Washington Report - December 1999

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Mary Alice Baish
AALL Assistant Washington Affairs Representative

October 12, 1999

Department of Commerce to Close NTIS
In the last issue of DttP, I noted that the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) had unsuccessfully 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). In mid-August, Department of Commerce Secretary William M. Daley issued a press release announcing his plans to close NTIS at the end of FY 2000. Daley noted that NTIS has lost money since 1993 and that, without the $2 million in appropriations, they would not be able to fulfill their congressional mandate of sustaining themselves on a cost-recovery basis. The $2 million may have been a low figure, because I located in the fine print of a March 1999 report by Commerce's Inspector General that NTIS had actually requested $5.69 million for FY 2000, but that OMB had cut it down to the $2 million. We have no dollar figures on what the actual losses might be for the various NTIS functions, including the clearinghouse. Secretary of Commence Daley stated in the press release that agencies today can put their own documents on the web and no longer need the services of NTIS. In addition to determining what agency or agencies should take over NTIS' various functions, there is also the labor issue of lost jobs that concerns the "regional" members of Congress. Since the Department of Commerce does not want to support an agency whose functions it believes to be outmoded, the other serious over-arching issue will be the cost of continuing the clearinghouse, particularly if it is to come out of the legislative branch appropriations.

During the past month, we have attended numerous meetings with congressional staff, officials from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), the Department of Commerce, the Government Printing Office, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives and Records Administration to discuss the closing of NTIS. The Department of Commerce has recently circulated a draft bill for agency comment, the Access to Government Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Information Act. It would close NTIS and move its functions to LC by the end of FY 2000. A September 14, 1999 hearing on NTIS by the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Technology was very comprehensive. Chairwoman Connie Morella (R-MD-8) noted the financial problems faced by NTIS and at the same time acknowledged the need to preserve the agency's valuable functions and ensure equitable public access. The unique importance of NTIS' clearinghouse of over 3 million reports was reiterated by each of the witnesses. Their formal statements are now available at http://www.house.gov/science/106_hearing.htm#Technology. Ms. Caroline Long of George Washington University presented the joint library testimony, noting that:

First, NTIS should not be closed nor its services transferred until there is a thorough assessment of the full range of NTIS services, of alternatives for providing each service, and of the current requirement that the NTIS program be self-supporting.

Second, NTIS provides unique centralized services that are critically important to the ability of the public to locate and have access to the government's STI resources, including the tangible collection and current agency web-based publications.

And third, technology has not yet solved two key challenges in moving towards greater dissemination of STI reports through the Internet: those challenges are centralized bibliographic access and permanent public access.

The Senate Commerce Committee plans to hold a hearing on October 21, 1999 and we suspect that its theme will be Commerce's draft legislation. Although the draft bill focuses on the clearinghouse collection and the transition to disseminating STI publications through the Internet, it does little to address the future of FedWorld or the World News Connection. For GODORT's comprehensive analysis on The Proposed Closing of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), see: http://www.library.vanderbilt.edu/central/staff/ntisfull.htm

New Life for the Next Generation Electronic Government Information Access Act of 1999? The closing of NTIS may get us a foot in the legislative door with a more focused and incremental approach to amend Title 44 and close loopholes in current law to improve and enhance public access to electronic publications. The draft bill, the Next Generation Electronic Government Information Access Act of 1999 (http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/GODORT/laws.html), provides solutions to two of the most urgent challenges of electronic government information that are now at the forefront in discussions of putting all STI materials on the Internet. Its goals are:

 

  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.

In mandating that agencies put STI reports on their web sites, the need for centralized cataloging and locator services and for ensuring permanent public access to these materials is crucial. Enactment of the following four provision from the Next Generation draft bill would make a smooth transition to ensure that these valuable materials can be easily located by the public and will remain permanently accessible despite future changes in technology. The draft bill:

 

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

     

  • 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.

     

  • and 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.

House Floor Battle Over Legislation to Protect Databases Staff of Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, and Rep. Howard Coble (R-VA) of the House Judiciary Committee made no progress in negotiating the fundamental differences between their two database protection bills. The committee reports have finally been filed on H.R. 1858, the Commerce Committee's Consumer and Investor Access to Information Act of 1999 (H. Rept. 106-350 Pt. 1) which we strongly support, and the Judiciary Committee's Collections of Information Antipiracy Act of 1999, H.R. 354 (H. Rept. 106-349 Pt. 1), which we oppose.

ALA and AALL have put out urgent alerts to get additional cosponsors for H.R. 1858. There are currently 18 cosponsors of H.R. 1858, and 76 cosponsors of H.R. 354. Four quick reasons why the library and educational communities support H.R. 1858 are that:

 

  • it does not overturn the Feist decision, thereby affirming a basic tenet of U.S. information policy that facts are in the public domain;

     

  • it recognizes the need to exclude primary legal materials;

     

  • it allows academic users and others to benefit from permissible uses, patterned after traditional copyright "fair use" provisions;

     

  • and it permits transformative uses of data that are critically important to electronic commerce and to the creation of new information products.

New Barriers to Community Right-to-Know
Portions of the Senate Report on the HUD-VA appropriations bill for FY 2000 (S. Rept. 105-161) come directly from a paper written for the Coalition for Effective Environmental Information that alarms environmental and public access groups who fight for the RTK. Nor does it bode well for the future dissemination of EPA information through the Internet. We certainly saw the handwriting on the wall this past spring in the unsuccessful battle to release to the public "worst-case-scenario" data submitted to the EPA by chemical companies as mandated by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. Below are some troubling excerpts from that report language:

 

Under Environmental Data Management--....While EPA has taken the important first step of establishing a new information office to consolidate and provide uniformity in EPA's approach to information management, much remains to be done. EPA, in the last several years, has disseminated large volumes of environmental data to the public, relying heavily on the development of new information products for its Internet web site. While government agencies should be sharing important information with the public, agencies must exercise the new powers afforded by Internet disclosure of data in a fair and responsible manner. The Committee is concerned that EPA has not always provided adequate opportunities for public involvement in the development, maintenance and refinement of the many information products that have been placed in the public domain during the last several years.

The report language goes on to list the following expectations for EPA's information management activities, including:

 

...the Committee believes that the recent controversy under Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act, over the availability of "offsite consequence analysis" information to potential terrorists underscores the need for a more systematic process to consider the security implications of information dissemination. EPA shall consult with the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other appropriate national security and law enforcement agencies to define the decision making process and criteria the government will use to provide the proper balance between the disclosure of environmental information and protection of public security.

ALA and AALL have joined a large number of other non-profit and environmental organizations in sending a letter to every member of Congress noting three major concerns with this language:

First, that the report opens the door on subjecting EPA to legal liability for agency information dissemination activities.

Second, that the report goes in the wrong direction by suggesting less mandatory disclosure of information.

And third, that the requirements go well beyond current law by restricting EPA efforts to analyze its own data and create new information products.

In addition, ALA and AALL recently participated in a conference sponsored by the Bauman Foundation to develop a Citizens' Environmental Right-to-Know Platform that will be the first step in developing a coordinated campaign to educate the public, the non-profit community, the media, and policy makers about the importance of the RTK. Many environmentalists view the remarkable clean-up success rate following the release of the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) for having united industry in working to slow down or even halt the release of EPA digital information.

New Report on National Security in the 21st Century
A timely new report, New World Coming: American Security in the 21st Century, was published in September by the recently established United States Commission on National Security/21st Century (http://www.nssg.gov/Reports/reports.htm). The work of this committee bears watching because it is going to chart the increase in non-traditional threats stemming from information technologies and chemical and biological weapons. It notes, for example, that citizens may will be at risk from cyberattacks on air traffic control systems as well as chemical or biological warfare. It has undertaken to fulfill its mandate in three phases: the first, the New World Coming report, describes the world emerging in the first quarter of the next century. The phase two report, Seeking a National Strategy, will design a national security strategy appropriate to that world. And the phase three report, Building for Peace, will propose necessary changes to the national security structure in order to implement that strategy effectively. The study will contemplate the changes needed over the next twenty-five years to develop a U.S. national security strategy appropriate to the environment. The current trends that the Commission views as components of change are technological, economic, political and military. Former members of Congress Gary Hart and Warren B. Rudman are the Commission's co-chairs.

Farewell Footnote
I have had the wonderful privilege of writing the Washington Report column for DttP since 1992. I hope that the column has proven to be a very informative look at how our federal government addresses information policy issues. The other night, while watching my one weekly-hour of TV, Washington Week in Review, a well-known journalist commented that Congress and the FCC were reviewing some big mergers, such as the one between MCI World and Sprint. He was asked whether members of Congress really understood technology issues, and his response was that most members understand very little about technology. In fact, he added, you could probably put everything they know onto one tiny little post-it note.

That pretty well sums up the challenges that the depository library community has in getting sponsors and support for legislation to improve citizen access to government information. While we benefited during the 105th Congress from the work of the Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy (IAWG), we will not have any major legislative success without broad grassroots support from all of you.

How often has this been a topic of GODORT discussions? I firmly believe that if we don't develop strong relationships now with our Senators and Representatives, we will accomplish very little. Do your representatives know about all the wonderful FDLP services that you provide for their constituents? Do they value your collection and services? Do they understand the difficulties the public has in locating government information, especially in the decentralized web-based environment? And do they recognize the dangers of relying solely on web-based dissemination without provisions to ensure permanent public access? The answers are likely no, no, no, and no. These are messages that your representatives need to hear from you--the success of our legislative agenda depends upon it. I hope that we can re-energize GODORT into becoming a major proactive voice by building a stronger grassroots program.

As you all know by now, DttP has never been in better hands than it is under the creative and visionary leadership of our current editor, John Shuler. Which makes it much harder for me to accept the fact that my ever-growing job responsibilities, particularly in the intellectual property and copyright arena, leave me very little time to continue to write the Washington Report. So, with many regrets, it's time to pass the torch. I know that the column will be placed in good hands, and I hope to be able to find time to submit an occasional article about what is really going on here in Washington! Thanks to all for your wonderful support,

- Mary Alice

 


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