Our mission

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.

Modernizing the FDLP Modernization Act

The so-called FDLP Modernization Act of 2018 (H.R.5305) corrects many of the flaws of the 1993 law. It catches the law up to what it should have been in 1993 and conforms to current GPO practice. Specifically, it requires GPO to provide free access to digital content; it requires GPO to have a program of digital preservation; it changes the scope of GPO and FDLP with new definitions of “Information Dissemination Products” (IDPs) — a term used by OMB since 1996; and it requires GPO to abide by existing privacy laws (going back to 1974 and 2002).

These are welcome improvements, but they fall short of “modernizing” the law to the conditions of 2018 and beyond. A few small changes can go a long way to truly modernizing the law. These changes will create a collaborative, digital FDLP; guarantee long-term, no-fee access to government information insulated from federal political and economic pressures; and enhance services to users.

Suggested Changes

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538’s Gerrymandering Project takes a deep dive into redistricting and US politics

Check out 538’s Gerrymandering Project. It’s an exploration into the history, complex issues, and reform ideas surrounding the process of redistricting of the US political map (Constitutionally mandated to be done every 10 years) and gerrymandering, or redrawing political district lines in a partisan, political way. The site includes an amazingly thorough Atlas of Redistricting, several articles, and a six-part audio documentary series that examines how four states — Wisconsin, North Carolina, Arizona and California — are dealing with very different districting challenges. And if you want the Cliffs Notes version, check out the 99% Invisible podcast episode which interviewed the 538 creators and explained the project and the issues surrounding gerrymandering.

GPO Catalogs Declassified CIA CAESAR Series. Preservation still needed.

Good on GPO for cataloging this important declassified CAESAR series of 54 online titles from the CIA. These working papers are a collection of “declassified analytic monographs and reference aids, designated within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Directorate of Intelligence (DI) as the CAESAR, ESAU, and POLO series, highlights the CIA’s efforts from the 1950s through the mid-1970s to pursue in-depth research on Soviet and Chinese internal politics and Sino-Soviet relations.”

And what’s even better is that the Permanent url or PURL in their Catalog of Govt Publications (CGP) (https://purl.fdlp.gov/GPO/LPS87177) points not to the CIA’s site but to GPO’s permanent.access.gpo.gov server — which means that GPO actually captured a copy for local storage and control. And I just confirmed with Marcive that the bibliographic records will soon be pushed out through their Documents without shelves service! Now if GPO would just move all the content they have on permanent.access.gpo.gov into their govinfo.gov digital repository — which, unlike permanent.access, is going through the Trustworthy Digital Repository Audit and Certification — then all would be right with the world 🙂

Series summary: GPO has cataloged 54 online titles from a declassified CIA numbered series known as the CAESAR series. The Director of the CIA established Project CAESAR in 1952; and this series of working papers was published from 1953-1972. The purpose of Project CAESAR was to study the members of, and events affecting the Soviet leadership hierarchy. The collection focuses on internal policies and politics.

via GPO Catalogs Declassified CIA CAESAR Series.

Dept. of Commerce must release data under FOIA, not charge $174,000

Many federal government agencies are allowed (and in some cases are required) by law to charge fees for access to data they collect.

The US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) maintains a database of U.S. visitors by their origin, age, residency, port of entry, visa type, and initial destination. ITA charges from thirteen to sixteen thousand dollars per year of data for access to this Visitor Arrivals Program [I-94] Data). ITA claims that the fees are justified because the revenue is essential to its operation and has resisted a Freedom of Information Act (FOAI) request for release of the data. The multi-year data the journalist requested would cost $174,000.

"… we rely upon sales to keep them running. If we gave the data away for free to one, we would have to do it for all. But, since ITA requires that we charge a fee and work to make the program funded by sales and appropriated funds, there would be no data to provide and it would also terminate several other programs we have that rely upon this data as well…."

http://data.qz.com/2016/ita-emails/#email-29

A US District Court has ruled that there is no legal basis to charge such exorbitant fees to access government data and has directed the agency to reevaluate how much to charge for responding to the FOIA request.

The government could appeal the decision.

Hat Tip to the Sunlight Foundation!

FDLP Modernization Act of 2018 introduced. Take action now to improve the bill!

[UPDATE 3/21/2018: The CHA’s business meeting has been postponed to Thursday, April 12, 2018 at 11:00 am eastern. JRJ]

On March 15th, a bill to “modernize” the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was finally introduced. There is good news and bad news.

H.R.5305 – FDLP Modernization Act of 2018

The good news is that the bill does provide much-needed improvement of the current law in the areas of privacy, preservation, and free access to government information. It also has very strong language that attempts to address the problem of fugitive documents (those documents that are within scope of the FDLP but do not make it into the program. For more on this issue, see “‘Issued for Gratuitous Distribution’ The History of Fugitive Documents and the FDLP”). It even allows digital deposit into Federal Depository Libraries (FDLs).

The bad news is, first, that the improvements noted above do not go far enough. They have loopholes that could easily make those good features little more than halfway solutions or empty promises. Second, (and this is a fatal flaw in the digital age) the bill not only fails to create a digital FDLP, it actually writes that failure into law.

Small changes to the text of the bill can correct most of these problems. But to get those changes into the bill, librarians will have to let Congress (and their lobbyists in the ALA Washington Office, ARL and AALL!) know that they want them. These improvements are essential because this law will affect both the free access to and the preservation of government information for the coming decades.

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