Month of February, 2009
Our busy friends at the Sunlight Foundation have started a petition drive to demand that Congress post non-emergency bills for 72 hours prior to voting. This would allow both the public and Members of Congress time to read a bill before a vote.
Whether you're a liberal outraged at the USA Patriot Act or a tax-cutting conservative outraged at the stimulus bill, you should be for getting Congress to STOP and READ what they're doing to the nation.
If you agree, drop what you're doing and visit www.readthebill.org and add your voice to the movement that asks nothing more than that important legislation gets read.
With the release of President Obama's budget this week, I wanted to draw your attention to a "Guide of the Week" I did last July:
Jerry Breeze's guide hasn't been updated for FY 2010, but I assume it will be when more FY 2010 budget docs are released. As is, it's really good background for people who are just starting to pay attention to the federal budget.
A new CRS report analyzes President Obama's Executive Order 13489, which rescinds President G.W. Bush's E.O. 13233.
- Presidential Records: Issues for the 111th Congress, by Wendy R. Ginsberg, Congressional Research Service, R40238, February 17, 2009.
On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama issued an executive order (E.O. 13489), rescinding E.O. 13233, changing substantially the presidential record preservation policies promulgated by the George W. Bush Administration. E.O. 13489 grants the incumbent President and the relevant former Presidents 30 days to review records prior to their being released to the public. Under the policies of the Bush Administration, the incumbent President, former Presidents, former Vice Presidents, and their designees were granted broad authority to deny access to presidential documents or to delay their release indefinitely. Moreover, former Presidents had 90 days to review whether requested documents should be released.
Prior to President Obama's issuance of E.O. 13489, legislation was introduced in the 111th Congress (H.R. 35) that would statutorily rescind the executive order (E.O. 13233) issued by former President George W. Bush. E.O. 13233 allowed the incumbent President—as well as former Presidents whose records were affected—to withhold from public disclosure the records of former Presidents and Vice Presidents or to delay their release indefinitely under claims of executive privilege. In addition to statutorily overturning E.O. 13233, H.R. 35 would reduce the time a President would have review his records prior to their public release.
This report will analyze President Barack Obama's E.O. 13489, and discuss its departure from the policies of the previous administration. Additionally, this report will examine H.R. 35 and its possible legislative effects on the presidential records policies of the Obama Administration.
In a couple of recent posts, Lev Gonick, who is the CIO at Case Western Reserve University, has noted that we have "an educational economy that makes information abundant confronting an educational delivery system built for a time in which information was scarce."
- How Technology Will Reshape Academe After the Economic Crisis by Lev Gonick, Chronicle of Higher Education blog, "The Wired Campus" (February 24, 2009).
- A Small Proposal at the Intersection of Education, Technology, and Open Content, by Lev Gonick, Chronicle of Higher Education blog, "The Wired Campus" (February 26, 2009).
His description of the educational economy and the educational delivery system struck me as analogous to the situation we face with government information. We live in an environment where government information is abundant and gains value by being distributed and reusable. In this environment it is incredibly inexpensive to distribute information, yet governments too often treat it as if it were scarce and expensive to deliver.
It is ironic, for example, that GPO refuses to deposit ninety percent or more of government information in FDLP libraries because it is digital (SOD 301, Superintendent Of Documents Policy Statement, "Dissemination/Distribution Policy for the Federal Depository Library Program" Effective Date: June 1, 2006) and then wonders why libraries find it hard to justify being a depository library.
Imagine a system closer to what Gonick describes. Imagine a system that recognizes that digital information is different from paper and ink information: both more valuable (because it is more easily used and re-used) and less expensive to distribute. Imagine an approach that is a more modern, more appropriate response to digital information than what we have now. Go further and imagine what the depository system would look like if it adopted the vision that Carl Malamud proposes.
Carl says all government information should be available in three ways (all for free):
- as bulk data for downloading and repurposing;
- through an API for querying, retrieving, embedding in other web sites;
- as better official web sites aimed at end users.
Lev Gonick expands on what truly open information could mean to communities. He contrasts "the largely proprietary learning economy that exists now" with the new environment of "more and more open educational resources." He sees these open resources as creating new opportunities that were not available when we could only rely on proprietary, closed, scarce information resources.
Goncik's specific ideas actually sound a lot like the kind of collaborative, civic-centered services that John Shuler has long advocated and is describing here. Specifically Goncik describes a "a university-led 'connected cities' project" in which "we could invite different communities within our cities (children, schools, professionals, unions, educators, artists, elected officials, and so forth) to communicate with others in this new connected Web." He continues:
They might share oral histories and multimedia presentations about their communities with one another. Or they might participate in formal educational and research exchanges. Scientists could discuss research on sustainability, for instance, in ways that connect to high-school students seeking to learn about ecology and the economics of recycling. We can and we should leverage our universities’ ability to create powerful networks of technology and learners to create binding partnerships that matter.
The oceans that once separated us are now made smaller by the technology that we have helped invent and deploy. Deepening the linkages within and between our communities and across our cities is a 21st challenge worthy of great universities.
But this is not just about technology enabling sharing. It is also about having something to share. In order to do this, of course, we will need to guarantee free access to robust, preservable, re-usable collections of information. We could do that by hoping that GPO will always get the funding to do it for us and that it will do it right and meet all the needs of all communities equally well forever. We could hope that the government (GPO, OMB, Congress, etc.) will never privatize information or withdraw information, or alter information. Or, we could take on the task ourselves as depository libraries in the FDLP by demanding digital deposit. Then we could begin building digital collections for different communities-of-interest, world-wide. Libraries could then not only do interesting things with the information that they manage for their communities, but they could also facilitate others re-using the information.
NextGov reports that the General Services Administration will be outsourcing the hardware and "the programs that run the federal government's official Web portal (USA.gov) from government servers to those operated by a private company."
- GSA puts its USA.gov Web site in the cloud, By Gautham Nagesh, NextGov, 02/25/09.
USA.gov uses Microsoft "Live search" for indexing and searching and the article does not mention any changes in that. Apparently, the shift is mostly about hardware.
I just talked with a researcher who was interested in getting his hands on a digital copy of the 1957 Census of Governments. My momentary joy at finding a copy at the University of Michigan (my go-to library to find digital govt documents!) quickly turned to disappointment on seeing the message:
Page images and full text of this item are not available due to copyright restrictions.
There ought to be a way for people/librarians to check the document for copyrighted bits and then quickly flip a switch to release it into the public domain and make it accessible to everyone. Is that too much to ask? Over time, we could lessen the impact that Google's scorched earth copyright policy has on documents that should rightfully be in the public domain. And another thing, why didn't they scan statistical resources to .csv files?!
That is all.
Next week, I will be representing government information librarians at a career fair for graduate students in library science here in northeast Ohio. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the message I want to bring to my booth. Many of the reasons I decided to become a librarian are related directly to government information. While I can't expect that everyone is as instinctively thrilled about USDA research products, Congressional hearings, and old War Department railroad surveys as I am, it seems likely that most government information issues have some inherent appeal to librarians, even those who may not yet have been bitten by the government information bug.
My incomplete list of librarians and related specialists who have some investment in government information includes: librarians at institutions that perform policy, political science, or historical research; public services librarians who help users find information about government services, activities, and priorities; librarians at institutions specializing in the health sciences (or any other discipline for which the government funds research); archivists and digital collections librarians; records managers; book conservators; publishers who reprint works in the public domain; programmers and database administrators who might want to work for the government; and school media specialists looking for resources to support civics education.
Beyond this, I would include librarians who are bloggers, librarians who are politics junkies, and every librarian who is, on principle, an advocate of openness and transparency, or who would benefit as a voter or citizen or member of a community from more open information from the government - and that, as we know, is everyone.
So I will highlight resources that might hook different members of this eclectic community of future librarians. Of course, as an FDLP librarian, I want to make information available about the program and what it's like to work with documents, as well as the breadth and depth of information available from all flavors of government. But I will also highlight government information accessibility and preservation initiatives, public interest issues (such as access to taxpayer-supported research and the link between public libraries and e-government services), and projects and issues that tie into emerging technologies and other hot topics in librarianship. The more librarians are invested in government information issues, the more they will join our conversations with government entities - and the more they will support our work at our libraries and institutions.
If you have tips and tricks for hooking new librarians, or a great success story, please share in the comments!
Now that Dan, Jim, James and I are done with our latest skirmish – let’s get back to the future of government information. With people actually expressing interest -- with such openness – in becoming America’s Public Printer (obviously FGI’s great hope); and with a current Public Printer still actively engaged in the job -- I figure this is the best of all possible worlds -- suddenly the idea of becoming Public Printer of the United States is hip and desirable.
Setting aside any of my own thoughts about what qualifies someone for the office that may differ from FGI’s leadership -- here are a few points any sitting and potential Public Printer ought to keep in mind. It’s what I have said and would say to a Public Printer (I have spoken to a few of them over my 25 years as a federal depository librarian) – think of it as a four point elevator speech.
1. Technology is a wonderful thing. GPO is making great strides in several critical areas. One would hope these efforts will continue to embrace openness, standardization, preservation, authority and sustainability.
2. Libraries and librarians are wonderful things. If we tear our eyes from technology’s dazzle, I think there is a greater power to sustain a true engagement of civic culture through the retention, recruitment and collaboration with the over 1,200 existing depository libraries. Right now Library directors, governing boards, and librarians themselves want some sense from GPO about how it is going to act on this century and half cultural investment in their local institutions. We know, from long experience with earlier Public Printers, command and control (it comes from Washington and it shall be done) no longer works in this distributive age of power and access. We also know librarians and their institutions can be surprisingly nimble in their adaption of technological solutions to situations both unique to their community as well as beneficial to the rest of the system. Public agencies and libraries can deliver the data, indeed, and some power users can take that raw data and turn it into knowledge. But the will investment brought to the table is the ability of librarians and libraries to add there own social value to the raw public knowledge -- through organization, preservation, community outreach, and civic advocacy to involve the community in critical civic decision points. If a Public Printer's portfolio does not clearly take advantage of this long-standing local civic value to enliven a national system, then the depository library community needs to put it back at the top of his agenda.
3. The engaged civic aspects of the government’s intellectual property is a wonderful thing. Sustained by the intersection of GPO’s historic purpose to print and publish and the commitment of the library community. It is a collective bargain to keep the democratic discussion open, free, and at least interesting. If federal government is in the public domain, depository libraries are the information commons that thrive not because of the technology du jour, but because of the century long traditions of government information librarians, their home institutions, and the federal government. Any Public Printer worthy of the title would embrace this concept without reservation.
4. The civic operating system is a wonderful thing. Democracy’s “operating system” is not civic technology, it is not GPO, nor is it even the information infrastructure that supports the federal depository libraries. The civic operating system thrives on technology – but it is not of technology. This taps into my earlier blog entries about the comparability between power grids and information distribution. The operating system is really a combination of civic engagement and rhetoric unleashed by the Constitution. It is the electoral and civic conversation sustained between a community and the officials they elect to serve their individual and collective goals. This conversation is expressed through open meetings, robust exchange of information, accessible proceedings/decisions of public organizations that inform the public’s knowledge of services, security and justice. This aspect is further sustained by the constitutional values of a free press, freedom of assembly/petition, and the freedom of speech. What we are really talking about here is civic serendipity – the ability of people to engage their government on their terms and time. As the federal government develops web sites like recovery.gov to explain itself and its complicated policies, librarians must push back against displacement and they need to demonstrate how they can continue to keep people connected to their government.
As we debate, discuss, and move the depository program deeper into America’s 21st century digital age -- I hope once and future Public Printers will continue to embrace the indigenous civic culture already thriving throughout the depository library program. At the same time, I hope the depository library community can move beyond its own institutional divisions (academic, public, law, special, government) and reach some kind of national consensus on the program’s future and work with the current GPO administration to get the job done, finish the strategic plan, and start making the necessary changes any future depository librarians and public printers would welcome.
See you on Day 36.
James Boyle, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law at Duke Law School and co-founder of Science Commons, has a new piece about the so-called "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act" (H.R.801) that lays out the arguments against this bill in chilling detail. He says that the bill "is so badly drafted that it would also wreak havoc on federal information policy more generally."
- Misunderestimating open science, By James Boyle, Financial Times, February 24 2009.
As a copyright professor, I have to say the bill is a nightmare. For reasons I won’t bore you with, its limitations on Federal agencies are completely unworkable. And as a scholar who writes about innovation, I have to say that it flies in the face of decades of research which shows the extraordinary multiplier effect of free access to information on the speed of scientific development. But speaking as a human being, I just have to wonder what could be going through a politician’s head at a moment like this.
...This bill would forbid us from building the World Wide Web for science, even for the research that taxpayers have funded.
Professor Boyle's most recent book is The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (Yale University Press.) which you can download for free from http://thepublicdomain.org .
An article in National Journal's Tech Daily Dose says that Congress receives 1 million e-mails per day and that the volume is constantly increasing.
- E-Mail Surge Forces Hill IT To Keep Up, by Winter Casey, Tech Daily Dose, February 24, 2009.
The volume of e-mail is rather amazing and significant. Clearly, a lot of people are interested in government and want to have their voices heard. But is email the best we can do? Is anyone actually reading those messages? Aren't there better technological solutions for communication between constituents and Congress and among constituents? The Open House Project discussion list has kicked this issue around several times, but these are questions without clear answers.
Thinking about those kinds of big issues, I am very encouraged that Carl Malamud is interested in being public printer because his web site YesWeScan has some really innovative and forward-looking ideas. It is really wonderful to see someone with a vision of government information in the 21st century that is more than using new technologies to do what we have always done. Carl is interested in using new technologies to do things we have never been able to do before!