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EPA Library Closures Hearing – The Scoop

I watched the live webcast of the EPA library closures hearing at the House Committee on Science and Technology’s website this morning (the webcast was recored and is still available for viewing at their website). The opening and witness statements are now transcribed and posted as well. A summary of the hearing is described in the committee’s press release.

Also, the GAO released a report of Witness John Stephenson’s statement, entitled “EPA Needs to Follow Best Practices and Procedures When Reorganizing Its Library Network”. This coincides with a February 2008 GAO report entitled “EPA Needs to Ensure That Best Practices and Procedures Are Followed When Making Further Changes to Its Library Network”. The main recommendations from these reports include: the creation of a comprehensive plan to guide library re-organization; creation of an outreach process for garnering opinions and needs assessments of library users; create mechanisms to oversee and monitor impact; and develop procedures for the proper handling of materials.

Charles Orzehoskie, aka Chuck O, testified on behalf of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of EPA Locals #238. He declared that:
“The Council tried to work with EPA management but was stonewalled. Management was apparently not interested in what the Agency engineers, risk assessors, and scientists had to say about EPA libraries. The Administration’s action in shuttering EPA Libraries appears penny wise, pound foolish and a step backwards in protecting the environment. Unfortunately, so many of the Administrator’s decisions appear to be based on the President’s Management Agenda, and not on the mandates of Congress, the will of the American people or what would be in the best interest of accomplishing EPA’s mission”.

Jim Rettig, ALA’s President-elect, testified and focused on two points: 1) “the vital importance of access to scientific, environmental, legal, and other government information for EPA employees, scientists and the American public. 2) the necessity of the information specialist – the staff librarian – to ensure the most effective access to this information. Because there are fewer libraries and professional library staff, scientists and the public will have limited access to this
information”.

The Q & A session after the witnesses read their statements was the most entertaining portion of the hearing. View the last 20 minutes or so of the webcast to see Chairman Bart Gordan questioning (with some truly great quips and jabs) Molly O’Neill, CIO of EPA. Ms. O’Neill was rather vague and unsure of herself when asked to give specifics, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a wide-eyed deer in headlights. Lots of: “We have not done X yet but we are committed to doing so” or “I’ll have to get back to you” or “I can’t answer that question for the record”. She was unable to answer the question by the Chairman in regards to exactly who is authoring the report for the committees on appropriations, due on March 26th. Witnesses were surprised that they had not been contacted by EPA for commentary on the report, although Ms. O’Neill claimed EPA was “working closely” with the EPA libraries and those affected by the regional library closures.

In conclusion, the committee ordered that the witnesses’ organizational representatives meet with Ms. O’Neill and her staff for consultation and to offer input and commentary on the report to congress before March 26th. Chairman Gordan also had Ms. O’Neill state for the record that closed EPA libraries would re-open before the end of the fiscal year.

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