Our mission

Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Analysis of GPO’s proposed Title 44 changes to FDLP and FGI’s suggestions

As we noted last week, there is another effort underway to update Title 44 and “modernize” the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). The Government Publishing Office (GPO) has put together a proposal for Legislative Revisions to Title 44 U.S.C., Chapter 19 and have asked for comments by MARCH 5, 2021.

As always, we approach changes to Title 44 and GPO policies with the user in mind. We ask of every change, “How will this affect people who want and need government information?” With that in mind, here are our comments on GPO’s proposed revisions.

While there is a lot that is good about GPO’s proposal, we believe that there are also some significant problems and gaps. Below, we outline these. Separately, we have compiled a revision of GPO’s proposal with specific word changes that we recommend.

(more…)

Legislative Revisions to Title 44 U.S.C., Chapter 19 re the FDLP

A new Congress has begun, and that means another shot at “modernizing” the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), which hasn’t seen any new and substantive legislative change since the 1993 GPO Access Act. Here at FGI, we’re busy pouring over GPO’s proposed legislative revisions for Title 44 along with Depository Library Council’s feedback to GPO. We plan to submit feedback and recommendations to GPO and you can too! You have until March 5, 2021 to submit feedback via GPO’s form. Do it today!

Lawsuit Saves Trump White House Records

In a clear win for government transparency, National Security Archive et. al. v. Donald J. Trump et. al. lawsuit prevented the Trump administration from what was feared to be a wholesale destruction and loss of presidential records including the failure to preserve records — including President Trump’s reported ripping up of documents in the Oval Office — former aide Steve Bannon’s use of disappearing instant messages to communicate with campaign embeds at the agencies, private email use by Ivanka Trump and other top officials, and the routine use of encrypted WhatsApp messages by Jared Kushner and others.

Thank you co-plaintiffs National Security Archive, Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), the American Historical Association (AHA), and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) for stepping up to save the official White House record for historians, students, and future litigators!

The National Security Archive et. al. v. Donald J. Trump et. al. lawsuit, filed December 1, 2020 to prevent a possible bonfire of records in the Rose Garden, achieved a formal litigation hold on White House records that lasted all the way through the transition and Inauguration Day, the preservation of controversial WhatsApp messages, and a formal change in White House records policy.

…The lawsuit argued that Trump White House policy that only saved via screen shots the instant messages of government business – such as Jared Kushner’s negotiations with Saudi prince bin Salman – failed to capture the complete record that the law required. Plaintiffs pointed to repeated media accounts of White House failures to preserve records, including President Trump’s reported ripping up of documents in the Oval Office, former aide Steve Bannon’s use of disappearing instant messages to communicate with campaign embeds at the agencies, private email use by Ivanka Trump and other top officials, and the routine use of encrypted WhatsApp messages by Kushner and others.

Justice Department lawyers defending against the lawsuit have informed plaintiffs that White House records managers have now successfully deployed an archival tool in the WhatsApp software to capture full copies including links and attachments of the WhatsApp threads in Kushner’s account and other WhatsApp users at the White House.

EDGI Releases Dataset of Federal Environmental Website Changes Under Trump

Thanks to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) for releasing the Federal Environmental Web Tracker. This tool is a public dataset of searchable records of approximately 1,500 significant changes to federal agency environmental webpages under the Trump administration, these changes were almost always precursors or responses to policy changes. These changes came from a “list of 25,000 federal Web pages related to climate, energy, and the environment, including pages for 20 federal agencies such as EPA, NOAA, and NASA.” Here’s the Tracker’s explanatory page for more context and background.

EDGI continues to do important work in tracking the federal .gov Web domain. EDGI’s work goes hand in hand with the work of the End of Term Web Archive which has harvested the .gov/.mil Web space every 4 years since 2008 and is now deep into its 2020 harvest. And we’re still accepting nominations, so go to the End of Term Nomination Tool hosted by the University of North Texas (UNT) library. Help us collect a snapshot of the federal Web domain!

Today, the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) publishes searchable records of approximately 1,500 changes to federal agency environmental webpages under the Trump administration. For four years, EDGI’s website monitoring team has identified and catalogued significant changes to federal websites using their open source monitoring software. EDGI’s Federal Environmental Web Tracker makes records of significant changes publicly available.

The information that’s available on federal websites can have important policy implications. As EDGI has often reported over the past four years, changes to the information that’s available on federal websites are almost always precursors or responses to policy changes. Federal websites provide information that the public is likely to access before commenting on a proposed rule to learn about current regulatory efforts, the science underlying a new policy decision, or likely impacts of a proposed rule. The information found (or not found) on a federal website can impact public participation in regulatory processes.

In the weeks after Trump’s election in November 2016, newly-formed EDGI compiled a list of 25,000 federal web pages related to climate, energy, and the environment, including pages for 20 federal agencies such as EPA, NOAA, and NASA. First using proprietary software and then building and using novel open source software, EDGI has compared versions of these web pages weekly since January 2017. This new dataset represents the documented changes that EDGI’s website monitoring team flagged as significant in some way over the past four years.

EDGI’s Federal Environmental Web Tracker gives journalists, academic researchers, and the public data that can be used to provide insight, documentation, and analysis of the information policies and priorities of the Trump administration.

The Federal Environmental Web Tracker will be updated quarterly as EDGI continues to monitor federal environmental websites.

HT to InfoDocket!

Anita Schiller (1926 – 2021)

USCD Librarian Anita Schiller, August, 1972

Our dear friend, library doyenne, WWII parachutist(!), mentor, and great supporter of FGI Anita Schiller passed away on the night of January 23, 2021. Anita had an outsized impact on libraries and many people’s lives. Long-time American Library Association (ALA) members will no doubt know Anita and her long history as a powerhouse within the library world — including the fact that she served on the California Council for the Humanities in the 1980s and received the ALA Equality Award and ALA lifetime honorary membership, ALA’s highest honor. Her work on equality for women in librarianship was ground-breaking. She had an early and lifelong interest in computers and their use and misuse in libraries, and was instrumental and influential in getting data into libraries. You can read her obituary in the San Diego Union Tribune.

She also had an outsized impact on us. We’ll always remember sitting at the dining room table of Shinjoung’s and James’ apartment in San Diego soon after writing our article “Government Information in the Digital Age: The Once and Future Federal Depository Library Program” (2005). We were passionately discussing libraries and government information and ways to get our article out to a wider audience when the idea for FGI came about. Though she would never take any credit for it, she was and will always remain a driving force for what we do at FGI (the “mother of FGI”!). She was a tireless advocate for public information and protecting it against privatization and commodification, privacy, and most of all of libraries as inherently democratic institutions.

We continued our almost salon-style discussions with her over many brunches, dinners (with more than a few fights over restaurant checks in which Shinjoung almost always won until Anita found a workaround), email and phone calls for almost 20 years. Our visits would never be complete without her giving us hand-ripped NYT article clippings of interest and import and we would frequently receive in the mail books from Warwicks she thought we should read.

We will sorely miss Anita’s advice, support, and friendship. She was instrumental in both FGI and our work toward public information and libraries. We hope to honor her by continuing our work and maybe even creating a digital government information library in her name.

Anita always ended our phone calls with “lots of love” and that’s how we will always feel about her.

–Jim Jacobs, James Jacobs, Shinjoung Yeo

Archives