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Search Congressional Press Releases

Derek Willis posted a brief announcement of a new service that will allow you to browse & search (titles only) congressional releases. An API is forthcoming.

I wonder if any library will be smart enough to make use of the API to preserve these elusive (dare I say, “fugitive”?) documents?

The “Evolving” Congress

Here is a new CRS report on “The Evolving Congress.” It is a compendium of 22 reports that examine how and why Congress evolved over the previous decades to where it is today.

  • Congressional Research Service. 2014. The Evolving Congress. Senate. Committee on Rules and Administration. Senate Committee Print 113–30 (“89–394”) (Y 4.R 86/2) Washington: Government Printing Office. (December 1, 2014).

Well documented with lots of citations.

Table of Contents

  • The Evolving Congress: Overview and Analysis of the Modern Era
  • Being a Member of Congress: Some Notable Changes During the Last Half Century
  • Tweet Your Congressman: The Rise of Electronic Communications in Congress
  • Collaborative Relationships and Lawmaking in the U.S. Senate: A Perspective Drawn from Firsthand Accounts
  • The 113th Congress and the U.S. Population: Discussion and Analysis of Selected Characteristics
  • Congressional Staffing: The Continuity of Change and Reform
  • The Unchanging Nature of Congressional Elections
  • Understanding Congressional Approval: Public Opinion from 1974 to 2014
  • Comparing Modern Congresses: Can Productivity Be Measured?
  • Recent Innovations in Special Rules in the House of Representatives
  • Changes in the Purposes and Frequency of Authorizations of Appropriations
  • Congress Evolving in the Face of Complexity: Legislative Efforts to Embed Transparency, Participation, and Representation in Agency Operations
  • Committee Assignments and Party Leadership: An Analysis of Developments in the Modern Congress
  • Congress and Financial Crises
  • Shocks to the System: Congress and the Establishment of the Department of Homeland Security
  • Like Clockwork: Senate Consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act
  • The SBA and Small Business Policymaking in Congress
  • Use of the Appropriations Process to Influence Census Bureau Policy: The Case of Adjustment
  • The Evolution of U.S. Disaster Relief Policy
  • Congress’ Role in the Evolution of Federal Block Grants as a Policy Instrument: From Community Development to Homeland Security
  • The Tax Extenders: How Congressional Rules and Outside Interests Shape Policy
  • The Dynamics of Congressional Policymaking: Tax Reform

Yosemite, fire, the legacy of John Muir and other Thanksgiving thoughts

I just ran across this Scientific American‘s Primate Diaries blog post, “Fire Over Ahwahnee: John Muir and the Decline of Yosemite” by Eric Michael Johnson. Anyone who’s read Charles Mann’s 1491 (great read btw!) knows that the indigenous peoples of the Americas from the forests of New England to the Amazon, rather than living in pristine wilderness, profoundly shaped their environments through techniques like cultivation and controlled burning. But Muir, often seen as the father of environmental conservation, actually did much harm to the Yosemite valley that he loved so much. Johnson writes eloquently about and makes connections between Muir, the lost history of violence and ignorant racism against native peoples and the issue of fire in Yosemite, and links to several scientific journal articles about fire as well as a fascinating USGS report “Status of the Sierra Nevada: The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project”.

It’s not that Muir didn’t encounter native peoples in his travels. He did, but he found them to be “most ugly, and some of them altogether hideous.” For a wilderness as pure as his holy Yosemite “they seemed to have no right place in the landscape, and I was glad to see them fading out of sight down the pass.” But, ironically, these “strange creatures” as Muir described them were the ones responsible for many of the features that gave Yosemite Valley its park-like appearance, the “landscape gardens” that Muir so valued. It is this forgotten legacy that has undermined many of the successes in the U.S. and even the global conservation movement today, one that traces directly back to John Savage and John Muir and the first protected wilderness site that later became the model followed around the world.

It wasn’t only Muir who was struck by the ordered beauty of Yosemite Valley. Lafayette Bunnell, the New York physician who accompanied Savage on his exploits in 1851, recalled that “the valley at the time of discovery presented the appearance of a well kept park.” Likewise, Galen Clark who was the state guardian of the Yosemite Grant after it was ceded to California, remembered similar conditions when he first visited in 1855. “At the time,” Clark wrote, “there was no undergrowth of young trees to obstruct clear open views in any part of the valley from one side of the Merced River across to the base of the opposite wall.”

However, these conditions didn’t stay that way for long. Forty years later Clark found that Yosemite’s open meadowland had all but disappeared, estimating that it had been “at least four times as large as at the present time.” The reason for this, known in the nineteenth century but little appreciated until recently, were the many ways that Yosemite’s first inhabitants had transformed their environment over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Chief among these was the strategic use of fire.

[HT to Kottke blog (a favorite of mine!) which alerted me to Johnson’s Scientific American post!]

CIA search: Down for two years and counting

Yesterday, when I was writing a post about The CIA’s Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf, I was looking on CIA.gov for a link to all the occurences of this regular feature in the CIA’s magazine Studies in Intelligence. Naturally, I used the CIA’s own search box. I was a bit surprised to find that every search I tried got the same result: (click image to enlarge)


In case you cannot read the above image, it says:

Search is Temporarily Unavailable

Search is temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again later.

Posted: Aug 27, 2012 04:31 PM
Last Updated: Aug 27, 2012 04:31 PM

I don’t know if the date is correct, but if it is, search as been “temporarily” unavailable on the CIA website for more than two years.

I did not find a robots.txt file on CIA.gov (which means that the site is open to public search services) and I was able to find pages there that Google and USA.gov had indexed. Interestingly, when I tried Yahoo and Bing, I did not find the same pages, though I did not check thoroughly enough to determine if the pages were not indexed at all or if my failure to find them was a quirk of the search engines and my search strategy.

This seems to me yet another example of how, when libraries use that all-purpose excuse that “all government information is on the web” to minimize collections and services, they are providing their communities with a hollow promise.

As we have pointed out repeatedly here, when we fail to collect government information, it can be deleted or altered or moved. But this disabled CIA search service gives us another lesson: When we do not have the information in our collections, we have no control over how it is organized or indexed. We are at the mercy of the agency and commercial search engines: They decide what to index, and how to index it, and what ads to show, and how to deal with privacy of users.

As governments move toward “e-government” they are moving to information-services and when they are the only ones who control the information, they are also the only ones that control the services for that information. A Library that wishes to demonstrate its value to its community would do well to ask itself what value it is adding when it turns over collections and services to others.

The CIA’s Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf

One of my guilty pleasures of govdocs is the reading lists and other book lists that agencies post. I find it fascinating to see which books an agency lists – and which they omit.

I only recently discovered one that has been around for a long time. It is the “Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf” – a regular feature in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Studies in Intelligence – a journal of the Center for the Study of Intelligence. The author is Hayden Peake, who serves in the CIA’s Directorates of Operations and Science and Technology. He has been compiling and writing reviews for the “Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf” since December 2002.

Here are some samples:

  • From Vol. 58 No. 3 Includes a review of No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, by Glenn Greenwald. One of three books about Snowden reviewed. Peake says of Greewald’s book that it is “..the most complete, though far from the most objective account of the Snowden affair to date. Lawyer-journalist Glenn Greenwald is the only one of the three authors to have met and interviewed Snowden.”

  • From Vol 58 No. 2. Includes a review of Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror, by Erik Prince; (a “set-the-record-straight” account).

  • From Vol 57 No. 2. Includes a review of Ian Fleming and SOE’s Operation Postmaster: The Untold Top Secret Story Behind 007, by Brian Lett. Peake says, “Lett goes on to make the sweeping claim that for Fleming, Operation Postmaster ‘was clearly inspirational. He stored it away in his mind and eventually used these men to create James Bond, the perfect Secret Agent….'” and “The successful Operation Postmaster is a small but significant part of SOE history, and Lett tells that story well. The frequent allusions to James Bond are only distractions.”