According to a recent report by Lexmark that details the printing habits of federal employees, the US Government spends 1.3 billion dollars on employee printing, of which $440 million is wasted on unnecessary printing.
Some of the interesting nuggets from the study include:
- On average, each federal employee prints 30 pages each work day, totaling 7,200 pages per employee per year
- Federal employees estimate that they immediately discard 35% of those pages the same day they are printed
- 89% of federal employees report that their agencies do not have formal printing policies in place
Death and Taxes - A Graphical Visualization of the Federal Budget
Death and Taxes is a large representational graph and poster of the federal budget. It contains over 500 programs and departments and almost every program that receives over 200 million dollars annually. The data is straight from the president's 2009 budget request and will be debated, amended, and approved by Congress to begin the fiscal year. All of the item circles are proportional in size to their spending totals and the percentage change from 2008 is included to spot trends and disproportion.
[UPDATE 7/12/10: I updated the link to the paper from Justin's site to the umd site where the paper was officially published. jrj]
I thought I would give the readers of FGI the first scoop on some early research that is coming out of the University of Maryland on how members of Congress are using Twitter.
Abstract: Twitter is a microblogging service boasting over 7 million members and growing at a tremendous rate. With the buzz surrounding the service have come claims of its ability to transform the way people interact and share information, and calls for public figures to start using the site. In this study, we examine the way Twitter is being used by legislators, particularly by members of the United States Congress. We read and coded over 4,500 posts from all members of Congress using the site. Our analysis shows that Congresspeople are primarily using Twitter to post information, particularly links to news articles about them and their blog posts, and to report on their simple activities. These tend not to provide new insights into government or the legislative process or to improve transparency; rather, they are vehicles for self-promotion. However, Twitter is also facilitating direct communication between Congresspeople and citizens, though this is a less popular activity. In this paper, we report on our results, analysis, and provide suggestions for how Twitter can be used by Congresspeople in ways that benefit the citizens, not just the PR machines of the legislators themselves.
From the results of this study we found that Twitter is being used effectively in some spaces and not as effectively in others. In particular, Twitter has created opportunities for increased communication between citizens and Congresspeople, but the majority of posts contained information or location and activities which were being used for outreach and self promotion rather than to provide information that is helpful to citizens.
* Note this paper has been submitted for an upcoming conference but has NOT been accepted, peer-reviewed, or published. Please DO NOT CITE this article but if you are interested feel free to contact me.
This month, the Federal Government finally released their much anticipated data.gov website. The purpose of data.gov is to increase public access to machine readable data sets that are generated by the Federal Government.
Now that site has gone live, it is time for all of us to start digging into the data. Provided below is a collection of references and resources to serve as a short visualization primer for those interested in exploring the data sets that have been made available.
- Chart Suggestions - A Thought Start - A basic flow chart like introduction on how to represent data visually.
- Visualizing Information for Advocacy: An Introduction to Information Design - a very small booklet that teaches the principles and techniques of information design
- Periodic Table of Visualization Methods - A collection of visualization methods
- Milestones in the History of Thematic Cartography, Statistical Graphics, and Data Visualization - A history of visualization
- Online Library of Information Visualization Environments - library of visualization environments
- Tufte Design Principles
Websites and Blogs:
- Flowing Data
- Information Aesthetics
- Visual Complexity
- Data Visualization
- Information Design
- Many Eyes - the YouTube of visualizations
- Juice Analytics - Chart Chooser
- DabbleDB - power data manipulation tool
- R - open source free statistical computing software environment
- Tableau - commercial visualization software
- Wordle - creates word clouds
- Tufte, E., (1990). Envisioning Information. Cheshire: Graphics Press.
- Tufte, E., (2006). Beautiful Evidence. Cheshire: Graphics Press.
- Tufte, E., (1997). Visual Explanations. Cheshire: Graphics Press.
- Tufte, E., (2001). The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Cheshire: Graphics Press.
- Visocky, J., & O'grady, K. (2008). The Information Design Handbook. City: How.
- Jacobson, R., (1999). Information Design. Cambridge: MIT Press.
- Few, S., (2004). Show Me the Numbers. City: Analytics Press.
- Ware, C., (2000). Information Visualization. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufman.
- Card, S., Shneiderman, B., & Mackinlay, J. (1999). Readings in Information Visualization. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
With North Korea once again pushing its way to the front of the headlines, this is a good time to show off a librarian produced resource guide from the ALA GODORT Handout Exchange Wiki on this pariah nation:
North Korea Country Guide (University of Colorado at Boulder Government Publications Library, 2008)
Like the other excellent country guides produced by the UCB govpubs library, this guide is broken into the following sections:
- Government Information
- Country Profiles
- Articles & Databases
- Diplomatic Relations
- Peacekeeping & Military Information
- Resources in the Catalog
- Related Topics
The Government Information section indicates that the main official page for North Korea is a dot com and appears to be linked to an organization called the Korea Friendship Association. In addition there are two unlabeled portraits on the North Korea home page. I suppose they are current leader Kim Jon Il and his father Kim Il Sung. But I guess the North Korea web authors feel that only people who know that for sure will be visiting the North Korea web site.
As mentioned in other highlights of UCB country guides, the Country Profiles section features profiles of North Korea from many international organizations and a number of individual countries. If you question the impartiality of US assessments of North Korea, this section may give you a more well rounded view.
One of the resources featured under "articles and databases" is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Declassified Documents database at http://www.foia.ucia.gov/. Typing in North Korea yields 1,154 results. Some of them serious and some of them light-hearted like "Agency hosts movie premier and sneak preview" which talked about a showing of the movie In the Company of Spies at CIA headquarters. This particular document also shows the ridiculous secrecy practice by the CIA as this movie press release has a number of redactions, including this bizarre one in the following paragraph:
No visit to the agency would be complete without a trip to the [REDACTED] reports that between 9:30 and 10:55pm, guests spent 2/3 of an average day's sales, carting away cart-loads of t-shirts, caps, and infants/children's outfits.
The secret's out. The CIA has a gift shop. The redaction would look somewhat less silly and pointless if they had just redacted the gift shop manager's name.
But I digress. The good librarians at the University of Colorado at Boulder have provided a wealth of resources for anyone who wants to take a peak behind the screaming headlines of this deeply insular and often confusion producing country.
Are you a librarian with a handout or guide to an issue in the news? Then link it to the ALA GODORT Handout Exchange Wiki.
Here is an interesting organization that you might not be aware of, the Digital Government Society of North America.
The Digital Government Society of America (DGSNA) is a global multi-disciplinary organization of scholars, researchers, educators, students, government professionals, and practitioners who are interested in the development and impact of digital government or e-government. DGSNA focuses on creating a support network of individuals interested in the linkages among the democratic process, government management, innovation, information, and technology.
Benefits of membership include:
- Opportunity to exchange knowledge and information with other members in North America and throughout the world
- (In development) access to a membership database to find others who share your interests or have special expertise
- Discounted registration fees for our annual conference
- Subscription to a monthly e-newsletter, dgOnline
- Access to a library of over 2,000 articles and papers
- Discounted access to scholarly and professional journals
To join you are required to pay a membership fee, however, they do provide some excellent resources for free, including a nice collection of references, as well as a very useful library of citations (2000+ peer reviewed articles).
* Although this is not intended to be a plug, in matters of full disclosure, I am a current member of DGSNA.
DataFerrett (Federated Electronic Research, Review, Extraction, and Tabulation Tool) is a free data mining and extraction tool developed by the U.S. Census Bureau that allows users to search, browse, combine, tabulate, recode, and analyze statistical data from a network of online data libraries. The DataFerret software can be downloaded from the website or ran in the browser via a java applet.
Some material to read before getting started:
Available data sets included:
- American Community Survey (ACS)
- American Housing Survey (AHS)
- Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
- Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES)
- County Business Patterns (CBP)
- Current Population Survey (CPS)
- Decennial Census of Population and Housing
- Harvard-MIT Data Center Collection
- Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA)
- Local Employment Dynamics (LED)
- National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS)
- National Center for Health Statistics Mortality (MORT)
- National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HANES)
- National Health Interview Survey (NHIS)
- National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS)
- National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife (FHWAR)
- Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)
- Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)
- Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD)
DataFerret is a wonderful tool for exploring and analyzing data. Enjoy!
(found via Open Access News)
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Library has recently put together a very unique collection of government information. Free and available to all, UNL's Government Comics Collection is a digital library containing 174 scanned comics books from various government entities. In the government realm, comics books have had a long and rich history as a delivery medium for government information. UNL has managed to successfully amass a pretty impressive collection.
(found via MetaFilter)
A recent event shows why free access to the federal courts' Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is important.
That event is Chrysler's bankruptcy. This is an event of high enough interest that PACER itself chose to highlight their holdings of the Chrysler bankruptcy docket.
Perhaps highlight is too strong a word. To see anything you need a PACER account and be prepared to pay fees under these conditions (bolding mine):
Access to web based PACER systems will generate an $.08 per page charge. The per page charge applies to the number of pages that results from any search, including a search that yields no matches (one page for no matches.) The charge applies whether or not pages are printed, viewed, or downloaded.
If PACER access were free, any interested citizen could monitor the bankruptcy case for themselves instead of getting a filtered view from media. They could see how the company, the shareholders and the union were being treated in the process.
PACER will continue to generate documents of national interest as GM follows Chrysler into bankruptcy court. Congress ought to mandate free access to all of PACER. The cost to do is an infinitesimal portion of the money paid for auto industry bailouts.
From 1981 until 1998, Anne Heanue and the fine folks at the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA) published an amazing series called Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government, a chronology of efforts to restrict and privatize government information. In 1986, the publication was listed in Project Censored's annual review, Top 25 censored stories for 1986.
I recently had a nice email exchange with Emily Sheketoff, Associate Executive Director of ALA and manager of the Washington Office in which I suggested that Less Access to Less Information ought to be online for the world to see, read, share etc. Emily graciously gave me permission to digitize the series. So, with the help of Rick and Megan Prelinger, Robert Miller and others at the Internet Archive, I give you Less Access to Less information by and about the U.S. government in several formats including text, flip book, PDF, and DjVu.
I'm still on the hunt for the last 2 years of the series, but haven't come across them yet. If anyone's got them hanging around their bookshelves and would lend them to me, drop me an email (freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com) and I'll tell you where to send them.
That is all.
The General Services Administration (GSA) has been negotiating terms of service agreements with social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube so that federal agencies can use of these social media tools without violating federal regulations. See news coverage here:
- GSA signs deals for agencies to use social networking sites, by Jill R. Aitoro, NextGov, 03/25/2009.
- GSA Signs Facebook Agreement, by Gautham Nagesh, TechInsider, 04/29/09.
Joshua Tauberer (who brought us govtrack.us and other useful sites) has done a preliminary analysis of these agreements:
- GSA social media TOS review, Joshua Tauberer’s Blog, May 29th, 2009.
While I am encouraged by the GSA’s forward thinking to make use of the latest technologies developed in the private sector, I believe that working with the private sector poses a number of risks to government data, to the public’s privacy and free speech rights, and to good governance. These risks can be minimized and some useful provisions have been included in the negotiated TOS’s along these lines, but far more careful thinking is necessary.
While several of the TOS addressed accessibility and privacy concerns, none of the TOS addressed security, nondiscrimination, archival access to media, the TOS the public are required to enter into to access government content through these services, and web media data formats.
Air Force Calls In Twitter Air Strike, by Mitch Wagner, Information Week, May 22, 2009.
I thought the use of Twitter was a gimmick, but now it's starting to look like a real communications channel. It's tough to get a nuanced idea across in a 140-character message, but the service's ubiquity and ease of use makes up for its other shortcomings. It's easy to use Twitter to send a message, and easy for people to find that message.
Social media allows government to take its message directly to the people, bypassing journalists.
Last week, we posted a note about the government Youtube channel, youtube.com/usgovernment. Today, the American Historical Association describes the playlist section of the site. (Ask not what YouTube can do for you..., By Elisabeth Grant, AHA Today, May 26, 2009).
These channels bring together videos on a particular topic from different agencies. For example, the Health and Nutrition channel has videos from the CDC, the Senate, the State Department, and the FDA.
This is a very nice and appropriate service and we like that the government is using popular sites like Youtube to reach Americans with its information.
But we also know that a short-term service is not the same as long-term preservation. Preservation of multimedia is still a big issue. When videos are hosted only on .com sites, it is not always clear that the material can be easily identified and downloaded. (The YouTube Terms of Service says, in part, "You shall not copy or download any User Submission unless you see a “download” or similar link displayed by YouTube on the YouTube Website for that User Submission.")
The proprietary formats of streaming videos can make it more complex to preserve them in an open format that will guarantee their long-term usability.
Some videos may have been created under contracts that allow the content to be copyrighted or may contain "poison pill" copyright content that makes it difficult or impossible to legally preserve or reuse the whole video.
The government has yet to develop a comprehensive policy for depositing digital government information into libraries and archives. Many Federal Depository libraries have been reluctant to accept digital content and the Government Printing Office has been actively arrogating to itself the job of being the sole repository of government information. This is dangerous because every digital depository is vulnerable to technological, social, budgetary, and economic problems and the best solution is to have multiple repositories.
A digital Federal Depository Library program could help solve many of these issues.
Susan Crawford, special assistant to the President Obama for science, technology and innovation policy and a member of the National Economic Council, said she is "intrigued" by the Australian model.
- Obama Adviser Eyes Government-Built Broadband System, Congressdaily's Techcentral Issue Of The Week, May 26, 2009.
[Australian] Officials have released an historic government plan to spend tens of billions of dollars constructing a nationwide, state-of-the-art broadband network featuring speeds 100 times faster than today's technology.
The new infrastructure would reach every citizen, delivering affordable connections at taxpayer-subsidized rates...
...Despite Crawford's interest, skeptics abound.
A fair amount of news coverage has revolved around the regulatory activity of the Obama Administration -- whether it is to keep Bush era regulations or to propose new regulatory schemes. Today's Guide of the Week from the ALA GODORT Handout Exchange Wiki will help you keep the process straight and help you find regulations past and present:
Administrative Law: The Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations (Hui Hua Chua, Michigan State University, 2008)
Hui Hua's excellent guide starts out at the beginning, by explaining what a regulation is. Then she links people to four separate places that explain the complex federal regulatory process. Chances are at least one will make sense to you. Then she moves on to provide tips on searching for regulations online (1996-present) and in print.
I've worked with documents for well over a decade, but this guide taught me something new (or helped me to remember). You can get from the US Code to the Code of Federal Regulations(CFR) by using the index volume of the CFR, labeled "CFR Index and Finding Aids." The "Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules" to link a US Code Section to a section of the CFR. She also tells us what I did know, that sections of the CFR will state their statutory authority, linking us back to the US Code.
Hui Hua concludes her guide with ways to keep with proposed regulations. If your work or study touches on federal regulation in any way, you'll want to take a close look at this guide. And if you're a librarian with a guide or handout of your own, please link it to the Handout Exchange.
It is not clear to me who runs this site, but it looks interesting:
This site is an attempt to document, in one place and in a uniform manner, the web services and XML data sources that are provided by the US government.
It also has a self-help forum: groups.google.com/group/usgovxml.
As an example, see: Legislative Documents in XML at the United States House of Representatives.
Steve Grove at CitizenTube, has a posting about the federal government's use of YouTube:
- The U.S. Government Comes to YouTube (May 21, 2009)
Now, there are dozens of official federal YouTube channels where you can access footage from NASA, the State Department, the FBI, the CDC, and more.
...The U.S. Government channel is located at http://youtube.com/usgovernment, a nifty hub that links off to dozens of federal government channels on YouTube, from the Social Security Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency, with others to be added in the coming months.
The National Security Archive at George Washington University has an overview article with good links on recent hearings focusing on the National Archives.
- Archive Testifies to House Oversight Committee About Challenges Facing National Archives, "Recommends New Archivist Have a Vision for Archives 2.0" (May 21, 2009)
Witnesses at the hearing included National Security Archive General Counsel Meredith Fuchs, Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, and Lee White, executive director of the National Coalition for History.
Update: More information on the hearings here: NARA's preservation practices for e-records called 'fatally flawed', By Jill R. Aitoro (05/21/2009).
Data.gov is now live and ready for you to explore!
The purpose of Data.gov is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.
Data.gov has a searchable data catalog that gives access to data through the "raw" data catalog and by using tools. "The Raw Data Catalog provides an instant download of machine readable, platform-independent datasets while the Tools Catalog provides hyperlinks to tools that allow you to mine datasets."
Please note that by accessing datasets or tools offered on Data.gov, you agree to the Data Policy, which you should read before accessing any dataset or tool.
Here is an excerpt from the policy that we need to read closely:
Data accessed through Data.gov do not, and should not, include controls over its end use. However, as the data owner or authoritative source for the data, the submitting Department or Agency must retain version control of datasets accessed. Once the data have been downloaded from the agency's site, the government cannot vouch for their quality and timeliness. Furthermore, the US Government cannot vouch for any analyses conducted with data retrieved from Data.gov.
The agency's preferred citation for each dataset is included in its metadata. Users should also cite the date that data were accessed or retrieved from Data.gov. Finally, users must clearly state that "Data.gov and the Federal Government cannot vouch for the data or analyses derived from these data after the data have been retrieved from Data.gov."
What do you think? Is the policy fair? Any suggestions for improvement we could make to Data.gov?
Also, check out Sunlight Lab's "Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge"!
Just as the federal government begins to provide data in Web developer-friendly formats, we're organizing Apps for America 2: The Data.gov Challenge to demonstrate that when government makes data available it makes itself more accountable and creates more trust and opportunity in its actions. The contest submissions will also show the creativity of developers in designing compelling applications that provide easy access and understanding for the public while also showing how open data can save the government tens of millions of dollars by engaging the development community in application development at far cheaper rates that traditional government contractors.
Now, let's go play around with this new site and make suggestions, shall we?
see this link for chat logs and more details on GITCO
TOPIC: GITCO committee structure and our impact within GODORT and beyond
Accessing government information electronically is now common in both US and international contexts. How can GITCO best position itself withing GODORT/ALA and beyond to provide leadership on issues associated with electronic government information?
This session is meant to be a brainstorm -- to collect ideas and examples, rather than to follow each contribution to its conclusion. The room will be open after the session if you would like to add things after the planned session. There is also a brief participant survey which includes a place for feedback.
Agenda for Today's Forum:
* reflections on past projects
* reflections on committee structure within GODORT
*take the survey
I'm not talking about Google's advanced search. I'm talking about it's new search options like "timeline" and "wonder wheel." If not, check out the video:
- Google Search Options May 11, 2009.
"Google's Search options let you slice and dice your search results, explore your search and generate different views of your results page to more easily and quickly find what you need."
The Minority Business Development Agency (Dept. of Commerce) started a blog, Minority Biz Blog, in March. "The purpose of this blog is to facilitate an ongoing dialogue on minority entrepreneurship and business in the United States."
Althought the blog is linked to from http://www.mbda.gov/blog/ , the actual blog is hosted at wordpress.com, not on a .gov server.
Yesterday Library Journal published its annual list of notable government documents, "Looking Back, Moving On: 2008 Best Notable Government Documents" written by Jim Church and his team of selectors and judges on the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) Notable Documents Panel. Every year since 1983, the panel has pulled together and highlighted state/local, federal and international government documents in order to "promote awareness and acquisition of government publications by libraries and use by library patrons."
This year's list highlighted such publications as Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports as well as free statistical databases from the United Nations (UNdata), the European Union (Eurostat) and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAOStat). Plus there was a special shout out to Carl Malamud and his Yes We Scan! campaign for Public Printer of the Government Printing Office. Check out this year's list of notable documents. You'll be amazed at the depth and breadth of publications by the various levels of governments. And by all means, if you have a favorite government document that you'd like to highlight, the Panel is always interested in nominations!
(Full disclosure: I'm the chair this year of GODORT's Publications Committee, which oversees the work of the Notable Documents Panel.)
Wolfram alpha went online on Friday. After much hype in the press over the last couple of weeks (see, for example, The Google Killer, by Nicholas Ciarelli), it is certainly nice to finally see the product. It is definitely worth watching.
Biggest problem at this stage is the incomplete information about sources. When you get a result and click on the "sources" link, you get a list of sources that may or may not have been used to produce the results.
Second biggest problem: everyone is looking at it and it is getting overloaded!
What Google knows about you. "Google may know more about you than your mother does. Got a problem with that?" By Robert L. Mitchell, Computerworld, May 11, 2009.
Online tools really aren't free. We pay for them with micropayments of personal information