AALL Government Relations Office: Special Program: A Sea Change in Access...

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Michael F. DiMario
Public Printer
Government Printing Office

Remarks before the
American Association of Law Libraries
July 23, 1997
Baltimore, MD

"A Sea Change in Access to Federal Government Information:
Revising Title 44 and the Role of the Government Printing Office"

GPO, law libraries, and AALL


  • 207 of our 1,380 depositories are law depositories (155 law school libraries, 36 state court libraries, 16 Federal court libraries)--that is 15% of the total.

  • We work closely with Bob Oakley, head of AALL's Washington office. We also work closely with Mary Alice Baish, whom I recently appointed to a 3-year term on GPO's Depository Library Council, and with others, including Susan Dow and Susan Tulis.

    Current Status of Title 44 Reform

  • The title of this session indicates there is a "sea change" in access to Federal Government information. However, no "sea change" has occurred yet.

  • Hearings were held in April and May by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, focusing principally on executive agency compliance with Title 44 requirements to ensure their information is made available for public dissemination. These followed hearings on public access last summer by the Committee, as well as floor remarks earlier this year by Senator Warner regarding the copyrighting of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a prominent research publication.

  • During the April-May hearings, Senator Warner said his goals for Title 44 reform were:

    1. Resolving the constitutional separation of powers issue that has been raised by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel regarding GPO;

    2. Establishing an effective and enforceable compliance mechanism to ensure Federal information products are disseminated to the public through depository libraries;

    3. Ensuring public access to taxpayer-supported information and preserving and protecting the depository library program; and

    4. Ensuring that Title 44 and the depository library program can operate effectively in this era of changing information technologies.

  • To address these goals, a draft bill was developed and circulated prior to the hearings for comment. Most of you have probably seen or heard about it. It would have transferred GPO to the executive branch, established new penalties for copyrighting Government information, and other measures.

  • I testified on this draft and raised a number of issues with it, most prominently the transfer of GPO to the executive branch, which I do not believe is necessary. The separation of powers issue can be resolved instead by transferring administrative powers exercised by the JCP to the Public Printer, who would exercise them as a presidential appointee. I also raised issues with the penalties provided by the bill, which in my view were too harsh and probably not enforceable, as well as other sections. Most other witnesses also testified unfavorably about the draft, and it was withdrawn.

  • Subsequently, GPO provided the Senate Rules committee with draft legislative language to address the practical, narrow objective raised by Senator Warner:

    1. Transfer the administrative authorities of the JCP to the Public Printer, resolving the constitutional issue. We would continue with the JCP in a limited role, having authority over congressional publications. In our view, the JCP provides an essential role in this area.

    2. Update chapter 19 of Title 44, concerning the depository program, along the lines developed last summer by GPO and the library associations following the 1996 study on modernizing the depository program.

    3. Make certain other administrative changes to GPO's contracting, disposal, and sales authorities to improve and streamline operations.

  • The library associations, working through the Interassociation Working Group, also submitted a legislative proposal which we have seen. I think this proposal is sound and would support it as long as it is coupled with a centralized printing and procurement structure such as currently exists in GPO. However, in a decentralized structure, this proposal--which is based on notification, a concept that has not worked well--would not be likely to work well. I have had discussions with Fran Buckley and the Interassociation Group on this draft bill and they know where I stand.

  • I have heard that there is a legislative proposal being advanced by a member of the printing industry, and that there may be an IIA proposal, although I haven't seen that.

  • Since early June, I have indications that there have been meetings between OMB staff and representatives of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and the JCP. There have been documents circulated, unofficially, representing a status of discussions on Title 44 reform. GPO has not been part of these discussions. Perhaps Ms. Katzen can elaborate on them for you. GPO has not been included in these meetings.

  • I understand from the library community that a draft bill is going to be circulated in August for vetting by the various interested parties, and according to congressional staff members, a bill will be brought forward that is supposed to be bicameral and bipartisan. The plan as I understand it is that a bill will then be introduced without further hearings, brought up under unanimous consent in each house and passed, and sent to the President this fall. This is an ambitious schedule.

    Objectives of Title 44 Reform

  • My view is that the system established by Title 44 works reasonably well. It provides for economy in government printing and a reasonably effective system for getting government information into the hands of the public, both through our sales program and working in partnership with depository libraries.

  • The problems facing Title 44 are principally concerned with compliance. As all of you know, fugitive documents result when agencies fail to comply with the requirements of the law to print through GPO or provide us with copies of publications they print elsewhere. We recently produced a document called "Fugitive Documents: Scope and Solutions," which estimated that as many as 50% of all government titles are fugitive from the depository system, including scientific and technical titles as well as other important works, such as CRS issue briefs and Federal court documents. We published this report in the June 15 issue of Administrative Notes. It was also entered into the record of the May 22 hearing before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, and on the same day Rep. Steny Hoyer inserted it in the Congressional Record.

  • Our estimate of fugitive documents roughly corresponds to the amount of printing we estimate is not going through GPO. Based on FY 1996 data, the Federal Government produces about $1.2 billion in printing annually. About $700 million of that is coming through GPO, and $500 million is produced elsewhere, mostly through agency plants.

  • The objective of any Title 44 reform should be to recapture that $500 million in work for access by the depository library program, rather than to invent some new system that places the $700 million we are currently getting--and the titles this work represents--at risk. Also, Title 44 reform should make it more difficult for agencies to copyright Government information or otherwise remove it from the public domain (as was attempted with the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Big Emerging Markets, U.S. Export Administration Regulations, U.S. Industrial Outlook, NTIS Order Now), and it should enable the depository library program to gain improved access to agency electronic information products as well as ensure the authenticity and permanent availability of these products.

  • These objectives can be achieved with a limited scope of revisions to Title 44 that would ensure improved access to Government information and greater taxpayer savings on printing, and which would not sacrifice the benefits of the current system.

    Improvements Are Ongoing Under Current Title 44

  • The single greatest change to Title 44 we have had recently was the GPO Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993, which set up GPO Access. Under that law we have made major improvements to public access to Government information: we now offer more than 70 databases (many including publications of interest to the law community); we offer one of the Government's major GILS sites (recently praised by OMB Watch); and about 4 million documents are retrieved by the public monthly. Our work on GPO Access has also made many offerings of the THOMAS system possible, and we are continuing with improvements, such as the conversion of our publications databases to SGML. All of these enhancements flowed from the relatively simple change of the GPO Access law, which had major backing of the library community.
  • We're continuing with improvements that will assist public access to Government information through depository libraries:

    1. We are very concerned with providing for permanent access to electronic Government information. We are developing plans for a Permanent Online Collection, under which we will manage the various electronic Government information products made permanently accessible via GPO Access as a library-like collection. Permanent public access to this information will be provided through the GPO Access off-site storage facility and other sites, in coordination with partner libraries and other service institutions. The plan will recognize that storage of electronic information products can be accomplished through a networked system in which storage functions and capabilities are distributed among multiple sites We are looking at establishing a new position of "collections manager" within our Library Programs Service to head this effort. We will work with agencies to ensure permanent access to their products either through GPO Access or on agency Internet sites.

    2. In connection with our efforts to ensure permanent access, we are working closely with NARA to refine our agencies' roles and to keep the interests of the depository community visible. We have been having talks with Dr. Lewis Bellardo, who visited us last month.

      When we talk with NARA, we keep emphasizing 2 goals: standards and standing. Standards refers to our goal of coordination with NARA on matters of common interest such as uniform standards for electronic information. This goal will be advanced by the "Assessment of Standards" project we have underway with the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. NARA is interested in this project as well. One of the outcomes we hope for is to have GPO and NARA cooperate on a set of standards for electronic information which will facilitate both preservation and access.

      Standing refers to gaining recognition for the role of GPO and the depository library program in providing for permanent public access to Government information vis a vis the role played by NARA. We have proposed that NARA provide us with guidelines permitting GPO to become a "NARA Affiliate" archive for some of the core content of GPO Access, such as the Federal Register, a NARA title. This would mean that NARA would not have to duplicate the storage of these official electronic documents. NARA plans to establish "affiliates" to assist in the permanent storage of the Nation's vast accumulation of records and documents.

      At the same time, NARA is rightly concerned about potential statutory confusion of the roles and responsibilities of the depository program and NARA, and Dr. Bellardo has suggested that any new statutory definition of "Government information" provided in a Title 44 revision bill specifically say that it does not abridge NARA responsibilities and authorities. That is probably a good idea.

    3. Regarding core publications, last month we put up on GPO Access a collection of "Core Documents of U.S. Democracy" which provides direct online access to the essential documents that define our government. It's a "starter set" of current and historical Government publications which are available via GPO Access, reached through our home page at www.access.gpo.gov.

    4. Last December the JCP approved an agreement between GPO and NCLIS to conduct an Assessment of Standards for the Creation, Dissemination, and Permanent Accessiblity of Electronic Government Information Products. The need for this study was identified last year in our Study to Identify Measures Necessary for the Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program, which we conducted at the direction of Congress. The Assessment is to identify standard formats most appropriate for dealing with electronic information products throughout their life cycles. It will also address the plans of Federal agencies, assess the cost-effectiveness and usefulness of various electronic formats, and assess those formats that are most conducive to maintaining permanent accessibility.

      With GPO's approval, NCLIS picked the National Research Council, the working arm of the National Academy of Sciences, to participate in the project and produce a Statement of Work. The office within the Council working on this is the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board.

      We have received a first draft of the Statement of Work which we have reviewed, and anticipate a second draft shortly. Once the Statement is approved, research and data collection by a contractor will begin. The third phase of the project will be a review of research findings and the development of conclusions and recommendations. This study is critical to the forward development of plans for permanent access and standardization, both of which are key to ensuring effective public access to electronic Government information.

    5. We are continuing to identify titles for online delivery. Titles must meet several specific criteria, including the title must be available on a Government Web site that has a significant amount of content and the periodical title cannot be a reference aid. SuDocs classification numbers are assigned and cataloging is performed on these titles so that libraries can associate the new online products with older material distributed in physical formats.

  • These developments and others represent the progress we continue to make in service to the library and Government information communities within the current structure of Title 44. Our hope is that any revision to Title 44 approved by the Congress continues to allow us to provide enhancements to the services we provide to libraries and the public.