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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) submits comment to NARA re Dept of Interior records schedule request

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) just sent me a PDF copy of the comment that they submitted to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regarding the Department of Interior records schedule request. This letter, combined with the others from DLF, transparency organizations, and Stanford Libraries offers a finely grained analysis of the overall problem and suggestions for moving forward in making the scheduling process much more transparent and in understanding and preserving important government records. Many thanks to these organizations and the many others who submitted comments.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the earth: its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. On behalf of our over 3 million members and online activists, NRDC submits the following comments regarding the Department of the Interior’s proposed updates to its records schedule, DAA-0048-2015-0003. See Notice of availability of proposed records schedules, 83 Fed. Reg. 45,979, 45,980 (Sept. 11, 2018). NRDC also joins the letter submitted by the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School. We appreciate the willingness of the National Archives and Records Administration to work with interested parties and extend the comment period to permit public inspection of Interior’s retention policy for such vital records.

The proposed schedule covers records that are central to the public’s understanding of the Department of the Interior’s (“Interior’s”) stewardship of our nation’s public lands and natural resources. Moreover, it encompasses records of activities that might have long-lasting or permanent implications for both human health and the environment. But the proposed schedule permits some records to be destroyed while they may still be substantially valuable to the public, while other retention policies are too vague to assess their impact. Moreover, the high publicity and comprehensive nature of Interior’s schedule change highlights shortcomings in NARA’s approval process for agency records schedules. Interior’s records schedule should be amended to ensure that valuable records are preserved for public inspection.

Digital Library Federation and government transparency community submit comments to NARA re DoI records schedule

[UPDATE: 11/27/2018: Attached are PDF copies of the letters from Openness and Accountability Community and Digital Library Federation (DLF).]

Today was the last day to comment on the draft Department of Interior records scheduling request (originally posted here on FGI “Holes in History: The Dept of Interior request to destroy records.”). I’m aware that 2 groups — the Digital Library Federation’s Government Records Transparency and Accountability working group (GRTA) and a broad coalition of government transparency organizations including Government Information Watch, FGI, Defending Rights & Dissent, Demand Progress, Public Citizen, FracTracker Alliance, National Coalition for History, Association of Research Libraries, Rural Coalition, Society of Professional Journalists, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), and ICPSR — have submitted comments and listed concerns and ideas for how to make the records scheduling process more transparent. I think these letters, combined with Stanford UL’s letter to AOTUS Ferriero, raise important points and issues in the records scheduling process in general and in the Department of Interior’s request specifically and give suggestions for how to make the process more transparent and publicly accessible.

NARA does yeoman’s work and is critical to the public understanding of the workings of our government. Hopefully, these and other comments received by concerned citizens and organizations will improve access and preservation of important records.

EPA greenwashes its fracking site. EDGI documents the change

There’s a new report out from the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) chronicling the changes the EPA has made to its webpage on hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Check out the changes side by side using snapshots from the Internet Archive’s WayBack Machine.

In January this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revamped its webpage on fracking. The page now promotes the interests of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of scientific knowledge and public transparency.

These edits were documented by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, a coalition that has tracked changes made to federal environmental websites during the Trump administration. The president has vowed to ease restrictions on fracking as part of his fossil fuel-heavy economic plan…

Some of the most significant changes to the page emphasize the economic benefits of fracking while obscuring its known risks, such as air pollution and drinking water contamination—findings the EPA’s own scientists stressed in the months preceding President Trump’s inauguration.

“[This is] one among many instances wherein the administration has deemphasized or questioned the importance or credibility of scientific knowledge and scientists,” Arnold said, noting President Trump’s “scientists on both sides” refrain regarding climate change and other environmental issues…

Some paragraphs were wholesale removed, such as one that said the EPA is working to improve our scientific understanding of fracking, and another that underscored the need to carefully manage natural gas development in tandem with its rapid development.

via The EPA Gave Its Website a Pro-Fracking Makeover – Motherboard.

Patrice McDermott posts Draft letter re DOI records disposition request to NARA. Requests comments

We posted about the Dept of Interior records schedule request to NARA and have been actively working on this issue for a few weeks now. Patrice McDermott, Director of Government Information Watch — many of you will have known Patrice from her ALA Washington Office days or laster as director of Open The Government — just posted the request below to govdoc-l so I thought I’d share beyond the govt documents library community. Please check out the draft letter that Patrice and several others in the FOIA/open govt communities have penned. Send any comments or concerns her way. And if you’d like to copy/paste anything from her letter — or from Stanford UL’s letter to AOTUS Ferriero for that matter — for your own comment to NARA, please do so BY NOVEMBER 26!

Here is a DRAFT letter/comments to NARA. Many thanks to the folks who have been working on this – this letter draws heavily on your work.

Thoughts, edits – and specific concerns about particular sets of records – welcomed. Please send to me [email protected]

It dawned on me that T’giving week is almost upon us… I plan to send this Friday 23 November. It is open to both organizational and individual signatories.

Background:

As you may know, the DOI has put in a request to NARA for disposition authority for a large # of record groups. Disposition does not equal immediate destruction; mostly the records would be marked Temporary — with ‘disposal’ dates that vary greatly based on the records, what they document, etc. Very few govt records (1-3%, according to NARA) are designated as Permanent/Archival.

The request is confusing to read & follow because DOI — following NARA guidance of recent years — has moved what used to be discrete series of records with discrete records schedules (as permanent or temporary) into what are being called ‘big buckets.’ The DOI request is essentially cross-walking discrete records series to their new bucket. And made the request for all of the buckets at one time.

The volume aside, there are a number of concerning aspects to this request.

I pulled together an annotated version of the NARA appraisal memo to get a handle on what was requested – and provisionally approved by NARA. I highlighted language in the Appraisal Memo (Blue=Good retention; Green = NARA comments worth noting; Orang(ish) = Concerning), and indicated the #s of Records Groups (not #s of records) covered in each NARA appraisal entry.

One aspect that has troubled me is from DOI’s Request for Records Disposition Authority

Methodology:

This change to a departmental schedule, from individual bureau schedules, moves disposition authority for Record Groups 022 (FWS), 049 (BLM), 057 (USGS), 075 (BIA), 079 (NPS), 115 (BOR), 471 (OSMRE),
473 (BSEE), and 589 (BOEMRE) to 048. (which is Office of the Secretary (OS) – Record Group 048)

Regardless of who the Secretary of Interior is or may be, it gives me pause to put authority for requesting disposal for these sensitive records in the office of a political appointee. So, there is a potential question for NARA (or its Hill overseers).

I am really troubled by the repeated language — by NARA — about “interest to NARA Researchers” (as opposed to??), and that records “do not document significant actions of federal officials”.

The legal definition of Records (44 U.S.C. Chapter 33)§ 3301) is:

RECORDS DEFINED.-
(1) IN GENERAL.-As used in this chapter, the term “records”-
(A) includes all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government or because of the informational value of data in them

I would welcome your thoughts on particular sets of records/buckets and how they have been appraised — where the appraisal may fail to address the research/legal/etc needs of other communities (other than “NARA researchers”), where data, on which ongoing datasets are built, might be irretrievably destroyed, etc.

EPA eliminates its climate change websites

Mashable reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has eliminated more than 80 climate change web pages. This according to a new report from the Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI). The EDGI report notes that while NASA maintains a number of informative and frequently updated climate change websites, the EPA’s sites have been gradually obscured, and now eliminated. It certainly would be a public service if Congress would investigate why the EPA, supposedly charged with protecting the environment (it’s in its name!), would obfuscate and delete critical environmental information and data.

Sometime during the night of Oct. 16, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) eliminated more than 80 climate change web pages — many of the last vestiges to the agency’s online recognition of climate change.

…”There’s no indication now that there was even a climate change website,” Eric Nost, the EDGI report’s lead author, said in an interview.

…The EPA did not respond to multiple attempts for comment about why the public webpages were deleted and if they might return.

…Of note, both the EPA and NASA are sprawling federal agencies directly answerable to the office of the president. Yet, while NASA maintains a slew of informative, diligently updated, and visually-rich climate change websites, the EPA’s sites have been gradually obscured, and now eliminated.

…NASA is a research agency, emphasized Stan Meiburg, the former Acting Deputy Administrator of the EPA, in an interview. It largely exists to perform science. Conversely, he noted that the EPA — which is responsible for protecting human health and the environment — is primarily a regulatory agency, writing and enforcing environmental rules.

… Right now, the environmental agency hopes to enforce a slew of new rules that would, among a variety of things, significantly roll back fuel-efficiency standards for new vehicles and replace Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

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