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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.

Time Use Study of Reading in America

It is nice to see an article in a popular magazine make good and explicit use of government data. This article has a couple of added bonuses for government information librarians: It is about reading and it does a very good job of explaining how to avoid being mislead by sloppy use of data. It also uses one of my favorite datasets, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey!

Here there’s a little bit of good news: the average American reader spent 1.39 hours reading in 2003, rising to 1.48 hours in 2016. That’s the very gradually rising blue line in the graph above. In other words, the average reading time of all Americans declined not because readers read less but because fewer people were reading at all, a proportion falling from 26.3 per cent of the population in 2003 to 19.5 per cent in 2016.

Check out OpenSecrets new Anomaly Tracker

This is fascinating. Check out OpenSecrets new Anomaly Tracker tool. By collecting data on lawmakers, donations received by their committees or super PACs, and legislation sponsored, out of the ordinary occurrences can be exposed.

The Anomaly Tracker tool highlights “anomalies” in our money-and-politics data. An anomaly, as we define it here, is an occurrence that is out of the ordinary. It is not necessarily an indication that there is something amiss.

We are tracking six kinds of anomalies here:

  1. Lawmakers sponsoring legislation that was lobbied by only one company or other organization whose employees or PAC also donated to the sponsoring lawmakers.
  2. Lawmakers receiving twice as much in contributions from their top donors as their next highest donors.
  3. Lawmakers receiving twice as much in contributions from their top donor industries as their next highest donor industries.
  4. Lawmakers receiving more than 50 percent of their itemized contributions from out of state.
  5. More than 50 percent of a committee or candidate’s spending is paid to a single vendor.
  6. PACs giving at least $7,500 to a candidate’s Leadership PAC but nothing to the candidate’s committee.

Have a suggestion for a type of anomaly you would like to see or wish to speak to us about this tool? Email us!

via Anomaly Tracker | OpenSecrets.

NSA security education posters from the Cold War

Security Fever: Catch it! ArsTechnica just posted these wild posters from the NSA’s security education program. They were released because of the diligence and FOIA request of our friends at the Government Attic where you can see all of the posters.

In February of 2016, the people behind the website Government Attic made an unusual Freedom of Information Act request to the National Security Agency: “A digital/electronic copy of the NSA’s old security posters from the 1950s and 1960s.” It took more than two years, but the NSA finally got around to honoring the request—providing digital images of more than 100 posters from NSA’s Security Education Program, spanning from the agency’s early days in the 1950s up to the 1970s (with some minor redactions, of course).

The posters are a time capsule of Cold War era government secrecy culture, and they use every possible approach in the propaganda and advertising book to hammer home the need for security awareness. Posters from the 1950s heavily played on the threat of the Soviets to life, liberty, and religion—with a heavy emphasis on the role of Christianity in the lives of good, God-fearing Americans of the time. Others focused on patriotism and on the need to protect the American way of life.

But with the cultural changes of the 1960s and 1970s, things got a little… looser, as pop culture references started to seep into the security propaganda materials—along with occasional warnings about the counter-culture (such as “Don’t Blow Your Clearance on Drugs”). A Saturday Night Fever-themed poster, with an illustration of John Travolta that looks a bit more like a young Mitt Romney, is perhaps the high-water mark of the trend. While perhaps not as iconic as the World War II operational security poster “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships,”  the “Security Fever—Catch It” poster is a lost classic.

via Security Alert: NSA security education posters from the Cold War | Ars Technica.

Cybersecurity of federal agencies reviewed. 71 of 96 rely on “at risk or high risk” programs

The Washington Post is reporting on the release of a new White House cybersecurity report titled “Federal Cybersecurity Risk Determination Report and Action Plan” (I just submitted it to GPO as a fugitive document!). The report has some very disturbing results showing that federal agencies across the government are struggling to get secure. Read on.

The White House and the Department of Homeland Security have finished a governmentwide review examining the security of federal agencies, and the results aren’t pretty.

Dozens of federal agencies have cybersecurity programs that aren’t properly equipped to deal with cyber intrusions in their networks, according to a new report released by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Of the 96 federal agencies examined, a whopping 71 were relying on cybersecurity programs deemed “at risk or high risk.”

…The report found that 12 agencies had “high risk” programs, meaning key cybersecurity tools weren’t in place or weren’t deployed sufficiently. Fifty-nine agencies had “at risk” programs, meaning some of the right policies were in place but there were “significant gaps” in terms of security. OMB also noted that federal agencies lacked the visibility into their own networks that would help them detect attempts to steal data and respond to other cyber incidents.

Although the report doesn’t identify which agencies had cybersecurity problems, the scope of the issues described in the report makes it clear that both small and large agencies alike have a ton of work to do, said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy at DHS.

[HT BoingBoing]

Here’s what govt info *should* be but isn’t currently

Here’s a a thought-provoking tweet forwarded to me by Jonathan Petters. Random twitter user Kenny Jacoby found a giant 1,200 page document that he wanted to usenot read! So what did he do? He banged on it for 8 hours in order to extract all the data from the PDF and convert it to a structured dataset. Good on him for doing that, but how many people have the skills and time to be able to do that?

And this, kind readers, is a perfect example of what we’ve been writing about here at FGI for some time. In the age of near-ubiquitous online access, it’s not enough for governments to publish PDFs, they need to provide more and better access for both humans and machines.

Information must be:

not just preserved, but discoverable [2.2.2]
not just discoverable, but deliverable [2.3.3]
not just deliverable as bits, but readable [2.2.1]
not just readable, but understandable [2.2.1]
not just understandable, but usable [4.1.1.5]

(*numbers in brackets refer to sections of the OAIS standard.)

This is a nut that our friends at the Congressional Data Coalition are trying to crack. And some federal agencies are wading into this space as well — see for example Data.gov. But there are still far too many examples of this data/publication divide. It’s going to take a concerted effort by the public, watchdog groups like Sunlight Foundation and OpenTheGovernment along with librarians to push for this change in the way we think about government information.

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