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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.

Modernizing the FDLP Modernization Act

The so-called FDLP Modernization Act of 2018 (H.R.5305) corrects many of the flaws of the 1993 law. It catches the law up to what it should have been in 1993 and conforms to current GPO practice. Specifically, it requires GPO to provide free access to digital content; it requires GPO to have a program of digital preservation; it changes the scope of GPO and FDLP with new definitions of “Information Dissemination Products” (IDPs) — a term used by OMB since 1996; and it requires GPO to abide by existing privacy laws (going back to 1974 and 2002).

These are welcome improvements, but they fall short of “modernizing” the law to the conditions of 2018 and beyond. A few small changes can go a long way to truly modernizing the law. These changes will create a collaborative, digital FDLP; guarantee long-term, no-fee access to government information insulated from federal political and economic pressures; and enhance services to users.

Suggested Changes

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Dept. of Commerce must release data under FOIA, not charge $174,000

Many federal government agencies are allowed (and in some cases are required) by law to charge fees for access to data they collect.

The US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) maintains a database of U.S. visitors by their origin, age, residency, port of entry, visa type, and initial destination. ITA charges from thirteen to sixteen thousand dollars per year of data for access to this Visitor Arrivals Program [I-94] Data). ITA claims that the fees are justified because the revenue is essential to its operation and has resisted a Freedom of Information Act (FOAI) request for release of the data. The multi-year data the journalist requested would cost $174,000.

"… we rely upon sales to keep them running. If we gave the data away for free to one, we would have to do it for all. But, since ITA requires that we charge a fee and work to make the program funded by sales and appropriated funds, there would be no data to provide and it would also terminate several other programs we have that rely upon this data as well…."

http://data.qz.com/2016/ita-emails/#email-29

A US District Court has ruled that there is no legal basis to charge such exorbitant fees to access government data and has directed the agency to reevaluate how much to charge for responding to the FOIA request.

The government could appeal the decision.

Hat Tip to the Sunlight Foundation!

Save Government Information!

Library Journal published our opinion piece in its “Peer to Peer Review” section today:

Save Government Information! by James A. Jacobs and James R. Jacobs. Library Journal Peer to Peer Review (March 15, 2018).

In it, we make the case that the impending Title 44 bill does not go far enough to building a truly collaborative, 21st century FDLP.

Legal Link Rot

The good folks at perma.cc recently conducted a “quick review” of the links in court filings made in the last five years by three of the largest law firms in the U.S.

They found that over 80% had at least one broken link and that, on average, these briefs contained around six broken links each.

When they examined links that were not broken (that is, the link resolved to some page, not to an error message), they found that nearly 30% of those no longer displayed the material referenced in the brief. (This is known as ‘reference rot’ or ‘content drift.’)

Threats to Government Data

Researchers at the Brookings Institution are monitoring the Trump administration’s management of federal government data sources.

Census. The Census Bureau has canceled crucial preparations for the upcoming decennial census because of persistent underfunding and that the Bureau has delayed the next Economic Census. The Census Bureau Director resigned in May 2017 and a replacement has yet to take the helm.

Federal Election Commission. The 2016 biannual election results were released approximately five months late.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The President has proposed its budget by 17 percent, or $1.2 billion and there have reports that the agency banned use of words like “transgender,” “diversity,” and “fetus” in the CDC’s budget request.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. Underfunding has caused the Bureau to eliminate statistics on mass layoffs and green jobs. The President has proposed an additional 21 percent cut to the Department of Labor, which houses the BLS.

More details in the full article.

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