Washington Brief - July 2001

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Dateline: May 7, 2001

Call today--Cosponsors Needed for S. 803
As promised, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) unveiled the E-Government Act of 2001 (S. 803) on May 1, 2001 to a packed room of librarians, including a handful of AALL members, who were visiting their elected representatives here in Washington during ALA's Legislative Day. S. 803 creates a Federal CIO for the executive branch and a new Office of Information Policy at OMB that will heighten visibility and provide a coordinated policy framework for the dissemination of electronic government information by executive branch agencies.

The Washington Office has worked closely with the Senator's staff in developing key provisions on "Accessibility, Usability, and Preservation of Government Information" that provide for:

     

  • the development of interoperable cataloging and indexing standards for agency web resources (Sec. 215);

     

  • a 30-month study to develop permanent public access standards (Sec. 215);

     

  • a public domain directory of Federal agency web sites (Sec. 216);

     

  • and the development of standards for agency web sites (Sec. 217).

Additionally, Sec. 205 includes two key provisions regarding the Federal courts that are especially important to the law library community:

     

  • first, to improve public access to judicial information by mandating that Federal courts develop and maintain comprehensive web sites; and

     

  • second, to repeal current statutory language to make the judiciary's electronic PACER system available to the public at no cost.

     

The Washington Office issued a press release for the May 1st event in support of the legislation. It describes other key provisions of S. 803 and includes a list of the 11 original cosponsors. (pr05012001.asp)

However, we need your help in getting more cosponsors for the E-Government bill! Before you contact your Senators'offices, be sure to check to see whether they are already cosponsors (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:s.00803:). Then please follow the suggestions in the Action Alert on S. 803 at the Washington Affairs Office web site that includes additional information resources about the legislation (aa05072001.asp). It is very important that you thank your Senator(s) for their support of S. 803 if they are already cosponsors, and if they're not, that you urge them to cosponsor the bill. Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN), Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, has promised hearings but it's critically important that we have a long list of cosponsors. Thank you!

Two New GAO Reports of Interest
Information Management: Electronic Dissemination of Government Publications. (GAO-01-428, March 30, 2001) This study was mandated in the conference committee report on the Legislative Appropriations Act of 2001 to study the impact of providing documents to the public solely in electronic format and to assess the feasibility of transferring the Federal Depository Library Program to the Library of Congress. While noting that the electronic dissemination of government documents offers the opportunity to reduce the costs of dissemination and make government information more usable and accessible, the report outlines a number of key challenges of the electronic environment, including authenticity, permanent public access and preservation, but fails to analyze them adequately. It also points out that a move to an all-electronic FDLP shifts printing costs to libraries and users.

The report also provides an overview of the advantages and disadvantages associated with moving the FDLP to LC, and includes letters raising numerous issues about the report from Librarian of Congress Dr. James Billington and Public Printer Michael DiMario. In his letter, Dr. Billington questions whether the GAO sufficiently analyzed the complex issues involved and notes that, were the FDLP to be moved to LC, "Congress might not achieve the desired results, cost efficiencies might not be realized, and serious unintended consequences would likely occur." Mr. DiMario's comments question whether a move to LC would benefit public users of government information and suggested that there would be serious disadvantages to such a transfer. Rep. Robert Ney (R-OH), the new chairman of the House Administration Committee, promised comments on the report at a later date.

Information Management: Progress in Implementing the 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments. (GAO-01-378, March 16, 2001) Based on a survey of 25 major federal departments and agencies which account for 97 percent of all FOIA requests, the report finds that most federal agencies have begun to open electronic reading rooms and to expedite handling of the public's requests for government documents, but several lag behind in implementing the 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA) intended to speed the processing of FOIA requests and to provide electronic versions of documents to the public.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), original sponsor of E-FOIA, requested the study that was issued on March 16th, the 35th anniversary of FOIA. In a press release timed to coincide with the publication of the report, Leahy noted that "FOIA gives each American the power to ask--and the government the obligation to answer--questions about official actions or inaction. We can count on a government agency to tell us when it does something right, but we need FOIA to help tell us when it does something wrong. Of all the laws that fill our law libraries, none better than FOIA breathes life into the first words in our Constitution, "We the people of the United States" and into our First Amendment rights to petition our government. This is a law to celebrate, to use, and to defend."

(Note GAO reports are available in PDF at http://www.gao.gov/)

 


Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
Edward B. WIlliams Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-1417
202/662-9200 * FAX:202/662-9202
email:baish@law.georgetown.edu