Home » post » Please sign our petition for open access to ALL govt information (or as close to ALL as we can get)

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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.

Please sign our petition for open access to ALL govt information (or as close to ALL as we can get)

[UPDATE 4/2/13: We’ve had some questions about the meaning of “ALL.” Please read the comment thread for clarification. We don’t mean “records” (which fall under FOIA) and we don’t mean classified information. We mean public domain documents, publications, reports, data, statistics and the like. JRJ]

A convergence of several things — the White House’s new policy on Open Access to federally funded scientific information, the NAPA Report on the GPO, the CASSANDRA Letter to the Public Printer, and Sunshine Week among them — has led us to create a petition on the White House’s We the People petition site. If you believe in free permanent public access to authentic government information, we hope you’ll sign the petition and forward on to all your friends and social networks to help us reach our goal of 100,000 signatures by April 11, 2013! Thanks in advance!!


Require free online permanent public access to ALL federal government information and publications.

1. Assure that GPO has the funds to continue to maintain and develop the Federal Digital System (FDsys).

2. Raise ALL Congressional, Executive & Judicial branch information, publications & data to the level of federally funded scientific information & publish ALL government information as “Open Access.”

3. Mandate the free permanent public access to other Federal information currently maintained in fee-based databases – including the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), the National Technical Reports Library (NTRL), & USA Trade Online.

4. Establish an interagency, govt-wide strategy to manage the entire lifecycle of digital government information w/ FDLP Libraries – publication, access, usability, bulk download, long-term preservation, standards & metadata.


The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) completed an operational review of the Government Printing Office (GPO) mandated under the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 112-74). The NAPA report, “Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age,” acknowledged the obligation Congress has to establish an interagency government-wide strategy to manage the lifecycle of digital government information. The report also acknowledged the vital role GPO plays in providing free permanent public access to authentic government information in tangible formats through its Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and to authentic government information in electronic formats via GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDSys).

However, Recommendation 4 states: “GPO and Congress should explore alternative funding models for the Federal Digital System in order to ensure a stable and sufficient funding source.” Among the models recommended are “…reimbursement for services; fees for end users; dedicated appropriations; and/or an automatic charge to agencies, depending on size, to encourage agencies to take advantage of GPO’s existing infrastructure and cover the cost of the services being provided by GPO.”

Just as the Obama Administration supports the public’s right to “free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research,” the Administration must support the creation of “stable and sufficient funding” to ensure free permanent public access to authentic government information arising from the work of taxpayer-funded Executive, Congressional, and Judicial Branch agencies.


  1. NAPA report, “Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age.”
  2. CASSANDRA Letter to US Public Printer in response to the NAPA Report.
  3. Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research. John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
  4. White House response to “We The People” petition “Increasing Public Access to the Results of Scientific Research”
  5. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Information Management: National Technical Information Service’s Dissemination of Technical Reports Needs Congressional Attention. GAO-13-99, November 19, 2012. Context on the GAO report from FGI.
  6. GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys): http://fdsys.gov
  7. PACER: http://www.pacer.gov
  8. National Technical Reports Library (NTRL): http://ntrl.ntis.gov
  9. USAtrade: https://www.usatradeonline.gov
  10. Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). http://fdlp.gov

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


  1. People who do bad things will be the only ones who appose this. Scrutiny of our gvts.actions by thousands of people can only be good.

  2. This information is produced using our tax dollars, and every citizen should have free and easy online access to this information.

  3. How can advocating transparency in a transparent government be bad? How can requesting access to, and the preservation of historical documents that are published online be anything but good?

  4. Access to ALL government information is not in the cards. First, there is no way to measure and know with any certainty what ALL is. Second, there are national security, contractual and other legal obligations that preclude the public release of some government information.

    Since the E-Gov Act of 2002, there has been an explosion of Government information available on the Internet. Today, all Government offices that prepare or acquire information on behalf of the Government and citizens are potential publishers. Much of this material has not been systematically captured for permanent public access and preservation by the Government. Agencies are charged to provide up-to-the-minute information on their websites. Web and content managers delete the old to replace with the new without a thought to preservation and records management.

    Government agencies that sponsor the creation or acquisition of information products are responsible for its review, acceptance, information quality, classification, publication and initial “primary” distribution to specific recipients or target audience. Further dissemination is through “secondary” distribution channels. Conduits for the public release of government information include:

    • Category 1 – National libraries
    Library of Congress
    National Library of Medicine
    National Agricultural Library
    National Library of Education
    • Category 2 – Federal agency libraries
    • Category 3 – Federal information centers and repositories
    Government Printing Office
    National Technical Information Service
    Federal agency repositories; i.e., NASA, DTIC, DOE, EPA, NIH, etc.
    • Category 4 – National Archives and records management centers

    Categories 1 and 2, Libraries, typically purchase and collect information from all sources. They do not create the materials in their collections and, therefore, have no ownership rights in the content.

    Category 3, Federal information centers, and Category 4, Archives, do not “buy” but collect materials that are produced by or for the Government and for which the Government has a Data Rights License in the intellectual content. Category 3 materials are active and current. Category 4 materials are inactive and static. These materials are “Government records” and “Government publications,” but not all are “Government Works.” Publications may include works by a contractor or grantee; copyright protected material assigned to the U.S. Government; or copyrighted information from non-Government sources.

    Although GPO and NTIS are both government information centers, their missions and acquisition methods are different, as are the type and subject matter of the materials in their collections.

    GPO “prints” and does primary and secondary distribution of agency-produced information intended for the public.

    NTIS does secondary distribution and “document supply” of scientific and technical information produced by or for the government under contracts, grants and other agreements. This material is generated to support agency internal needs for government purposes.

    • Hi Bonnie. You make valid points. But be aware that there is a word count on the “We the People” site. It was not possible to say “we want ALL govt info that’s not classified and has been created by a govt agency or govt employee so falls within public domain and is meant for public consumption and/or distribution and falls with the 4 categories of conduits for the public release of govt information.” That would have been a mouthful with the definition taking up the entire petition 🙂

      We’ve described a viable system of digital govt information many times here on FGI — the most concise is probably the letter to Deputy CTO Beth Noveck in 2010. Let’s just say that “ALL” in the context of this petition means “ALL that is feasible and to which the American public has the right to access and read.”

      I hope you agree that the petition makes an important statement raising ALL govt information to the level of federally funded scientific information and asking the White House to admit that and work with GPO, Federal agencies and FDLP libraries to work toward a more open, transparent, free, preservable system of access to federal govt information. And I hope you’ve signed the petition despite your misgivings.

      • It’s not that I have misgivings, it’s that people tend to think in terms of absolutes. Should “all” government information be openly accessible to the public for free? Ideally, yes. Realistically, it’s not possible, but is a worthy goal.

        Here are some more definitions to help frame discussions and expectations. Rather than “information,” I believe what we are talking about are “records.”

        Records – The National Archives and Records Administration, Title 44 § 3301.
        As used in this chapter, “records” includes all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government or because of the informational value of data in them. Library and museum material made or acquired and preserved solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference, and stocks of publications and of processed documents are not included.

        Also for clarification, there are three levels of security controls:

        CLASSIFIED: At one end of the spectrum is Classified which includes Confidential, Secret and Top Secret, the unauthorized disclosure of which could cause damage to national security as defined in Executive Order 13526, “Classified National Security Information” December 29 2009. The Information Security Oversignt Office (ISOO) in the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) has the lead for information security policy and regulations required by Executive Order for Classified Information Management.

        CONTROLLED UNCLASSIFIED: ISOO is also the executive agency for policy and management of the national Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) program which was established by E.O. in November 2009. The controls on unclassified information are in compliance with laws and regulations that call for the non-disclosure of and the withholding from public release of unclassified information produced or collected for administrative and business purposes; e.g.- FOIA exemptions; personally identifiable information (PII); proprietary information, etc.. CUI, as defined in Presidential Memorandum entitled “Designation and Sharing of Controlled Unclassified Information,” dated May 9, 2008, is information that does not meet the standards for National Security Classification under Executive Order 12958, as amended, but is pertinent to the national interests of the United States or to the important interests of entities outside the U.S. Federal Government, and under law or policy requires protection from unauthorized disclosure, special handling safeguards, or prescribed limits on exchange or dissemination.

        PUBLIC RELEASE: At the other end is Public Release which is unclassified information that may be made available or sold to the public and exported to foreign nationals and entities. Public Release information has been “Cleared for Open Publication” and unrestricted distribution by the originating office or authorized agent.

  5. I had an off-line conversation with another friend who also had questions about what “ALL” meant. His questions were exactly that. The examples he gave were, in my mind, records — who’s public release would go through different channels of declassification and/or FOIA. I guess I should have worded the petition as “ALL federal government publications” and dropped the word “information” so as to be more clear. But I added the word “information” to get at other kinds of govt information that *should* be publicly available without fee — maps, statistics and data etc.

    Even technical reports, which Bonnie pointed out frequently falls under contracts, grants and copyright, should become fair game if the new policy memorandum, “Expanding Public Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research” is applied correctly. I think the depository community needs to publicly ask NTIS — as well as NASA (whose technical reports site has been taken off line) and other agencies which publish technical reports — to apply that new policy and release NTRL to the public without fee.

  6. FYI. GPO and NTIS are under the control of different management.

    Legislative Branch – U.S. Congress — GPO
    The Government Printing Office is a component of the Legislative Branch under the control of Congress. See the GPO FAQ page http://www.gpo.gov/about/faq.htm
    Q. How is the GPO funded? A. GPO operates on a revolving fund basis, like a business. Approximately 14.7 % of GPO’s funding comes from direct appropriation, comprising less than 3% of the overall legislative branch budget. Appropriated funds are to cover the cost of congressional work (and may only be accessed when work is performed as ordered by Congress) and the depository library program and supporting distribution programs. All other revenues to GPO are reimbursements from agencies for work performed or sales of publications to the public.
    Q. Who runs the GPO? A. As an agency of the legislative branch of the Government, GPO is headed by the Public Printer of the United States, who serves as the agency’s chief executive officer. The Public Printer is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

    Executive Branch – White House — Department of Commerce — NTIS
    The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) is a component of the Department of Commerce under the control of the Executive branch. It is self-supporting. See http://www.ntis.gov/about
    NTIS Mission: The National Technical Information Service seeks to promote American innovation and economic growth by collecting and disseminating scientific, technical and engineering information to the public and industry, by providing information management solutions to other federal agencies, and by doing all without appropriated funding.

    Executive Branch — White House Office of Management and Budget — (OMB) Circular A-130 Management of Federal Information Resources. See http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars_a130
    This policy only applies to Executive Branch activities. It addresses information life cycle planning; information dissemination channels to include the GPO and federal depository libraries; user fees and cost recovery for information products; and much more.

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