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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.

A day in the life of a govinfo librarian: FOIA’ing an old report

I thought I’d just share this here as no doubt other govinfo librarians have had similar experiences. When I say “day” it should really be “several months” because what started out as a simple ILL request grew into a several month email trail.

A researcher asked the library to do an Interlibrary loan request for a 1966 USGS report: Navigation channel improvement of the Alto Parana River, Argentina and Paraguay: peaceful uses for nuclear explosives. (Who says govt documents are boring?! This one was about using nuclear explosives to excavate river channels. Crazy, yes, but not boring!! Govt documents have much fodder for works of fiction but don’t get me started about the US Life Saving Service :-)) However, our ILL staff (normally *amazing* at digging out old/obscure/out-of-print materials for our patrons!) couldn’t find this one and so asked me for help.

After perusing the Monthly Catalog and much trolling of government tech report sites like National Technical Reports Library (NTRL), Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), and the Technical Report Archive and Image Library (TRAIL), I finally came across a catalog record for it in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Library.

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The Pentagon’s $660 million FOIA fee

A friend reminded me today about this story from 2016 which was a Finalist for 2016 Golden Padlock award given each year by the group Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) “celebrating” the most secretive government agency or individual in the United States. that year, there were some real doozies. But I think the winner hands down was the US Department of Defense charging a $660 million fee to fulfill a FOIA request because the request would require 15 million labor hours (more than 1,712 years for one person)! MuckRock has the rest of the story.

There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s break it down, bottom to top.

  • The $660 million fee estimate is nearly 500 times our previous record, and will likely hold that dubious title for quite some time.
  • 15 million labor hours breaks down into 625,000 days, or a little over 1,712 years. So assuming one DoD employee started working on this nonstop tomorrow, they’d finish somewhere in the summer of 3728. To put that in perspective, if they started on year zero, by the time they were done, they’d only have to wait 20 years to hand off the work to an infant George Washington for safekeeping.
  • Finally, the idea that DoD can’t search their digitized contracts – therefore creating the need for the labor and associated cost – is problematic for a couple reasons. First, here at MuckRock, we know a thing or two about scans of paper copies, and running those through even a rudimentary OCR is pretty simple. The fact that they’re allegedly not doing that somewhat defeats the purpose of digitized archives. Second, there’s got to be a better way to preform this search than a brute force look through all their contracts.

via The Pentagon’s $660 million FOIA fee • MuckRock.

U.S. Historians Are Fighting to Stop ICE From Erasing Records of Agency’s Treatment of Immigrants

[August 9, 2018 update] Thank you Meg Phillips, NARA’s External Affairs Liaison, for contacting me and offering additional information and context. Meg notes that “No agency may dispose of records without written authorization from the Archivist of the United States in the form of approval of the records retention schedule. That is what is going on with ICE – ICE submitted a schedule, NARA requested public comment, which it has gotten, and NARA is now working with ICE to revise the schedule.”

Because of the public interest in the ICE schedule, Archivist David Ferriero recently blogged about where NARA’s process is at, and also wrote a response to the AHA letter dated August 1, 2018 (available as a PDF).

For those interested, the ALA Washington Office published a good series last year on how the records scheduling process works — part 1 and part 2.


Good on the American Historical Association for writing a letter to Archivist of the US David Ferriero to complain about the imminent destruction of records by the US Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Most people do not realize that executive branch agencies get to define what constitutes a “record” and its own records schedule of what ultimately gets sent to the National Archives for preservation. NARA only offers guidance to executive agencies, they do not tell executive agencies what to preserve.

U.S. historians are rallying to stop federal immigration agencies from destroying records of their treatment towards immigrants.

In a letter addressed to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which instructs federal agencies on how to maintain their records, the American Historical Association has demanded that the regulatory body shut down any “threats to the preservation of records relating to the treatment of immigrants by the U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).”

The letter, signed by AHA Executive Director James Grossman, comes after it was revealed that ICE had sought permission from NARA to begin destroying years’ worth of data, including information on reports of sexual abuse, solitary confinement and in-custody deaths. 

via U.S. Historians Are Fighting to Stop ICE From Erasing Records of Agency’s Treatment of Immigrants.

Federal Data Strategy: PEGI Project response

The Preservation of Electronic Government Information (PEGI) Project (of which I’m a board member) just submitted comments to the Department of Commerce concerning “Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset Phase 1 Comments” [Docket Number USBC-2018-0011 (Federal Register)]. This is just the first round of requests for comments, with other comment periods coming up in October, 2018, January, 2019, and April, 2019.

Read the RFC from PEGI or download a copy of the letter here.

1. BEST PRACTICES FOR ENTERPRISE DATA GOVERNANCE

In establishing governance practices for strategically managing Federal data, an advisory board should be established to make recommendations for data management and stewardship, with substantial representation from academic and non-profit communities.[1] These communities act on behalf of the broad public interest in Federal data investments, and can advise on how Federal data stewards can responsibly leverage emerging best practices for data lifecycle management. For example, the Open Government Data Principles (https://public.resource.org/8_principles.html) developed by public advocates in 2007 articulate a public-first approach to government data to ensure that the investment in these resources is fully realized.

In general, data management practices should incorporate a lifecycle evaluation process that articulates immediate, short-term, and long-term actions, incorporating strategies that address data discoverability, accessibility, usability, and preservation. We note that the FAIR Principles (https://www.go-fair.org/fair-principles/) are in widespread adoption as guidance for responsible data lifecycle management, and propose that Federal data governance strategies seek to address these principles.

Integration with Federal information policy is essential for aligning Federal data practices with public information dissemination practices. To that end, Office of Management & Budget policies, including Circular A-130, should be amended to address public information lifecycle management, including data management, for all information dissemination products.[2] 

via Federal Data Strategy: PEGI Project Response — PEGI Project.

Trump administration officials dismissed benefits of national monuments

Every day seems to bring a new revelation about just how sneaky and un-transparent this administration’s agency heads are. Since EPA administrator Scott Pruitt resigned, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has become the new poster boy for scandals and federal investigations. In yesterday’s Washington Post, it has been revealed that “Trump administration officials dismissed benefits of national monuments”, sought out evidence to support the administration’s case for unraveling national monuments for timber and minerals extraction and dismissed or deleted evidence that public sites “boosted tourism and spurred archaeological discoveries.”

This is definitely going on the Less Access to Less Information page!

…thousands of pages of email correspondence [obtained through FOIA] chart how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his aides instead tailored their survey of protected sites to emphasize the value of logging, ranching and energy development that would be unlocked if they were not designated national monuments.

…The new documents show that as Zinke conducted his four-month review, Interior officials rejected material that would justify keeping protections in place and sought out evidence that could buttress the case for unraveling them.

… [the] redactions came to light because Interior’s FOIA office sent documents to journalists and advocacy groups on July 16 that it later removed online.

“It appears that we inadvertently posted an incorrect version of the files for the most recent National Monuments production,” officials wrote July 17. “We are requesting that if you downloaded the files already to please delete those versions.”

…The inadvertently released documents show that department officials dismissed some evidence that contradicted the administration’s push to revise national monument designations, which are made under the 1906 American Antiquities Act. Estimates of increased tourism revenue, analyses showing that existing restrictions had not hurt fishing operators and agency reports finding that less vandalism occurred as a result of monument designations were all set aside.

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