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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.

Today on “beautiful public data”: Government Comic Books!

Today’s issue of “beautiful public data” takes a deep dive into Government Comic Books! The post explains the history of comic books since the 1950s.

BPD government comics

Today’s post references an interesting book called “Government Issue: Comics for the People 1940s-2000s.” by Richard Graham. Graham, a professor of libraries at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln has been collecting these unique comics since childhood.

I also highly recommend subscribing to the Beautiful Public Data newsletter written by Jon Keegan. Keegan is an investigative data journalist who writes for The Markup and other outfits. The BPD tagline is “A curated selection of visually interesting datasets collected by local, state and federal government agencies.” And that’s just what he does. Go check it out if you haven’t subscribed yet.

Brennan Center public letter to lawmakers on Artificial Intelligence (AI) signed by 87 civil society groups

FYI, on the heals of the first US Senate artificial intelligence (AI) “Insight Forum” called together by Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) in september, 2023, today the Brennan Center for Justice, along with 87 civil society orgs (including FGI 😉 ) sent this letter regarding AI to lawmakers on the Hill. The letter warns of the impact of AI on the global economy and society, and particularly on historically marginalized communities and recommends “legislation that achieves meaningful, rights-respecting AI accountability.”

The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned about the risks that artificial intelligence (AI) and other automated decision-making systems pose to the well-being and rights of the American people. We welcome the intense attention that Congress is placing on these issues, and the inclusion of some key civil society representatives in the first Senate AI Insight Forum that took place on September 13th.

As Congress continues its examination of the opportunities and risks presented by AI, we urge legislators to consider the varied ways in which AI is already impacting our economy and society, particularly historically marginalized communities. We ask you to work closely with civil society to pursue legislation that achieves meaningful, rights-respecting AI accountability.

John Oliver on food safety. Or: you never know where you’ll find an unreported document

I’m so glad John Oliver is back! His latest expose on food safety is as always on point – at the same time being extremely funny! He explains the system under which food in the US is regulated (or not!), including the crazy fact that both the FDA and the USDA have some regulatory responsibilities in this area. Watch on.

Oliver is also good at using government documents to make his points. And this episode had a good one. He referenced a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General report from 2017 “The Food and Drug Administration’s Food-Recall Process Did Not Always Ensure the Safety of the Nation’s Food Supply”; so of course I had to check the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP). It’s sadly not surprising that this report was NOT in the catalog and so I had to send it in to GPO as an “unreported document.” Executive branch documents have long been problematic in being included in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) — for more of this history see ““Issued for Gratuitous Distribution”: The History of Fugitive Documents and the FDLP” by yours truly. And Inspectors General offices are among the worst. GPO doesn’t even include its own IG reports in the CGP so that should tell you something.

I hope others will join me in my Quixotic effort to report executive branch reports to GPO — and especially those from agency Inspectors General! — so that these important reports can be included in the FDLP and be preserved and made available for the long term. And now back to John Oliver:-)

JustSecurity posts Trump Trials Clearinghouse

This is incredibly helpful! The Site JustSecurity, at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, has just created the Trump Trials Clearinghouse to track on the large number of criminal and civil cases in which the former president is a defendant. The site includes a calendar as well as court proceedings, key statutes, relevant government documents and correspondence, JustSecurity analysis and more for each pending case. The repository will continue to be updated as events occur.

JustSecurity is “an online forum for the rigorous analysis of security, democracy, foreign policy, and rights.”

Former President Donald Trump is a defendant in a sizable number of criminal and civil cases. To help readers parse through these complex legal developments, we have centralized information on Trump’s major cases in the most comprehensive clearinghouse of its kind. Below you will find links to relevant court proceedings, key statutes, government documents, and defense documents – as well as Just Security resources and analysis, media and other guides.

We will continue updating this page with new information as the trials develop. We hope this repository of information will be useful for analysts, researchers, investigators, journalists, educators, and the public at large.

If you think the Trump Trials Clearinghouse is missing something important, please send recommendations for additional content by email to lte@justsecurity.org.

DttP student article re SIGAR and the tenuous nature of born-digital preservation

The Fall, 2023 issue of Documents to the People (DttP) just came out. This issue is always interesting because it includes a section of MLIS student submissions. This time around was no different. An article by Miguel Beltran, a grad student at University of IL at Urbana Champaign (which also happens to be my alma mater!) caught my attention because it was on a subject that FGI has long written about: the exigency of born-digital preservation of government information.

Citation: Lessons Learned in Born-Digital Preservation. Miguel Beltran. Documents to the People (DttP), Fall, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5860/dttp.v51i3.8124.

Beltran’s insightful analysis revolves around the documents of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) and an investigative report by the Washington Post entitled “At war with the truth.” Beltran points to the BIG ELEPHANT in the FDLP room: the processes, workflows, and infrastructures needed to curate (collect, preserve, and give long-term access) government information are not currently in place and that “clear strategies and widespread collaboration are necessary to preserve government information on these mediums.”

As more government documents are created in digital mediums, it is increasingly important that agencies could preserve and make them available to the public. This article discusses one group of government documents related to the war in Afghanistan and the
landscape that would potentially preserve them. Based on the current conditions, there is a possibility that these documents and those of a similar nature may be overlooked and lost to future generations.

I checked the Catalog of Government Publications (CGP) for author: “United States. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction” and the newest SIGAR report there is from May of 2022. Herein lies the problem as Beltran notes. Without a agreement in place between SIGAR and GPO, many of this agency’s reports will fall through the cracks and not be cataloged for the National Collection or actively preserved. The main SIGAR site has been harvested by the Internet Archive many times since 2009 (but the reports page and its corresponding RSS feed have been collected far fewer times since only 2015, at very random intervals, and NOT by GPO!). That means that, though the SIGAR site is in the wayback machine, the reports from this agency are not necessarily even in wayback and certainly NOT in GPO’s FDLP web archive.

Therefore, the ONLY way to assure that these born-digital documents are curated is to go through the list one-by-one in a brute force kind of way to check to see if they’ve been cataloged in CGP and then report them as “unreported” documents to GPO. So that’s what I’m going to do 🙂

Thanks again to Miguel Beltran for again raising the important issue of born-digital preservation. Have you reported a document to GPO today? I challenge all of my FDLP colleagues around the country to report 5 documents per week to GPO. Together we can fill some of the cracks that are currently in the National Collection.

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