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NAPA releases report on GPO

The National Academy Of Public Administration has released its report on the Government Printing Office.

  • Rebooting The Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age, A Report by a Panel of the National Academy Of Public Administration for the U.S. Congress, Congressional Research Service, and the Government Printing Office. National Academy Of Public Administration, Washington, DC (January 2013).

    Congress mandated that the National Academy of Public Administration (the Academy) conduct a broad operational review of GPO. The Academy formed a five-member Panel of Fellows to conduct a ten-month study of the agency’s current role, its operations, and its future direction.

The report contains 27 finding and 15 recommendations. Depository libraries will be particularly interested in three findings:

  • III-3: Preservation of the Legacy (Tangible) Government Collection
  • III-4: Preservation of the Digital Government Collection
  • III-5: Government Information Dissemination and Access

The report repeats many of the tropes about the digital government information that have become familiar over the years. Some of these bear repeating and others are more questionable.

Perhaps the most troubling suggestion in the report is GPO should consider “cost recovery” for access to FDsys:

Now may be the time for GPO to revisit charging the public for access to FDsys content. The Academy convened a forum of experts on printing and publishing where this topic was discussed extensively. Participants noted that technologies for online payments have progressed to the point that they cost very little to administer. Also, the public is becoming accustomed to paying fees for government services that used to be free (such as admittance to National Parks). Rather than charge a publication price, GPO could explore charging a small user fee to recoup the cost of providing access to government information on FDsys, or allowing users to view documents for free, and charging for document downloads. Forum participants also discussed the possibility of GPO exploring opportunities for repackaging files and content in different ways and making them available for sale to the public.

This model (as the report notes) was tried before with GPO Access and failed. We would argue that it failed not because the “technologies of online payments” were inadequate at the time, but because attempting to charge fees for information that was also available without fees was a fundamentally flawed approach. (We have written about this issue many times. See for example: Government Information in the Digital Age: The Once and Future Federal Depository Library Program and Privatization of GPO, Defunding of FDsys, and the Future of the FDLP.)

There is much more in the report and it deserves careful scrutiny.

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1 Comment

  1. jrjacobs says:

    I ran across another comment on the NAPA study by Eric Mill at the Sunlight Foundation “Keeping GPO’s Data Free.” I think it’s spot on!

    “…the solution can’t be to ask citizens to pay access fees. There’s no such thing as a nominal fee for government information this fundamental. Public services like GovTrack.us, OpenCongress, Scout, and even other government initiatives like FederalRegister.gov, can only exist by first obtaining entire datasets — millions of pages — from FDSys. Imposing access fees for FDSys seriously reduces transparency, crushes innovation and experimentation, and hampers research and analysis.

    Instead, the data in FDSys must come to be viewed by everyone — from NAPA to Congress — for what it is: part of the lifeblood of information in the United States. It must remain free.”

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