Our pal Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, long-time FDLP advocate extraordinaire, writes a regular column covering lobbying and government information in the U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d Librarian newsletter. Her latest, titled “New Congress New Legislation,” describes the undoing of the “FDLP Modernization Act of 2018″ (H. R. 5305) in the 115th Congress and proposes a new, very targeted bill for this Congress. We agree with her that a short targeted bill is more likely to pass. We thought her recommendations for what the FDLP community should focus on for legislation to update the FDLP were just the right target. If you agree, please contact your representative, *especially* if that representative is on the Committee on House Administration (we’re looking at you CA, IL, MD, NC, GA!).
She and U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d publisher Mitch Freedman have kindly agreed to let us “reprint” Bernadine’s piece in its entirety on FGI. Please consider subscribing to U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d. It’s a practical and valuable newsletter on all things library-related.
Unabashed Librarian 190 New Congress New Legislation
With Democrats taking over control of the House of Representatives we have a new Congress. We also have many new members who know little about laws that support and fund library programs. The American Library Association in order to quickly educate the members about the library community’s priorities has switched from promoting petitions to organizing grass roots lobbying. Instead of the traditional legislative day in DC in May, ALA brought librarians to the Hill in February to talk to members about the library communities priorities for the next 2 years.
ALA is rejoicing that five bills supported by the library community became law during the 115th Congress. Two of those bills were supported for years by the ALA Government Documents Round Table. They are a law requiring LC to provide on line free access to the Congressional Research Office reports and a law promoting open access to government electronic data.
I am relieved that the “FDLP Modernization Act of 2018″ (H. R. 5305) did not pass because it was overly broad, poorly written, and used language that could be interpreted to harm the mission of the federal depository library program. As a former Congressional legislative staffer I learned from Representative Charlie Rose, former chair of the Joint Committee on Printing and the Committee on House Administration, that a smaller and more targeted bill is more likely to pass. A good example is the “GPO Access Act of 1993″, which was introduced by Representative Rose, and Senators Ford and Stevens. That law transformed the depository library program bringing thousands of digital publications and data bases into the program.
I urge the library community to zero in on the issues most important to the survival of the federal depository library program and propose a very targeted bill. Those issues include:
- Revise the definition of Government Publication in USC Title 44 to include publications in multiple formats, including paper, fiche, and digital. Keep the term Government Publication because it is term used by publishers, printers, librarians, and library users.
- Restructure the federal depository library program to allow regional and selective depository libraries to co-operatively share the task of acquiring, cataloging, and preserving government publications in multiple formats.
- Ask Congress to authorize the Government Publishing Office to provide money to libraries that agree to preserve government publications.
- Ask Congress to direct the GPO, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives to conduct an inventory of government publications held in those agencies and in the depository libraries so the community can easily identify which publications are in danger of disappearing.
Do not wait for the Committee on House Administration to re-introduce a flawed bill. Develop a bill, which includes the most urgent of solutions to improve the current depository program and take it to the Congress, just as librarians did with the “GPO Access Act”.
Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, Congressional Joint Committee on Printing Professional Staff Member (retired), former depository librarian, and author of “Lobbying for Libraries and the Public’s Access to Government Information,” Rowman Publishing.
Our pals over at MuckRock have been working not only on FOIA at the federal level (MuckRock co-founder Michael Morisy is a colleague of mine on NARA’s FOIA Advisory Committee and was highlighted last month on the FOIA Ombudsman’s blog!). They’ve also been working on FOIA/open records at the state and local levels. Check out their new 4-part series “What’s the state of state public records law?” written by Jessie Gomez.
Over the last nine months, our FOIA Fellow Jessie Gomez has been looking at public records law across the nation through our State of State Public Records Law project. Today, we’ll be exploring the major takeaways from her reporting.
Primarily, our coverage has dealt with ambiguities within records law, barriers to access, legislative efforts to reform state records law, and the notable players that have made transparency a reality. Our series will take a look at all of these components and their contributions to your state’s law…
…Public records law has become an integral part of keeping our government accountable. Although it can oftentimes be difficult to navigate, its effect on democracy has been worth the battle.
A new administration has led the public to begin asking questions about their government and know more about its role in their daily lives. With a growing interest to keep those in power under close watch, FOIA and the public records system will remain a powerful tool.
As for the actual system, it’s no surprise that records law continues to face challenges in unlocking information for the pubic. However, ongoing conversations to reform both FOIA and state public records law have led to changes at the local level and reforms in states like California, Massachusetts, and New York.
Although it can seem like the state of public records law isn’t getting any better, so long as that conversation is ongoing, requesters can rest assured that it is headed in the right direction and will continue to evolve.
The Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) has just released its 2019 annual report. Check out what they’ve been doing over the past year in terms of archiving data, environmental data justice, interviewing and policy project, and website monitoring. props to EDGI for a year well-worked!
From the report…
EDGI’s Archiving Working Group continues to build on its grassroots Data Rescue efforts that involved events in over 40 cities and towns across North America and ended in mid-2018. Our archiving work has: ● Enhanced the public accessibility of downloaded data ● Established partnerships with software companies, QRI and Protocol Labs, to develop “Data Together,” a set of protocols and technologies for decentralizing data storage online ● Advanced a collaboration with Science 2 Action to build systems to better identify still vulnerable federal datasets and effectively copy them ● Launched the beta-version of our Environmental Impact Statement search tool in consultation with the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.
Archiving is perhaps the most-changed of EDGI’s areas of work. A year ago, Archiving was the home of a lot of direct work: hosting large data-archiving events and building software tools to support the identification and storage of data. But in the last year, Archiving has become more reflective, quieter, and theory-focused. Archiving continues to hold the data that was harvested in previous years, but now the group gives most of its attention to thoughtful design of data archiving technologies. There are two main reasons for the shift in focus. One is highly pragmatic: the sheer bulk of volunteer labor required to continuously host events and build software tools was unsustainable. The second reason is more a mark of our organization’s maturation. EDGI’s core strength is not in its capacity to do work; rather, it is in its ways of being, doing, and thinking. EDGI’s unique value is its interdisciplinary site at the crossroads of justice, environment, data, and technology . As such, Archiving has been focusing on Data Together, an ongoing and inclusive conversation between EDGI and partners QRI and Protocol Labs, both of whom are building foundational technology for storing data in a decentralized internet. All of the partners think daily about data provenance and ownership and sharing models. The first annual Data Together meeting, in August 2018, yielded the Data Together mission: Data Together empowers people to create a decentralized civic layer for the web, leveraging community, trust, and shared interest to steward data they care about. The group also completed the first “semester” of a monthly reading group. Through carefully curated reading lists and 90-minute group discussions, the partners covered the topics of: the decentralized web; ownership; commons; centralization vs. decentralization vs. peer-to-peer or federation; privacy; and justice. This is a place for partners to seat their work in broad, theoretical contexts. We anticipate that the Archival functions within EDGI will continue to change as the organization continues to learn.
The American Library Association (ALA) has teamed up with the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality to develop the Libraries’ guide to the 2020 census to prepare libraries for the decennial count of every person living in the United States.
The Guide contains practical information to assist library staff in addressing potential patron and community requests regarding the upcoming 2020 Census and Census Day on April 1, 2020. The Guide includes:
- basic information about the Census process;
- highlights of new components in the 2020 Census, such as the online response option;
- frequently asked questions;
- a timeline of key Census dates;
- contact information and links to additional resources.
I’ve been very impressed with the research and thought that goes into the First Branch Forecast, the weekly newsletter focusing on transparency and governance issues being considered by Congress. There’s always something of interest in the newsletter, so I highly recommend that everyone subscribe.
One item of interest in a recent Forecast was about Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs). In my work as a research librarian, Federal budget analysis, information and data are frequent requests as the Congressional appropriations process is about as clear as mud to most people – and I also *highly* recommend bookmarking the regularly updated CRS report “The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction” to better understand the kabuki-like procedural elements that go into this process. So the FBF research into CBJs offers both insight into and problems with the budget process and access to the information and data that go into this annual rite. I’ll let them explain in detail, but please read the entire post and don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter.
Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are plain-language explanations of how an agency proposes to spend money it requests that Congress appropriate, but how easy is it for congressional staff and citizens to find these documents? Demand Progress surveyed 456 federal agencies and entities for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and found:
7.5 percent of the 173 agencies with congressional liaisons, i.e., 13 agencies, published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. (Agencies with congressional liaison offices routinely interact with Congress). If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure becomes 3.3 percent, or 5 agencies, out of 152 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. The failure of one agency to publish their report impacts a number of sub-agencies. Among the agencies/entities inconsistent in their reporting is the Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Vice President.