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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.

GPO’s Budget and Priorities

The news of the Government Printing Office’s (GPO) funding for next year is not encouraging. After flat-funding in 2006 and 2007, Congress is now considering the GPO budget for 2008. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Legislative Branch Subcommittee, said that the focus has to be on GPO’s mission of printing first and foremost, and the transformation aspects, while still important, are secondary. “What happens to the systems if we can’t fund it?” she asked.

At a time when 92 percent of all documents are available online Mike Wash, GPO’s chief technical officer, said that accessibility will not be hampered. We might amend that by saying “accessibility will not be hampered…yet.” Wash did say that the plans to add capabilities could be affected.

Here at FGI, we’ve often argued that it is a bad idea to rely on a single government agency (i.e., GPO) to provide the “single authoritative source” for “permanent preservation for public access” to all Federal documents (A strategic vision for the 21st century). One reason for our concern is that inadequate funding of GPO could reduce or even eliminate access to information that is essential to citizens. Every agency must pick and choose and set priorities and Congress must set priorities among all government programs. That is simply the way things are. As we noted elsewhere:

Imagine Congress mulling over spending a few million dollars to maintain online access to employment data for women or minorities that is 10 or 20 years old, or an annual report from an agency that is now defunct, or “out of date” economic data. Imagine whether or not these expenses will get priority over national security, education, or social security. (Free Culture and the Digital Library)

If GPO can’t get funding in 2008 for transformation and adding capabilities, will it be able to always keep online everything that citizens need or everything that is important to your library’s users? Or will it “come down to priorities” for what is kept freely available and what is taken offline or what becomes available “on a cost recovery basis” (A strategic vision for the 21st century)? Will we find those pointers in our OPACs pointing to a message that says “not enough funding to keep this online” — or pointing to the GPO bookstore?

We may find that one of GPO’s original planning documents was prescient when it said that it would maintain information online for “as long as usage warrants” (Electronic Information Access and Dissemination Services of the Federal Depository Library Program). When it comes down to priorities (and it will — it already is), if we only have one “authoritative source”, it will be Congress and GPO that decide what is “warranted” and what is not.

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