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Happy 2022! We were on a brief hiatus here at FGI but are back in the saddle and looking to return to active blogger status in 2022. We’re always looking for others to help us track on government information and libraries, so contact me if you’d like to try your hand at posting (freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com).
It’s only fitting that our first post back should be to honor the great Steve Aftergood. Aftergood is the long-running author of the brilliant Secrecy News newsletter from the Federation of American Scientists, publisher of thousands(!) of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports and all kinds of other critical formerly secret and/or hard-to-come-by government publications – many of which made their way into library collections and catalogs, rippling out to students and researchers for many years to come! Steve’s work has been so impactful on many disciplines and on many people (whether they know it or not, and that, IMHO is the mark of a great person!). His long and distinguished service to government policy and accountability should be lauded by all.
For those who don’t know him – and for those who do! – you’ll be better for reading his autobiographical essay “H-Diplo Essay 359- Steven Aftergood on Learning the Scholar’s Craft”.
Our sincere thanks and gratitude to Steve Aftergood!
Steve Aftergood, the scholar who authored the amazing Secrecy News newsletter for two decades, gathered and published tens of thousands of CRS reports over the decades, was responsible for publishing the Intelligence Community’s top line budget number, and successfully brought a scientific bent to questions of government policy — especially around government secrecy — has discontinued his program at the Federation of American Scientists, where he was first hired in 1989. Steve assures me he has not retired and merely is in transition. His essay on his experiences are worth reading, he still replies to emails, and we owe a debt of gratitude for Steve’s long service towards advancing government transparency and accountability and his collegiality towards all of us who have spent our careers learning from him.
[HT Daniel Schuman at First Branch Forecast who let us know about this breaking news!]
It is with much shock and sadness that I learned a few days ago that Russ Kick (1969 – 2021) had passed away. Russ was a FOIA champion and government transparency activist among his many other talents. While I didn’t know him personally, I had on occasion emailed with him and worked with groups working on FOIA and records schedule issues that included him (he was dogged in tracking and pursuing records destruction requests from federal agencies!) I frequently mined his altgov2 site and the memory hole before that looking for FOIA’d government documents to save in our digital repository and catalog for wider access. Needless to say — though he probably didn’t know it — Russ had a HUGE impact on me, on government information libraries, and on FOIA and the public’s right to know about the workings of their government. Please check out Seven Stories Press and Washington Post for more official obituaries.
- Remembering Russ Kick (1969 – 2021) by Seven Stories Press
- Russ Kick, writer, editor and ‘rogue transparency activist,’ dies at 52. Harrison Smith, Washington Post, September 26, 2021.
Molly Crabapple, comics artist and colleague of Russ Kick, put Russ’ impact on the world into unique perspective:
I first found Russ Kick when I was thirteen, through his book Outposts. For a friendless goth kid like me, Kick was the exact sort of guide I needed. Like a punk-rock Virgil, Russ’s work led countless young people like me to the exact sort of places that America tried to hide—to the dangerous, thrilling, strange, ludicrous and beautiful realms where we imagined we could belong. I was an immediate devotee; his formative bad influence helped shape my own artistic path. With his Disinformation series, Russ challenged power. He peeled the censored bars off of redacted documents, and kicked down the doors of the pompous and mendacious, to reveal their skulduggery to the world. His work was transgressive, subversive, and irreverent of piety—all qualities in short supply today. Russ Kick showed the possibilities of life. Many years later, I was lucky enough to have Russ as an editor on The Graphic Canon. Never meet your idols, they say, particularly the ones of the gonzo variety, but in Russ’s case, this would have been bad advice. He was unfailingly kind, supportive, generous and perceptive. I cannot fathom the loss of such a man, but the world is made more narrow by his absence.
James and I are writing a book on preserving government information. In the course of researching the book, we find ourselves hunting down government publications that we need but that are not available from the government or from any FDLP library. Each of these documents has its own explanation for why it is missing and each explanation tells a story about the gaps in preservation of government information.
This is one of those stories. Think of this as a long footnote to a future book.
In 2002, Congress established the Interagency Committee on Government Information (ICGI). One of its charges (more…)
Thanks to the Cornell Center for Social Sciences (nee CISER) for posting the Census bureau’s Integrated 2020 Redistricting Data (PL94-171).
“On August 12, 2021, the Census Bureau released the Public Law 94-171 data, also known as Redistricting Data, in four (4) parts per state. Users who want to have the complete redistricting dataset for a state in one file have to integrate these four parts of the Census Bureau files.
We’ve integrated the four parts and made them available in convenient ready-to-use formats — SAS, SPSS, STATA, and CSV. We’ve also made available SAS, STATA, and SPSS programs to read the CSV files, label the variables, and assign variables their correct type (as per the data dictionary).”
Article from Legislative Studies Quarterly analyzes CRS reports to delve into expert consultation in Congress
Thanks FirstBranchForecast for posting about this recent research and analysis about how often legislators in Congress consult expert witnesses and information. Fagan and McGee analyzed every Congressional Research Service (CRS) report at EveryCRSReport.com from 1997-2017 in order to come up with their findings.
The researchers note “Consultation between elected policymakers and experts is important to functional policymaking in a democracy…In order for elected officials to solve salient problems, they must search for subject-matter experts to define
problems and develop effective solutions.” The article of course validates what government information librarians have known for many years, that CRS reports are critical documents for legislators, students, researchers, and the public. But also that expert guidance for legislation is vital to the creation of legislation that looks to solve the country’s various problems.
*Apologies that this article is behind a paywall. If your library doesn’t have a subscription to Legislative Studies Quarterly, please do an interlibrary loan request.
Fagan, E. J., and Zachary A. McGee.
“Problem Solving and the Demand for Expert Information in Congress.”
Legislative Studies Quarterly (2020)
Data and replication materials available on Harvard’s Dataverse at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/PAWMSP.
The demand for expert information in Congress is the topic of a new academic article written by political scientists E.J. Fagan and Zachary McGee. They analyzed all the CRS reports at EveryCRSReport.com from 1997-2017 (thank you!) to evaluate “the extent to which legislators consult expertise in order to address salient problems.” (They used our database and not Congress’s because it is a “better database, with a comprehensive list of all reports, revision history, and metadata.”) Their findings: there’s a consistent short-term relationship between demand for expert information and issues that the public lists as the most important problem facing the country.