What happens when federal agencies rely upon standards developed by standard-setting bodies and communities of practice and incorporate those standards into federal rules? In many cases agencies refer to the standards but do not include the full text of the standards in Federal Register or the Code of Federal Regulations. As a result, those interested in commenting on a particular regulation may not have access to the relevant standard, particularly if it is copyrighted or only accessible for a fee.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Association of Research Libraries, and OpenTheGovernment.org have sent comments to the Administrative Conference of the US recommending that "all material incorporated by reference -- regardless of the stage in the regulatory process, the subject matter of the regulation, or the identity of the regulated entity -- should be made freely available, with no purported copyright restrictions and downloadable on a government agency's website."
Public.Resource.Org submitted comments to the Office of Management and Budget on making standards that are incorporated by reference into federal regulations widely available to the public without charge. Public.Resource.Org also said that such standards should "be deemed in the public domain rather than subject to copyright restrictions."
- OpenTheGov and ARL Join EFF in Urging Government to Make all Parts of the Law Easily Available to Everyone (10/24/2011).
"copyrighted materials, once incorporated into law, should be available for free." The principles of transparency and accessibility to the law should animate agency decisions in this arena and materials incorporated by reference should be made freely available, online and off, at all times...
- Revised Draft Recommendations of the Administrative Conference of the US on "Incorporation by Reference in Federal Regulations" ACUS.gov (October 2011)
- Comments on "Incorporation by Reference in Federal Regulations" (October 21, 2011) To Committee on Administration and Management Administrative Conference of the United States Committee of Administration and Management from Corynne McSherry & Mark Rumold Electronic Frontier Foundation, Prue Adler, Association of Research Libraries, and Patrice McDermott, OpenTheGovernment.org
We urge ACUS to reject any suggestion that access to the law may be limited where the regulation in question happens to incorporate copyrighted materials. All material incorporated by reference - regardless of the stage in the regulatory process, the subject matter of the regulation, or the identity of the regulated entity - should be made freely available and downloadable on a government agency's website.
- Incorporation by Reference, A Proposed Rule by the Federal Register Office on 02/27/2012
On February 13, 2012, the Office of the Federal Register (OFR or we) received a petition to amend our regulations governing the approval of agency requests to incorporate material by reference into the Code of Federal Regulations. We've set out the petition in this document. We would like comments on the broad issues raised by this petition.
- Re: Request for Information 2012–7602, 77 FR 19357 submitted by Public.Resource.Org to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget Washington (April 11, 2012).
See also: Liberating America's secret, for-pay laws.
The new Digital Government Stragegy has a brief list of related documents. This list seems useful enough to repeat and highlight here:
The Digital Government Strategy complements several initiatives aimed at building a 21st century government that works better for the American people. These include:
- Executive Order 13571 (Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service)
- Executive Order 13576 (Delivering an Efficient, Effective, and Accountable Government)
- President’s Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government
- OMB Memorandum M-10-06 (Open Government Directive)
- National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC)
- 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management (IT Reform)
- Federal Shared Services Strategy
- State of the Federal Web Report (2011)
- National Dialogue on Improving Federal Websites
- National Dialogue on the Federal Mobility Strategy
- Building a 21st Century Digital Government, press release, May 23, 2012,
Presidential Memorandum For The Heads Of Executive Departments And Agencies.
For far too long, the American people have been forced to navigate a labyrinth of information across different Government programs in order to find the services they need. In addition, at a time when Americans increasingly pay bills and buy tickets on mobile devices, Government services often are not optimized for smartphones or tablets, assuming the services are even available online.
...Today, the CIO is releasing that strategy, entitled Digital Government: Building a 21st Century Platform to Better Serve the American People (Strategy), which provides agencies with a 12-month roadmap that focuses on several priority areas.
- Digital Government: Building A 21st Century Platform To Better Serve The American People, [PDF] Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO), Office of Management and Budget. (May 23, 2012).
The Sunlight Foundation sent a letter to the Department of Labor requesting that the DOL re-post materials online that they removed when they abandoned proposed regulations regarding child labor in agriculture. As the letter says, no major administration decision should be accompanied by related materials' disappearance from public view.
- Sunlight and Allies to Department of Labor: No Website Scrubbing, by John Wonderlich, Sunlight Foundation blog (May 23, 2012).
Co-signers to the letter include the American Association of Law Libraries and the American Library Association.
America Would Know Less Under House Census Policy, by Gavin Baker, The Fine Print blog, OMBWatch (05/16/12).
In its frenzy to limit government and cut spending, the House has voted to eliminate an important and valuable national resource. Undercutting the Census Bureau would be a mistake. The less we know about our country, the harder it will be to find sustainable solutions to the challenges that face our nation. Turning off these streams of data would further limit our ability to address national priorities.
Restrictions on WikiLeaks Documents Challenged in Court, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (May 22, 2012).
The publication of leaked classified documents by WikiLeaks continues to confound government officials and to generate some unusual legal tangles. Last month, attorneys for a Guantanamo prisoner asked a federal court to nullify the restrictions that the government has imposed on access to and dissemination of the leaked records, so that the prisoner can prepare a response to the disclosures contained in them.
Also see A librarian reacts to "A librarian reacts to wikileaks", by James R. Jacobs. (Feb 13, 2011).
Susan Crawford comments on deregulation of the telecom industry:
- 'Radicalized' ex-Obama adviser blasts deregulation of telecom. By Andrew Feinberg, The Hill (05/21/12)
She said telephone service had long been considered, along with water and electricity, to be among the utilities that were extended to all based on a "collective responsibility" to ensure that everyone receives the benefits of modern society.
Crawford said that "basic network" of services should now include Internet access, but argued deregulation is undermining that goal by creating a consolidation in the cable and wireless industries that will limit choice and make it harder for people to afford services.
One-third of people in the United States still lack Internet access, Crawford said, which will hurt competitiveness at home and abroad.
Crawford is Visiting Stanton Professor of the First Amendment at Harvard's Kennedy School, a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School, and a columnist for Bloomberg View and Wired. She served as Special Assistant to the President for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy during 2009 and co-led the FCC transition team between the Bush and Obama administrations.
Google introduced a new features to Google Docs, its cloud-based word processor, recently. It allows you to quickly do a google search on a word or phrase that you highlight in a document you are editing and then insert a footnote to a web page you find. Here is what a footnote to an item in FDSys looks like:
1. "Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster And The Future Of Offshore ..." 2011. 22 May. 2012 <http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GPO-OILCOMMISSION/content-detail.html>
And here is a cite to the same item in WorldCat:
2. "Deep water : the Gulf oil disaster and the future of offshore drilling ..." 2011. 22 May. 2012 <http://www.worldcat.org/title/deep-water-the-gulf-oil-disaster-and-the-future-of-offshore-drilling-report-to-the-president/oclc/696156233>
The Chronicle has an article about the new google feature here:
- Google Docs Research Tool: A Review, By Prof. Hacker, The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 21, 2012).
Incidentally, I chose the Deep Water example because it is highlighted in a GPO press release about GPO teaming with Barnes & Noble to sell federal eBooks.
GPO makes eBooks available in partnership with Google’s eBookstore, OverDrive, Ingram, Zinio, and other online vendors.
That's right: you can buy an ebook or download a PDF from FDsys for free. I'm not sure who is getting the worse deal: the vendors or the public...
The Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) has a report on the House bill that would cut NSF funding for political science and eliminate the American Community Survey:
- House Passes CJS Spending Bill: Amendments Eliminate NSF Political Science Program and American Community Survey, Washington Update Volume 31, Issue 9, COSSA (May 14, 2012).
There are at least two ways to look at this story from National Journal's technology newsletter.
- Data, Data Everywhere, By Adam Mazmanian, Tech Daily Dose (May 16, 2012).
It's not clear why access to 600 gazillion terabytes (or thereabouts) of free, machine-readable data covering traffic accidents, copper smelting, phytoplankton cell counts and other fascinating, everyday topics have only inspired, at last count, 85 mobile apps.
One is that government hasn't found the right incentives to attract development of applications that make use of the wealth of government data in datasets that are more easily available than ever. This explanation is probably what drove the administration to host a "data pep rally... designed to stimulate interest in translating raw data into simple, navigable apps that consumers can use on mobile devices" today.
Another is that the whole idea of relying on the private sector to make information freely useable and useful (see, for example, The Federal Government Must Reimagine Its Role As An Information Provider) is not sufficient. This free-market approach to government information suggests limiting the role of governments to that of providing raw data to developers. This approach assumes that the market will turn that raw data into useful information products.
There is, I believe, reason to be concerned about the free-market approach to government information.
One reason is that, by reducing the role of government we will not gain better or more complete access to information; we will diminish and reduce our access to information. We can see that already with the Census Bureau's cancellation of the Statistical Abstract (see The demise of the Statistical Abstract and other critical Census titles.) With this model, the government stops producing useful information packages and the private sector does its best to fill the gap and charges a lot of money to do so. That has a lot of bad side effects, though. For one thing, it puts a cost barrier between the information and users. For another, to use the Statistical Abstract example, it is not even clear that the private sector can do more than imitate the product the government produced. (See all the tables in the StatAb that contain "unpublished" data from government agencies. For example, in section 2, "Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces," I count 12 tables with unpublished data; in section 4, "Education," I count 32 tables with unpublished data. [counts from the 2012 Statistical Abstract].)
But there is another alternative. We could recognize that the government does have an important role in packaging raw data into meaningful packages of statistical tables, reports, views, and end-user-ready information. This makes sense for two reasons: First, it builds on the idea that information gathered and created by the government is public information and should be easily, freely, publicly usable by the public. That means that the government, which knows this information that it gathered and created best, should create the first package or product or view of that information. This is still, mostly, the default way governments behave for lots of government information. They use everything from press releases of current economic statistics, to amazingly useful reports like the Special Studies (P-23) series from the Census Bureau, to complex web sites like that at the The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Second, it makes sense because these government-produced information products will be better than any "pep rally" to attract others (private sector, public sector, and individual users) to dig into the raw data, to analyze the data, and to develop apps.