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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.

Title 44 “reform”: Privatization of printing and erosion of GPO functions mean less public access

Happy 2018! We’re back after a quiet and relaxing new year hiatus. While it’s a new year, we’re still in the throes of Congressional “reform” of Title 44 of the US Code, which defines public printing, distribution of government information, and the federal depository library program (FDLP). Up to this point, we had focused our analysis of the Title 44 “reform” bill on chapter 5, which deals with the FDLP and also published Bernadine Abbott Hoduski’s eloquent argument for why the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP) should be kept.

Peggy Jarrett’s recent piece on LLRX “Legislation Alert: Worrisome Changes to Government Publications Are Possible” has spurred us to go back and look more closely at chapters 1 and 3 which deal with the Government Printing Office (yes this bill changes the name back to the antiquated Printing Office!) and “implementation of authorities.” We believe that these were deliberately embedded into the bill to slash GPO’s budget and hamstring GPO’s ability to provide necessary services, thus severely impacting both public access to government information and the FDLP system. We highly recommend that readers go back and read these 2 chapters with a fine toothed comb and help us sift through. The draft bill is set for markup by the Committee on House Administration (CHA) some time toward the end of January. So there’s still time for the library community to get a grasp of the fine print of the bill and recommend changes to our library lobbyists at the ALA Washington Office (the point person there is Gavin Baker) and directly to the committee.

Here are the lowlights of what we’ve found so far:

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MSU scholars find $21 trillion in unauthorized government spending. Agencies disable links to key documents

I visited the MSU Today news site for the headline about massive unauthorized spending happening at the Department of Defense and Housing and Urban Development. That in and of itself was troubling. But what really drew my attention was in the 2nd paragraph where it stated that the agencies’ Inspector Generals(!) — which are supposed to be the watchdogs of their agencies! — had “disabl[ed] the links to all key documents showing the unsupported spending” and the parenthetical note about the researchers having downloaded and saved their documents locally. Read more of the story at USAWatchdog.

This is the reason why libraries need to get on the ball and become active in digital collection development. Professor Skidmore luckily downloaded and made the documents available. But as long as govt publications are only available on .gov websites and Title 44 regulations for executive agencies to make their documents available to the FDLP are ignored by agencies and the OMB, then this kind of thing will continue to happen. Whether it’s 1 document or 100TB of data, FDLP libraries owe it to themselves and their local communities to do this kind of work. I’m now mulling about how to best provide space for the documents that my library’s researchers download to do their research.

Earlier this year, a Michigan State University economist, working with graduate students and a former government official, found $21 trillion in unauthorized spending in the departments of Defense and Housing and Urban Development for the years 1998-2015.

The work of Mark Skidmore and his team, which included digging into government websites and repeated queries to U.S. agencies that went unanswered, coincided with the Office of Inspector General, at one point, disabling the links to all key documents showing the unsupported spending. (Luckily, the researchers downloaded and stored the documents.)

via MSU scholars find $21 trillion in unauthorized government spending; Defense Department to conduct first-ever audit | MSUToday | Michigan State University.

Bill introduced requiring Congressionally mandated reports be deposited to GPO

The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (ACMRA) H.R. 4631 was introduced yesterday by Representative Mike Quigley. If passed, it will require that all Congressionally mandated reports be deposited in a publicly accessible database maintained by the GPO. For more background, see Daniel Schuman’s writeup and background. The Washington Post wrote about the problem a few years ago titled “Unrequired reading.” Here’s the ACRMA bill text. 38 organizations, including FGI, wrote a public letter endorsing the bill.

The most interesting piece in the bill to me — well other than the requirement of executive agencies to deposit ALL mandated reports with GPO! — is section 4 subsection b, which directs OMB to issue guidance to agencies on implementing the act. My hope is that this is another opportunity to reform OMB circular A-130, which we here at FGI have suggested could be updated to better represent the needs of libraries and the FDLP.

The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act was introduced yesterday in the House and Senate, thanks to the tremendous leadership of Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Sens. Ron Portman (R-OH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The bipartisan bill (read it here) requires:

all reports to Congress that are required by law to be published online in a central repository, and Congress to keep a list of all of its reporting requirements and check whether agencies have submitted reports on time.

ACMRA is important because it improves the legislative ecosystem for high quality information. In short, it empowers Congressional staff to do their jobs and the public to hold the government accountable.

via Bill Requiring All Reports to Congress be Published in Online Repository Introduced.

Schultze argues that PACER Should Be Free in new paper. FGI concurs!

Our friend Stephen Schultze, a 3rd year Georgetown University law student (formerly associate director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University), argues in a new paper that the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system should be free. We concur!

Schultze, Stephen, The Price of Ignorance: The Constitutional Cost of Fees for Access to Electronic Public Court Records (December 4, 2017). Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 106, No. 4, 2018. Available at SSRN.

This paper argues that the federal judiciary has erected a fee structure that makes public records practically inaccessible for many members of the public and for essential democratic purposes. The per-page fee model inhibits constitutionally protected activities without promoting equally transcendent ends. Through this fee system, the judiciary collects fees at ever-increasing rates and uses much of the revenue for entirely other purposes — in an era in which the actual cost of storing and transmitting digital records asymptotically approaches zero. PACER should be free.

via The Price of Ignorance: The Constitutional Cost of Fees for Access to Electronic Public Court Records by Stephen Schultze :: SSRN.

Tax bill’s automatic spending cuts would decimate GPO along w many critical programs

I was struck by the data visualization in today’s NY Times UpShot column which showed just how much impact the “tax cut” bill would have on government services across the federal government for at least the next 10 years! “If Congress passes its tax bill and then takes no other action, the funding for dozens of federal spending programs could be cut — in many cases to nothing — beginning next year.”

Of course the biggest bubble/cut would occur to Medicare, with a sequesterable amount of $25.5 billion for 2018. As I scrolled down to the table listing the 228 agencies and programs which would be cut in 2018, the 4th one down is GPO’s Business Operations Revolving Fund, which could be cut $2 million in 2018, with cuts for 10 years. $2 million doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but GPO only requested $8,540,000 for the revolving fund for FY18. That’s a 25% cut! The revolving fund pays for improvements to GPO’s FDsys (and its successor system, govinfo) as well as other essential IT projects and things like enhancing the cybersecurity of GPO’s IT systems and other necessary physical infrastructure projects.

GPO is already working with a shrinking number of employees and a bare bones budget which has been flat or cut over the last 10 years. GPO programs — including the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP)! — can NOT be sustained if this “tax cut” bill is passed.

With passage of this “tax cut” bill, GPO’s demise is no longer hypothetical. What will FDLP libraries do in that case? Does GPO have a formal succession plan or escrow arrangements (key components of a Trusted Digital Repository audit!)? And what will FDLP libraries do to maintain critical access to and preservation of government information going forward?

We need EVERY librarian to contact their representatives early and often and let them know what devastating effects this “tax cut” bill will have — on libraries yes, but on so many critical programs from Medicare to flood insurance, farm security, meals on wheels, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, and so many other programs across the Federal government.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit increase from the tax bill would be large enough — $1.5 trillion over 10 years — that spending for the unprotected programs would be reduced to zero next year and nearly zero over the next nine years.

Each bubble above represents the size of an automatic budget cut that could take place next year.

The Statutory Pay-as-You-Go Act of 2010, or Paygo, is an Obama-era update of a rule first enacted under President George H.W. Bush. It requires that legislation that adds to the federal deficit be paid for with spending cuts, increases in revenue or other offsets.

via The Tax Bill’s Automatic Spending Cuts – The New York Times.

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