Home » Articles posted by James R. Jacobs

Author Archives: James R. Jacobs

Our mission

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.

NARA digitizes 374 treaties between indigenous peoples and the US

Thanks to an anonymous donation, the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has “conserved and digitized the Ratified Indian treaties in its holdings,” 374 treaties between indigenous peoples and the United States (and its predecessor colonies). The IDA Treaties Explorer lets one also explore maps and see which tribes are associated with which treaties. This is an amazing collection of historical documents!

[HT to Kottke.org: Home of Fine Hypertext Products!]

Inside the Fall of the CDC

Following on the heals of yesterday’s Politico piece documenting Political Interference in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), today ProPublica released a story “Inside the Fall of the CDC” which tells the more complete tale of how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, long the gold standard in the world on public health, could crumble in the face of “unprecedented political interference in public health policy, and the capitulations of some of the world’s top public health leaders.” This is a sad story made all the more disturbing as this same playbook is being followed across many executive branch agencies. The Trump administration is “appropriating a public enterprise and making it into an agent of propaganda for a political regime,” one CDC scientist said in an interview as events unfolded. “It’s mind-boggling in the totality of ambition to so deeply undermine what’s so vitally important to the public.”

When the next history of the CDC is written, 2020 will emerge as perhaps the darkest chapter in its 74 years, rivaled only by its involvement in the infamous Tuskegee experiment, in which federal doctors withheld medicine from poor Black men with syphilis, then tracked their descent into blindness, insanity and death.

With more than 216,000 people dead this year, most Americans know the low points of the current chapter already. A vaunted agency that was once the global gold standard of public health has, with breathtaking speed, become a target of anger, scorn and even pity.

How could an agency that eradicated smallpox globally and wiped out polio in the United States have fallen so far?

ProPublica obtained hundreds of emails and other internal government documents and interviewed more than 30 CDC employees, contractors and Trump administration officials who witnessed or were involved in key moments of the crisis. Although news organizations around the world have chronicled the CDC’s stumbles in real time, ProPublica’s reporting affords the most comprehensive inside look at the escalating tensions, paranoia and pained discussions that unfolded behind the walls of CDC’s Atlanta headquarters. And it sheds new light on the botched COVID-19 tests, the unprecedented political interference in public health policy, and the capitulations of some of the world’s top public health leaders.

Political Interference in CDC’s MMWR Report

Politico obtained government emails that a Trump political appointee instructed the CDC to alter a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) pertaining to schools holding in-person classes.

The report in question was “SARS-CoV-2–Associated Deaths Among Persons Aged <21 Years — United States, February 12–July 31, 2020”

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) issued an editorial on the importance protecting CDC independence as did the Scientific American.

Comments to NARA re Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Document Destruction Proposal

Earlier this week, we posted to let readers know about the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) draft records schedule submitted to NARA that would destroy important civil rights records. CBP was asking for NARA’s approval to destroy after four years “records developed to track and monitor complaints that are or will be investigated by DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) regarding alleged violations of civil rights and civil liberties” and associated “Requests for Information” (NARA RFC Control Number DAA-0568-2018-0001).

CBP further proposed 25-year retention periods for “records pertaining to administrative and criminal investigations on [CBP] employees, contractors, and those in CBP custody,” as well as records and reports pertaining to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) allegations. A July 9, 2020 NARA appraisal memorandum accompanying the Proposed CBP Schedule recommends approving it in full (Appraisal Memorandum is at the end of the proposed CBP records schedule (p11-14)). The ACLU has more background and context on these important records.

A group of organizations working on immigration issues, government accountability, civil liberties, refugee and immigration history, libraries, and more (including PEGI Project and FGI!) have signed on to a letter to NARA raising deep concerns (PDF) regarding CBP’s proposed records schedule and requesting that NARA revise the schedule and permanently retain the records at issue. The letter is extremely thorough and deeply researched and shows how researchers use NARA’s records, puts agencies’ FOIA support (or lack thereof) in historical relief, and offers a strong argument for why these records in particular from the CBP should be designated as permanent.

I encourage our readers to read the letter. Records retention of federal agency records is extremely important to a wide swath of professional, library, and civil society organizations. And this is a great example for how to write a comment to a federal agency.

Please send comments to NARA re CBP’s draft records schedule seeking to destroy important civil rights records

[UPDATED 9/28/2020 5:30pm PST: I’ve taken down the link to the Google form. Please submit comments via REGULATIONS.GOV. Thanks! JRJ]

[UPDATED 9/29/2020: I deleted the link to the letter since it was a draft. When the final letter is published, I’ll be sure to post. JRJ]

**** DEADLINE for INDIVIDUAL PUBLIC COMMENTS is WEDNESDAY 30 September ****

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has extended the commenting period to 30 September on a proposed records schedule regarding Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) (Control Number DAA-0568-2018-0001), 85 FR 47248 (Proposed CBP Schedule).

CBP seeks NARA’s approval to destroy after four years “records developed to track and monitor complaints that are or will be investigated by DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) regarding alleged violations of civil rights and civil liberties” and associated “Requests for Information.”

CBP further proposed 25-year retention periods for “records pertaining to administrative and criminal investigations on [CBP] employees, contractors, and those in CBP custody,” as well as records and reports pertaining to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) allegations. A July 9, 2020 NARA appraisal memorandum accompanying the Proposed CBP Schedule recommends approving it in full (Appraisal Memorandum).

FGI has signed on to a DRAFT letter to NARA raising deep concerns (PDF) regarding CBP’s proposed records schedule and requesting that NARA revise the schedule and permanently retain the records at issue. The comments were crafted by groups working on immigration issues, government accountability, civil liberties, refugee and immigration history, and more. The letter is extremely thorough and shows how researchers use NARA’s records and and offers a strong argument for why these in particular from the CBP should be designated as permanent.

If any of our readers would like to submit individual comments, please feel free to submit directly via regulations.gov (Control Number DAA-0568-2018-0001). You can also read others’ comments on regulations.gov.

**** DEADLINE for INDIVIDUAL PUBLIC COMMENTS is WEDNESDAY 30 September ****

Archives