electronic access to the information but that it be restricted--no copying and no downloading allowed.

These restrictions are contrary to the mission and practices of the Federal Depository Library Program, and to AALL and ALA's commitment that there be no downstream restrictions on the use of federal government information. After a hearing in the House Commerce Committee and subsequent discussion between the House majority staff, representatives from the Department of Justice and EPA, as well as representatives from GPO, ALA, and AALL, these provisions were removed from the legislation. This is an important public policy issue because it would legitimize a new category of government information--that which an agency might deem "sensitive" for whatever reason--and permit restrictions on its use. During its Annual Conference last month, ALA endorsed a resolution drafted by the GODORT Legislation Committee to oppose any attempt to restrict public access to EPA off-site consequence analysis data by exempting it from FOIA requests.

 


Mary Alice Baish, Associate Washington Affairs Representative,
Edward B. Williams Law Library, 111 G Street, N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20001-1417;
202/662-9200 (voice); 202/662-9202 (fax);
baish@law.georgetown.edu