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.

Advocates Call on Congress to pass legislation to make PACER free

Open government advocates are quickly losing patience with the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO). After the AO doubled the quarterly fee waiver from $15 to $30 in January, Advocates from argue FixTheCourt called it “Wholly Inadequate” and have called for the US Courts to change antiquated business model of the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system which charges the public thousands of times more than it should cost to provide access to federal court documents. I completely agree with FixTheCourt. Government information, including US court records, should be free to the public! Litigation on PACER is ongoing, but let’s hope we can get some solid legislation to MAKE PACER FREE! It’s long beyond time.

Open government advocates are decrying recent changes to the PACER fee scale as wholly inadequate and are calling on Congress to improve upon and advance bipartisan bills to reduce the costs of accessing federal court records. The move comes as the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO) officially notified House and Senate leadership last week of its previously approved changes to PACER charges.

…it is estimated that the actual cost to retrieve these documents, with storage fees built in, is $0.0000006 per page. Storing the roughly one billion documents in PACER should then run about $600,000, or about one-half of one percent of PACER’s reported revenue ($146.4 million in 2016). And yet, the AO still charges $0.10 per page of search results and $0.10 per page of case documents.

Do Not Assume PDF files are all permanent

Government information relies heavily on the PDF format. Indeed, PDF files are used so widely that it is tempting for us to assume that PDF files are, by definition, a safe way of preserving information for the long term. Would it surprise you to learn that the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) lists PDF files as “Endangered” and that even PDF/A files are “Vulnerable”?

These judgements are in the DPC’s newest list of “digitally endangered species.”

The Bit List includes 74 content types and groups them (more…)

CA state agencies misapply ADA law, documents vanish from CA websites

File this under the law of unintended consequences. A California law passed in 2017 designed to make sure CA government agency websites were accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has had an unintended negative effect on CA agency Websites. The law simply states:

11546.7. (a) Before July 1, 2019, and before July 1 biennially thereafter, the director of each state agency or state entity, as defined in subdivision (e) of Section 11546.1, and each chief information officer appointed under Section 11546.1, shall post on the home page of the state agency’s or state entity’s Internet Web site a signed certification from the state agency’s or state entity’s director and chief information officer that they have determined that the Internet Web site is in compliance with Sections 7405 and 11135, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, or a subsequent version, published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium at a minimum Level AA success criteria.

Sounds good right? But according to this Sacramento Bee article “Documents vanish from CA websites as state applies ADA law” this has happened:

Dozens of wildfire reports disappeared from Cal Fire’s website as this year’s fire season began.

Thousands of water science reports vanished from the Department of Water Resources website.

More than 2 million documents, ranging from environmental impact reports to internal human resources guides, went missing from remote corners of Caltrans’ website.

The documents are disappearing from public view as California state departments work to comply with a 2017 law aimed at improving compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It seems that some CA departments are choosing to take down thousands of documents rather than make them machine-readable or otherwise accessible. I’m sure this negative press will spur the CA government to provide more funding to state agencies to update their Websites. But in the meantime, if you’re looking for something published by the CA government, check out the Archive of the California Government Domain, CA.gov.

National Weather Service under risk of privatization. John Oliver has more

Talking about the weather is supposed to be the one safe topic that people from all stripes can talk about. But John Oliver ruins that — in an extremely funny and informative way of course! He explains the importance of the National Weather Service (NWS), which is a sub-agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NWS makes all of its weather forecasts and climate data openly available for free and also shares data and modeling with other weather services around the world through its membership in the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). One could argue that the National Weather Service is among the most critical government services and a global public good.

Over the last 15-20 years however, there has been a concerted push by private companies to get into the weather game. Whereas companies like AccuWeather and the Weather Channel would in the past use NWS data and add value to it, today, according to Andrew Blum — who wrote the recently published book “The Weather Machine: A Journey Inside the Forecast”
“…you’ve got companies running their own models, deploying their own observing systems,” and as Oliver points out, acting as gatekeepers to weather data. Check out Blum’s interview on a recent PBS Newshour for more context and by all means, watch Oliver’s piece below.

The most recent move at privatization of the weather is when the Trump administration named Barry Myers, the ex-CEO of AccuWeather, for the dual post of NOAA Administrator and Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, Department of Commerce and include oversight of the National Weather Service. His nomination was submitted in October, 2017 and renewed in January, 2018 and again in 2019. His nomination was stalled for quite a while, but in April of this year, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee voted 14-12 along party lines to move Myers’ nomination forward.

Myers’ nomination is extremely problematic for 2 reasons: 1) He has gone on the record in support of privatizing the weather service — in 2005, he and his brother gave money to then-Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) who “introduced legislation aimed at curtailing government competition with private weather services”; and 2) AccuWeather this year agreed to pay a substantial fine for “sexual harassment and a hostile work environment” while Myers was AccuWeather’s chief executive. Is this really the person we want providing oversight to the National Weather Service and NOAA as a whole?!


One giant leap for docs-kind: OSTI adds search for extracted figures and tables.

OSTI figures and tables searchI’ve always appreciated the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) for the way they manage and give access to .gov scientific information – and for the fact that they’ve long shared their metadata freely and allowed libraries to download their MARC records in bulk. Now they’ve added *another* feature to their search for which I’ve long wished; OSTI has added a figure and table search to their engine! Now if we could only get GPO to add this feature to GOVINFO. Imagine having a zanran-style search for tabular data and images in all govt documents?!

Thanks again OSTI!

OSTI.GOV has introduced a search for figure and table images included in DOE’s collection of scientific and technical information.  This innovative new feature allows users to search for and retrieve documents as usual, but the associated images are also retrieved, and can be viewed with the corresponding document or in a separate tab for images only. Currently, over 5,000 documents have been mined for images, resulting in over 41,000 available for searching.

To populate and power this image search, relevant figures and tables are extracted from full-text documents using modified open-source software, and then the images and associated metadata are carefully curated in-house to make them findable at OSTI.GOV.  Emphasis has been placed on extracting visual materials from some of the newest full-text records in OSTI.GOV, specifically journal articles accepted manuscripts that have recently been released from embargo. 

via Search and Display Extracted Figures and Tables in OSTI.GOV.

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