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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.

In Case You Didn’t Already Know…

…the U.S. is not the leader in e-Government…at least according to a study released last week by the Brookings Institution. However, we do rank third, but we are “falling behind other countries in broadband access, public-sector innovation and implementation of the latest interactive tools to federal Web sites”.

Two other articles I read this morning also got me thinking about where we stand as a nation with digital government information: “Old-school Recordkeeping Meets the Digital Age” and “Government Data and the Invisible Hand“. The first article made me feel quite frustrated with our lack of digital preservation progress, especially after reading this quote:

“…lacking a statutory prescription for maintaining electronic records, most agencies print and file [records] as they would paper documents, according to a recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office…Under current regulations, NARA does not require agencies to maintain records in their native formats. So for now, many agencies still print e-mail messages and file the paper versions.Although the filing process is relatively easy, the practice has a major weakness: It eliminates the searchability of digital documents”. (Gee, ya think?!)

Envisioning all those emails being printed by government agency employees makes me think of Google’s April Fool’s joke: the “Google Paper” service!

I hope the next President and his administration will take the issue of e-government and digital preservation/authentication very seriously. Obama and McCain have touched on the issue a bit, including Obama’s vague vision of online government transparency:

“I want people to be able to know, today, this issue is going on…Today, President Obama talked about his proposal for $4,000 student college-tuition credits. It’s going to be going to this congressional committee, these are the key leaders in the House and Senate who are going to be deciding on the bill, here are the groups that support it, you should contact your congressman. The more that we can enlist the American people to stay involved, that’s the only way we can move an agenda forward.”

The second article touches on this issue as well, and urges the next Presidential administration to “embrace the potential of Internet-enabled government transparency [by reducing] the federal role in presenting important government information to citizens”. A profound statement, but read the rest of their argument as stated in the abstract:

“Today, government bodies consider their own websites to be a higher priority than technical infrastructures that open up their data for others to use. We argue that this understanding is a mistake. It would be preferable for government to understand providing reusable data, rather than providing websites, as the core of its online publishing responsibility.

Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, we argue that the executive branch should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that exposes the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large”.

This makes sense if you think of it from the context of all the mashups, RSS feeds, and other interactivity with web content that exists. The rest of the article makes some other interesting points and counterarguments, such as

“A government data provider can provide a digital signature alongside each data item. A third party site that presents the data can offer a copy of the signature along with the data, allowing the user to verify the authenticity of the data item, by verifying the digital signature, without needing to visit the government site directly”.

Easier said than done? Is the “digital signature” they talk about the same as GPO Digital Authentication?

We are making some progress in e-Government and digital preservation of government information but we need to do better. Like Obama said, we can start by contacting our congressmen to voice our concerns and suggestions for improvement on e-Gov initiatives and digital preservation…because I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want the government to use “Google Paper“.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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