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76.5 percent cut in E-Gov Fund

OMB Watch has a good overview of what went on with the e-gov funding this year and how the budget will affect transparency and open government. The article says that H.R. 1473, which President Obama signed into law on April 15, provided only $8 million for the E-Gov Fund, a 76.5 percent cut.

The article ends on a hopeful note saying that the funding could be restored next year and there is bi-partisan support for the E-Gov Fund.

Given the current political climate, it is hard for me to be optimistic that there will be sufficient funding for government information production, dissemination, and preservation in the near future, much less for the long term. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which examines federal and state fiscal policies and programs that affect low and moderate income families and individuals, reports that the House Judiciary Committee began considering a constitutional balanced budget amendment that “would force Congress to enact the Republican Study Committee’s (RSC) extreme budget plan or something similar to it.” That plan would cut total funding for non-defense discretionary programs by approximately 70 percent in 2021.

  • Balanced Budget Amendment Would Require More Extreme Cuts Than Ryan Plan, By Robert Greenstein, James R. Horney and Kelsey Merrick, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (June 6, 2011)

    This is the part of the budget that includes veterans’ medical care, most homeland security activities, border protection, and the FBI. It also includes education, environmental protection, protecting the nation’s food and water supply, and medical research, as well as services for disadvantaged or abused children, frail elderly people, and people with severe disabilities.

Even if this amendment doesn’t become law and even if the specific RSC budget doesn’t pass, it is hard to imagine, when such huge cuts are being seriously considered, that there will be adequate support in Congress for Data.gov, GPO, FDsys, American Factfinder, and other government information projects. Even if budgets are adequate to fund minimal dissemination of “current” information on government web sites, it is hard to imagine there will be adequate funding to keep online — or even preserve offline — older “non-current” digital information (e.g., last year’s annual reports, non-current census information, “out of date” economic data).

It is much easier to imagine that libraries that rely on pointing to government web sites for government information may find themselves pointing to empty pages.

When Congress is willing to cut medical care for veterans, homeland security, services for abused children, and protection of our water supply, much less government openness initiatives for even current information, it is hard to imagine that it will be willing to fund digital preservation of government information.

Who will decide what is discarded and what is kept? Who will decide what is worth preserving and what is not? If digital government information were deposited in FDLP libraries, every FDLP library would at least have the opportunity to make its own decisions on what is worth preserving for its own community. If digital government information were deposited in FDLP libraries, FDLP libraries could work together and collaborate on solutions to preserve digital information for the future. But if FDLP libraries do not demand digital deposit, there may be no files left to preserve.

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