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.
Walter Gellhorn Innovation Award Winner: Office of the Federal Register, Administrative Conference of the United States (December 9, 2011).
The Office of the Federal Register, in cooperation with the Government Printing Office, provides bulk access to the source code of the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations. The value in this effort includes making data available in bulk so others may use it, working collaboratively with the community and encouraging innovation, and making source code for a government website available so other agencies and non-governmental organizations can make customized versions.
GPO press release [PDF].
The Government Printing Office in a press release today announced a success story in the use of the Application Programming Interface (API) for Federal Register. It is certainly interesting and illustrative of how an API can be used to deliver information to a particular community of interest, but I think you may also find it unexpectedly unusual. A researcher used the FR API to create a tracking system for polar bear protection documents.
GPO AND OFR SHOWCASE OPEN GOVERNMENT SUCCESS STORY
WASHINGTON-The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) and the National Archives' Office of the Federal Register (OFR) report a success story from the Application Programming Interface (API) for FederalRegister.gov. GPO and OFR introduced the API in August 2011, enabling information technology developers to create new applications for regulatory information published in the Federal Register. A researcher utilized the API to create a tracking system for polar bear protection documents. The API tool automatically grabs Federal Register items that mention polar bears from 1994 to present, displays the items in a formatted list with browsing capabilities, and links back to the full text on FederalRegister.gov.
Link to Polar Bear Feed: http://polarbearfeed.etiennebenson.com/
"This is another example of how GPO and OFR continue to find ways in achieving the goal of making Government information more transparent and giving users the ability to adapt Federal Register data to their own needs," said Public Printer Bill Boarman.
"We are thrilled to see the use of the API source material to develop a live feed on the subject of polar bears. This is precisely how we hoped this information would be used when we made it available to the public. We couldn't be more gratified," said Director of the Federal Register Ray Mosley.
The print and online versions of the Federal Register are the official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other Presidential documents.
Evidently, sharing government information with the public is "wasteful." While I'm all for spending tax dollars responsibly, and don't want the federal govt to waste dollars on superfluous and wasteful things (like $3 billion for duplicative engines for the F-35 fighter jet), I would prefer if he didn't use the printing of the Federal Register as an example of govt waste. As we noted in our earlier post:
Public Printer Bill Boarman, in a Mar. 17, 2011 Senate Appropriations hearing for the Government Printing Office, stated that 70% of the cost and work of publishing the Congressional Record is done in pre-press, and many of the same duties necessary to publish it in print are still necessary to put it out digitally.
While it is true that many more people these days access government information (including the Federal Register) in digital format, there is still a need for print from both a usability and preservation standpoint. Gary Price points out some of the incongruities with the White House's line of reasoning regarding .gov domain:
- Top-level web domains are one thing but in saying that there are t0o many subsites/microsites is another. What does this mean? Are we talking sub-sites inside a focused site like this mentioned at the beginning of the blog post OR sub-sites on any web domain?
- What exactly is a sub-site? A focused area of a large site, often beginning with the name or a subdirectory or all sites that begin with something other than the top-level domain? Is Chronicling America a sub-site at Chronicling.loc.gov? What about Travel.state.gov or Jobs.Faa.gov?
- The White House should know that sub-sites (no matter the definition) CAN be a useful way to organize a lot of focused information and then have an easy URL to share with others and market the content. Yes, of course, it’s also possible to go overboard but have info organization and info architecture been considered?
- If old sites are to be taken offline have they been archived properly and are URLs going to be redirected to where the material is being archived? What does the White House have to say about the long term preservation of government web sites and making it easy for researchers to access? NARA does conduct web harvests (using Internet Archive technology). Are the harvests large enough? Are they being promoted properly? Learn more about the harvests at: http://www.webharvest.gov (is this top-level domain necessary? (-:
Our point here is not to say that what’s being discussed is 100% wrong but rather if considerations about many issues (several noted above) are in place about how to proceed going forward?
More from the White House blog post:
As the President points out in this video, our government doesn’t need a website dedicated to foresters who play the fiddle. We also don’t need multiple sites dealing with invasive plants (here and here). And I‘m pretty sure the website dedicated to the Centennial of Flight can come down… particularly since the Centennial was in 2003.
Today, there are nearly 2,000 top-level federal .gov domains (this means a top-level url, [WEBSITENAME].gov, that links to a distinct website). This includes WhiteHouse.gov, as well as others like USDA.gov, USASpending.gov, NOAA.gov and USA.gov. Under many of these domains are smaller sub-sites and microsites resulting in an estimated 24,000 websites of varying purpose, design, navigation, usability, and accessibility.
While many government websites each deliver value to the taxpayer through easy-to-use services and information, an overall online landscape of literally thousands of websites – each focusing on a specific topic or organization – can create confusion and inefficiency.
In addition to confusing the public, duplicate and unnecessary websites also waste money. And while the costs for some of these websites may be relatively small, as President Obama also said in the video, ”No amount of waste is acceptable. Not when it’s your money, not at a time when so many families are already cutting back.”
So the federal government will do more with less, improving how it delivers information and services to the public by reducing the number of websites it maintains. To help drive this change we’ve set a specific goal that over the next year, we’ll get rid of at least half of them.
Watch the video in which President Obama talks about his campaign to cut waste:
[Thanks to Gary Price at InfoDocket for the tip!]
Well, that headline is a bit misleading, but also a bit troubling. According to the Washington Post, the White House is ordering federal agencies to cancel print subscriptions to the Federal Register, the government’s own journal of official activities. "The move means that about 4,700 fewer editions of the Federal Register will be printed for executive branch agencies, saving the government at least 4 million annually, according to the White House."
But this is a little misleading on the cost-saving front, and may mean that in Congress' zeal to cut budgets, the GPO may not have the funding available to produce the Federal Register and other mandated and vital publications like the Congressional Record. Public Printer Bill Boarman, in a Mar. 17, 2011 Senate Appropriations hearing for the Government Printing Office, stated that 70% of the cost and work of publishing the Congressional Record is done in pre-press, and many of the same duties necessary to publish it in print are still necessary to put it out digitally.
In fact, there's a new bill working its way through Congress now to further defund GPO's ability to produce the record of the US government. The bill, H.R. 1626: Prevent the Reckless, Irresponsible, Needless Typography (PRINT) Act of 2011, was introduced 2 weeks ago by Congresswoman Candice Miller (R-MI). Stay tuned for more.
Officially launched on 26 July 2010, FederalRegister.gov is a collaboration between the Office of the Federal Register and the Government Printing Office. This prototype takes the XML feed of the Federal Register hosted by FDsys and delivers it in a friendly format for public consumption and review. The site is seeking feedback, and for now is not considered a legally official presentation of the Federal Register.
FR 2.0 divides the content into six major topics: Money, World, Business & Industry, Environment, Science & Technology, and Health & Public Welfare. Each entry is linked with a descriptive title, such as "National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan". These entries can also be browsed by date, by agency, by topic, and by entry type (notice, proposed rule, rule). RSS feeds are available, and many entries are illustrated with photos from Flickr.
The faceted search works quite well. Searches can be narrowed by topic, agency, date, and even zip code. I was able to use the Events search to find a recent public informational meeting to plan research concerning the effect of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water in Canonsburg, PA, which is about 125 miles from where I am in Akron, OH.
Within each entry, every paragraph has a marker that provides a direct link and the FR citation, along with tools to share on Twitter, Facebook, and digg. The Table of Contents makes it easy to navigate through the entry, and he font size and style (serif or sans-serif) are easy to change. All of the links and email addresses are active, and both the official PDF and the XML itself can be accessed with a single click. For items open to comment, a single click takes the user to Regulations.gov.
Some minor technical faults are present. It's easy to accidentally bring up the marker box, and difficult to dismiss it. There is a notice on the visual navigation page that there are 33 comment periods ending soon, but I had to navigate into the major topics or use the faceted search to discover these. A few times, I noticed the font preload in one size, then display in another. Finally, the summaries are still not given in plain English. It's nice to be able to quickly get to citations, but the terminology is still quite technical. The summary posted on the headline page removes some of the technical language, but can't be accessed from the entry page.
Overall, I think FR 2.0 demonstrates careful planning and consideration of the needs of the expanding audience for the FR. I'd like to see more granularity in the major topic groupings, but sometimes the more simple approach is the best way to please everyone.
If you see any problems, be sure to share them on the Site Feedback link. Also, please post here with your thoughts and reactions to this new tool.
We're getting closer to the release date for Federal Register 2.0, the Office of the Federal Register's joint project with GPO to take the XML version of the FR and make it into a "newspaper" of regulatory activity.
- National Archives Unveils New Federal Register 2.0 Web Site to Mark 75th Anniversary. Press release (12 July 2010).
According to this press release, the beta version will be released to the public on 26 July 2010, a date chosen to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Federal Register Act. My hope is that this project will set the bar for future uses of XML made available in FDsys, and I'm looking forward to reviewing this initial version at the end of the month.
We mentioned GovPulse a few months ago as it was one of 3 finalists in the Sunlight Foundation's apps for America 2 Contest. But here's a reminder to check it out.
GovPulse is an easy-to-use, open-source Federal Register browser. It lets you find any kind of notice, notification and solicitation that a federal agency puts out. GovPulse parses that data flow and gives you a way to browse the tens-of-thousands-of-pages-log register by agency, category or date. It also includes tools for visualizations and analysis of the register. For instance, check out the agency page to see sparklines of the notices from each agency, or the map of places mentioned by an agency. or search the Federal Register for proposed activities by location.
GovPulse is a great addition to the documents/policy junky digital toolbox that includes govtrack.us, OpenCongress, OpenCRS (or, to toot my own horn, the CRS digital archive!) OpenSecrets, Legal Information Institute (LII), Justia. What are others that should be in this toolbox? Please leave us a comment with other suggestions.
White House boosts social media apps, by Doug Beizer, FCW.com (Dec 15, 2009).
An application produced at Princeton University that makes it easy to search the Federal Register is an example of the applications White House officials want to see created, McLaughlin [the deputy federal chief technology officer] said. The application, named FedThread, also lets users to sign up to receive alerts about items published in the Federal Register based on keywords.
..."We can make a lot of government data available, but it doesn't really do much good unless apps developers translate it into Web sites, mobile applications or platform apps that really are useful."
The Open House Project mailing list has been abuzz this week with discussion about the availability of the Federal Register in XML format. I cannot remember a time when government information has had so many active followers and supporters and such intense interest outside the FDLP community. This is an indication of how important this change in distribution is to the public.
Now, Carl Malamud has an interview with Raymond Mosley, Director of the Office of the Federal Register and Michael L. Wash, the Chief Information Officer of the Government Printing Office (O'Reilly Radar, Oct 6, 2009). Wash says that GPO plans to add data feeds (e.g., RSS) for the FR in the near future.
Check out Carl's interview for an up-to-date, behind-the-scenes view of this important news.