Month of January, 2011
[Update 1: some agencies, like the Department of Defense and State Department, already make their FOIA logs available. The Government Attic has a good list of agencies with logs as well. See this list of agency FOIA reading rooms and Stanford Library's FOIA collection. JRJ]
I missed this when it was first published on Saturday (slow news day right?!). Last week Congressman Darrell Issa, the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to 180 federal agencies, from the Department of Defense to the Social Security Administration, asking for electronic files containing the names of people who requested the documents, the date of their requests and a description of information they sought. For those still pending after more than 45 days, he also asked for any communication between the requestor and the federal agency.
Mr. Issa says he wants to make sure agencies respond in a timely fashion to Freedom of Information Act requests and do not delay them out of political considerations. But, as the NYT notes, the "federal government receives about 600,000 FOIA requests ... a vast majority from corporate executives seeking information on competitors that might do business with the government."
Republican Congressman Proposes Tracking Freedom of Information Act Requests. Eric Liption. NY Times.
Representative Darrell Issa calls it a way to promote transparency: a request for the names of hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens, business executives, journalists and others who have requested copies of federal government documents in recent years.
Mr. Issa, a California Republican and the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, says he wants to make sure agencies respond in a timely fashion to Freedom of Information Act requests and do not delay them out of political considerations.
But his extraordinary request worries some civil libertarians. It “just seems sort of creepy that one person in the government could track who is looking into what and what kinds of questions they are asking,” said David Cuillier, a University of Arizona journalism professor and chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee at the Society of Professional Journalists. “It is an easy way to target people who he might think are up to no good.”
Mr. Issa sent a letter on Tuesday asking 180 federal agencies, from the Department of Defense to the Social Security Administration, for electronic files containing the names of people who requested the documents, the date of their requests and a description of information they sought. For those still pending after more than 45 days, he also asked for any communication between the requestor and the federal agency. The request covers the final three years of Bush administration and the first two years of President Obama’s.
“Our interest is not in the private citizens who make the requests,” said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Mr. Issa. “We are looking at government responses to these Freedom of Information requests and the only way to measure that is to tally all that information.”
[Thanks for the tip Crooks and Liars!]
The final report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was released on Thursday. Or as Frank Portnoy, in a NYT opinion piece today described it, three reports: "a 410-page volume signed by the commission’s six Democrats, a leaner 10-pronged dissent from three of the four Republicans, and a nearly 100-page dissent-from-the-dissent filed by Peter J. Wallison, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute."
GPO has quickly created a purl for the report (http://purl.fdlp.gov/GPO/gpo3449) which is linked to from the commission's Web site (and already available from Marcive and embedded in my library's catalog record). But what's more interesting is that the main link to the commission report -- http://c0182732.cdn1.cloudfiles.rackspacecloud.com/fcic_final_report_full.pdf -- is actually hosted on RackSpace, a cloud Web services company. It's interesting not only because the commission decided to publish their report with a private company -- and one not even listed at the GSA's apps.gov portal for .gov contracting of cloud services -- but that they couldn't even spoof the url so it *looked* like it was coming from a .gov server.
This brings into question whether the commission's report is in the public domain as it is actually hosted on a non-.gov server. I've collected it with the Stanford library's EEMs tool (here's a project briefing from fall 2010 CNI meeting brief about Everyday Electronic Materials (EEMs)). But part of the EEMs process is a workflow for managing copyright issues. I'm assuming it IS in the public domain as the work of an official US govt organ, but how would Stanford University's general counsel (or IP lawyers in general) read this? This will no doubt be a growing and ongoing concern.
"A group that measures the public's satisfaction with the federal government found that while public satisfaction with the services provided by federal agencies has 'plunged,' Americans remain satisfied with government websites."
- Survey Finds Americans Satisfied With Federal Websites, By Juliana Gruenwald, National Journal: Tech Daily Dose (January 25, 2011)
Steven Aftergood points to an article by an historian who says that the Pentagon Papers are still classified as Top Secret:
You might be dismayed to learn that the Pentagon Papers are still classified as TOP SECRET!
This is despite the fact that The Pentagon Papers have long been in the public domain. Indeed, US government historians use them in official accounts of the Vietnam War and they are referenced and republished in official US government records, such as Foreign Relations of the United States. Senator Mike Gravel even entered them into the Congressional Record!
Aftergood notes that "This means that every public and private library in the country that has a copy of the Papers is technically in possession of currently classified material."
- Twelve Million Pages Opened by Declass Center in 2010, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (January 26th, 2011).
- Can Government Employees Read the Pentagon Papers?, by John Prados, Unredacted (December 14, 2010).
Prados goes on to say:
The classification of the Pentagon Papers takes on an even stranger significance when one considers the federal government's recent pronouncement that "unauthorized disclosures of classified documents (whether in print, on a blog, or on websites) do not alter the documents' classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents."
This is the reason –in the case of Wikileaks– why the Government has been demanding that US government employees refrain from looking at any of these documents, even if doing so hampers their ability to fulfill their mandates. If this standard holds true, government employees should not be allowed to read (or reference, or cite) the Pentagon papers either.
I'm sure all you policy wonks are itching to hear President Obama's second State of the Union address (SOTU) tonight (9PM EST / 6PM PST). There has been plenty of news coverage prognosticating about what Obama will talk about. WI Representative Paul Ryan is scheduled to give the Republican response to Obama's SOTU.
If you're REALLY wonky, you'll definitely want to tune in to Sunlight Live where you'll get the CSPAN live video, live real time blogging with Sunlight Foundation, Huffington Post, Center for Public Integrity, National Journal and CQ Roll Call, government transparency data and twitter coverage all wrapped into one page!
Sunlight's coverage will begin 30 minutes before SOTU starts. Thanks Sunlight!
Attached for your reading "pleasure" are our collaborative comments on the Ithaka S+R draft findings report released on 1/14/11. Once again, we've done a collective stream of consciousness, inserting comments, suggestions, citations etc within the draft text of the Findings report. Please forward to those individuals, groups and listservs for which the FDLP modeling project has import. And by all means, please contact the Ithaka S+R project team at FDLPfirstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible with your own comments, ideas, suggestions etc. We'd appreciate if any comments sent to Ithaka S+R be posted here in the comments section so that the FDLP community can be informed.
What works and what does not
In this post we'll examine what we can learn from the Ithaka S+R Environmental Scan about existing government information models that are working and those that are not working.
The trends that emerge in the report are, for the most part, not surprising to anyone who has been following the trends in information access and libraries over the last two decades. But two developments stand out because of their huge significance to libraries and because they are developments that libraries can control. This is where our choices can make a difference to the future of libraries and the future of free access to government information.
The first development is that of disintermediation. This is the process by which users are increasingly finding that they do not need an intermediary (libraries) to identify, locate, and make use of relevant information. The report describes this development repeatedly in all types of libraries with all types of users.
The second development is the challenge of long term preservation of digital information, which the report describes in some detail in one of its longest sections (p. 24-32).
Which responses to these developments have been effective? Which work and which do not?
One of the strategies most often used and advocated by librarians to neutralize the trend in disintermediation is re-intermediation. There are two ways this has been done.
1. Force people to come to you. One way to re-intermediate is to change the environment so that people will once again have to use libraries. Although most librarians do not publicly advocate such an approach, it is the foundation underneath what libraries do when they license access to commercial services (e.g., e-journals, abstracting and indexing services, audiobooks, etc.). In these cases, libraries are benefiting from the restricted access to information imposed by publishers by making libraries a seemingly necessary intermediary. The federal government also uses this model, making some of its information available only for a fee. In some cases FDLP libraries get some sort of free but restricted access to these services, in others libraries have to subscribe to services.
GPO itself has used this model to create a new niche for itself in the digital age. At a time when printing was becoming irrelevant and a government printing office therefore unnecessary, GPO re-intermediated itself into the life cycle of government information by making it virtually impossible for the public to get whole classes of government information without going directly to GPO. It did this partly by refusing to deposit digital government information in FDLP libraries.
Effectiveness. This approach has a short-term, superficial effectiveness since it explicitly re-intermediates the library, but we already know that, in the long-term, it fails. The report describes users who access licensed services remotely but who do not appear to realize that the library is providing an intermediary service; the report implies that these users apparently believe that they no longer need the library. In addition, this strategy of negotiating and enforcing contracts that restrict access to information is not a role that requires librarians or a library. We can conclude that this approach will inevitably lead to these licensing services being provided more efficiently (and less expensively) by a business or legal office of a parent institution. We can also predict that, if we rely on this approach, it will encourage more fee-based government information services (e.g., DARTS, National Climatic Data Center Online Document Library, the Homeland Security Digital Library, Public Health Reports, USA Trade Online, etc.).
In the case of GPO, its success as a sole source of access appears to be hastening, not ending, its own disintermediation. Agencies appear even less likely to use GPO as a "publisher." This results in more information being "fugitive" (outside of GPO and Title 44 control). And, as a sole provider of digital preservation, GPO has no Congressional guarantee of long-term funding to preserve everything forever nor to provide free access forever.
2. Provide New Services. The second way to re-intermediate is more commonly advocated publicly by librarians: It is the idea of creating new services that will attract users. The report mentions many of these "new services": promoting "the library as a place" and as an "information commons," providing internet access and help using the internet, providing computers and software and help using them for specific tasks such as job-hunting, and, in general, offering "higher-value services targeting the particular needs of local constituents." In the area of government information specifically, some librarians strongly advocate libraries promoting themselves as an intermediary between the public and faceless government bureaucracies. Some suggest that government information specialists will do this, others say that all librarians will be trained in government information and there will be no more specialists.
Effectiveness. The report provides little or no evidence that these services are effective in attracting or maintaining users, nor that librarians are uniquely qualified to offer such services. In fact, the evidence in the report's section on "Changing research behaviors and use of libraries" suggests that users are content with the information they can gather without the help of libraries or librarians. Although librarians may wish that users would ask for help and may believe that librarians could help users find better information, there is no reason to believe that users will change their behavior. This approach is little more than an unsubstantiated hope that users will turn to intermediaries at a time when all the evidence demonstrates that users prefer disintermediation.
"Local loading" and building digital collections
The other strategy described by the report is the building of local digital collections, which the report refers to as "local loading." This is a relatively new approach since many libraries have avoided building digital collections or moved slowly to do so. The advantages of doing so are clearly stated in the report as the motivation for choosing this strategy. These include: the need by researchers for dynamic data repositories, the need for curation and digital preservation, the need by users of all kinds to link documents and data, the need of users to have information systems that are enhanced beyond what publishers and producers and distributors provide, the desire by users to have integrated selections of quality resources from different sources, the need by colleges to have enhanced course management applications, the need for better ILL and citation management tools, and the desire of libraries to offer better services and value to a library's users.
Effectiveness. Evidence suggests that organizations that select and acquire digital content and build digital services on top of those collections are successful. Although the report mentions some of these, it neglects to mention some of the key players in this area, giving, perhaps, a diminished impression of their importance. Some of the successful projects include commercial information vendors (e.g, LexisNexis, ProQuest), non-profits (e.g., the Sunlight Foundation, OpenCongress, Govtrack), universities (e.g., the University of Virginia's historical census browser, the Public Papers of the Presidents project at the University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin's "Foreign Relations of the US"), consortia (e.g., CIC, LOCKSS, HathiTrust, OCUL), governments (e.g., data.gov, Thomas, FDsys), special projects (e.g., National Security Archive at George Washington University, collections at the Federation of American Scientists, OpenCRS), as well as projects in the sciences such as arXiv and the collections at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Perhaps the biggest and most influential in this area are the Google scanning project and the HathiTrust.
All of these share the common strategy of building unique services on top of digital collections that they curate. One of the most important lessons of these projects is that their successes are based on their providing something that no one else does. This is not an artificial "re-intermediation" or a mere hope that users will recognize their need for librarians, but an actual, concrete provision of collections and services that attract users because of their actual value to users.
Benefits to users
It is worth noting that those who oppose building digital library collections often argue that the user does not recognize or care where digital information resides as long as they can access it. This argument misses two essential characteristics of local collections, however.
First, users will see the advantage to using the local digital library collection when the library does something with the content that the remote provider does not (and often cannot) do. Libraries with their own digital collections can provide search and discovery tools that integrate information from many sources; they can provide computational analysis and data mining tools; and they can provide APIs that reflect their users needs for using and repurposing information. Perhaps most importantly, they can combine information from many sources to build unique collections that reflect the interests and needs of their designated user communities. This will make it easier for their users to find what they need without having to sift through irrelevant material on the open web and without having to visit multiple, isolated, proprietary, deep-web/hidden-web sites.
Second, users will derive the benefit of locally maintained collections when libraries keep something online that would have otherwise disappeared. This is where libraries can address the second major trend we identified above: digital preservation. The Ithaka S+R report, unfortunately, confuses this issue by bringing up the old cliche of "access vs. ownership." This hackneyed adage is, today, out of date and misleading. It a false dichotomy because we cannot ensure access unless we have control over the content. Simple "access" to information over which we have no control is at the mercy of those who control the information. In addition, preservation and access are inseparable in the digital world and preservation is inseparable from "ownership," i.e., control. When something is removed from the web (or altered), whether it is accidental or intentional, whether it is done for economic or political reasons, whether it is the "right" decision for one organization or not, the result is the same: the user can no longer access the information he or she needs.
Libraries can prevent information from disappearing and can ensure its long-term preservation. Even smaller libraries that do not see themselves as having long-term preservation as a primary mission will realize that their size often means that their community has information needs that are overlooked by large, monolithic preservation projects. Cooperation and coordination of many small, medium, and large collections will help ensure that information needed by even a small group of information users will not fall through the preservation cracks.
While surveys may not reveal that users understand this as a need today, users will appreciate and understand it in the long run. In the short term, it is librarians who must act now with this long-term vision in mind. Later will be too late. If we fail today, users of tomorrow will recognize our failure and not see a reason to support institutions that did not look after the interests of their communities.
As the Ithaka Findings document notes, "GPO cannot on its own serve as the single trusted party to ensure the preservation and integrity of the digital and digitized FDLP collections." The only question that leaves us with is, Who will work with GPO to preserve and ensure free access for the long-term?
Attempting to make libraries relevant to users in an era of disintermediation by attempting to artificially re-intermediate libraries will fail. Building local digital collections will make libraries relevant to users (in ways that no one else can match) and accomplish digital preservation (which no one else can accomplish alone).
Congratulations to our friend Mary Alice Baish (nee Director of Government Relations for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL)) for being named Assistant Public Printer and Superintendent of Documents at the Government Printing Office (GPO). This is an important position at a critical time for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). We look forward to working with Mary Alice on the many issues pertaining to the realization of the digital FDLP. Congratulations again Mary Alice!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 20, 2011 No. 11-04
MEDIA CONTACT: GARY SOMERSET 202.512.1957, 202.355.3997 cell email@example.com
LIBRARY ADVOCATE BECOMES SUPERINTENDENT OF DOCUMENTS
WASHINGTON – Public Printer Bill Boarman has named Mary Alice Baish Assistant Public Printer, Superintendent of Documents, for the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). This position is the agency's lead in guaranteeing permanent public access to Government information published by the three branches of the Federal Government. Baish will oversee GPO's Library Services & Content Management unit, Publication & Information Sales unit and the management of GPO's Federal Digital System (FDsys www.fdsys.gov), which is a one-stop site to authentic, published Government information. In her role, Baish will work with more than 1,200 Federal depository libraries nationwide, through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), to ensure Government information is available in all forms to the public.
Link to photo: http://gpo.gov/images/news-media/management/Baish_180.jpg
“Mary Alice has been a strong advocate for GPO and the library community throughout her entire career, which makes her a natural choice to assume this important position for the agency,” said Public Printer Bill Boarman. “Her vision and experience with open Government initiatives will be an asset to the FDLP and GPO’s effort through FDsys in making Federal Government information open and transparent for the American people.”
Throughout Baish's career, she has worked with all sectors of the library community, testifying before Congressional committees on behalf of GPO, and has been a leading voice in developing electronic systems to disseminate Government information. Prior to her appointment at GPO, she previously served as the Director of Government Relations for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), a nonprofit educational organization that serves the information needs of the legal community. Baish has worked closely with Congressional committees, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Federal agencies and the Administration in developing policies and legislation that promote the needs of libraries, the legal community and the American public. She is among the founding members of OpenTheGovernment.org (OTG.org), an organization created to promote democracy and end Government secrecy. She has worked with OTG.org, the White House and Office of Management and Budget in implementing President Obama’s Open Government Directive and with auditing agency Open Government Plans. She has written and spoken extensively about e-government information policy and is a past member of the Depository Library Council to the Public Printer.
She is a resident of Fairfax Station, VA, and holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and an Ed.M. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
GPO is the Federal Government’s primary centralized resource for gathering, cataloging, producing, providing, authenticating, and preserving published U.S. Government information in all its forms. GPO is responsible for the production and distribution of information products and services for all three branches of the Federal Government. In addition to publication sales, GPO makes Government information available at no cost to the public through GPO’s Federal Digital System (www.fdsys.gov) and through partnerships with approximately 1,220 libraries nationwide participating in the Federal Depository Library Program. For more information, please visit www.gpo.gov. Follow GPO on Twitter http://twitter.com/USGPO and on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/user/gpoprinter.
Today the US celebrates the life of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. one of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and one of the greatest orators in US history. King was a champion for civil rights for African Americans as well as economic justice for all poor people and organized the Poor People’s Campaign. He spoke out against all injustice including against the Vietnam War. King received the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1964 for his work for civil rights and economic justice. He was assassinated at the age of 39 on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, TN. Martin Luther King Day was established as a national holiday in the United States in 1986.
*The quote in the title of this post is from "Letter from Birmingham Jail" an open letter written on April 16, 1963 in response to a statement made by eight white Alabama clergymen on April 12, 1963, titled "A Call For Unity."
Check your links! The U.S. Department of Energy has redesigned its website, energy.gov:
- A New Look for Energy.gov, by Cammie Croft, Energy Blog (January 10, 2011).
One feature of the new site is the "Vintage DOE," a result of "sifting through the DOE archive," and described as "a new series on the Energy Blog that not only highlights an interesting item in DOE’s archive, but gives us an opportunity to discuss the Energy Department’s mission and current work on the same topic." I'm not sure if that means that they are removing items from their site and featuring only selective items from their "archive" or what. Better check your links!