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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.

Dept. of Commerce must release data under FOIA, not charge $174,000

Many federal government agencies are allowed (and in some cases are required) by law to charge fees for access to data they collect.

The US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) maintains a database of U.S. visitors by their origin, age, residency, port of entry, visa type, and initial destination. ITA charges from thirteen to sixteen thousand dollars per year of data for access to this Visitor Arrivals Program [I-94] Data). ITA claims that the fees are justified because the revenue is essential to its operation and has resisted a Freedom of Information Act (FOAI) request for release of the data. The multi-year data the journalist requested would cost $174,000.

"… we rely upon sales to keep them running. If we gave the data away for free to one, we would have to do it for all. But, since ITA requires that we charge a fee and work to make the program funded by sales and appropriated funds, there would be no data to provide and it would also terminate several other programs we have that rely upon this data as well…."


A US District Court has ruled that there is no legal basis to charge such exorbitant fees to access government data and has directed the agency to reevaluate how much to charge for responding to the FOIA request.

The government could appeal the decision.

Hat Tip to the Sunlight Foundation!

NASA rolls out PubSpace, public portal for NASA-funded research

The 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memorandum, “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research,” is really starting to bare fruit. NASA just announced the creation of PubSpace — which will go hand in hand with the NASA Data Portal — to provide a public access portal to NASA-funded research AND the underlying data.

There are 2 things to note: 1) NASA is using PubMedCentral (PMC) as its repository, along with other federal agencies like National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute of Standards and technology (NIST), and the Veterans Administration (VA); and 2) as the NASA press release notes, there will be a deficit embargo period placed on NASA funded publications as researchers will have 1 year to deposit articles and data into PubSpace.

This is a very good step in the right Open Access direction for free access to federally funded research and data!

Public access to NASA-funded research data now is just a click away, with the launch of a new agency public access portal. The creation of the NASA-Funded Research Results portal on NASA.gov reflects the agency’s ongoing commitment to providing broad public access to science data.

“At NASA, we are celebrating this opportunity to extend access to our extensive portfolio of scientific and technical publications,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. “Through open access and innovation we invite the global community to join us in exploring Earth, air and space.”

NASA now requires articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings be publicly accessible via the agency’s PubSpace.

PubSpace is an archive of original science journal articles produced by NASA-funded research and available online without a fee. The data will be available for download, reading and analysis within one year of publication.

via NASA Unveils New Public Web Portal for Research Results | NASA.

USGS releases plan to increase public access to scientific research

This is welcome news indeed! According to a press release yesterday, the US Geological Service (USGS) has just released its plan “Public Access to Results of Federally Funded Research at the U.S. Geological Survey: Scholarly Publications and Digital Data.” The USGS open access plan is in response to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)’s 2013 directive on open access to scientific research (unfortunately, the release of the USGS plan was too late to be listed on OSTP’s January 29, 2016 memo to the Senate and House Appropriations Committees which listed the 11 agencies — plus 5 Dept of Health and Human Services sub-agencies! — which have published open access plans.)

The plan stipulates that, beginning October 1, the USGS will require that any research it funds be released from the publisher and available free to the public no later than 12 months after initial publication. More importantly, USGS will also require that data used to support the findings be available free to the public when the associated study is published.

Specifically, this plan requires that an electronic copy of either the accepted manuscript or the final publication of record is available through the USGS Publications Warehouse. Digital data will be available in machine readable form from the USGS Science Data Catalog. The plan will require the inclusion of data management plans in all new research proposals and grants.

[HT Sabrina Pacifici @ beSpacific!]

Download FRED Data Directly in Excel

I’ve always had a thing for FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data). And now they’re providing a free excel add-in for 290,000 data series from various sources (e.g., BEA, BLS, Census, and OECD). Thanks St Louis Fed!

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Economic Data (FRED) Add-In is free software that will significantly reduce the amount of time spent collecting and organizing macroeconomic data. The FRED add-in provides free access to over 290,000 data series from various sources (e.g., BEA, BLS, Census, and OECD) directly through Microsoft Excel.

Key Features:

  • One-click instant download of economic time series.
  • Browse the most popular data and search the FRED database.
  • Quick and easy data frequency conversion and growth rate calculations.
  • Instantly refresh and update spreadsheets with newly released data.
  • Create graphs with NBER recession shading and an auto update feature.

via Economic Data Add-In for Microsoft Excel – St. Louis Fed – Download FRED Data Directly in Excel.

Sunlight Foundation Congress App: Great App Put to Immediate use

We recently became aware of a new(ish) app from the Sunlight Foundation. It is the Congress App and is available for both iOS and Android.  We think anyone who is interested in keeping tabs on Congress and who owns a smartphone ought to download this app.

I (Daniel) have the Android version, which is divided into these sections:

  • People (Representatives and Senators)
  • Bills
  • Votes
  • The Floor
  • Hearings
  • Committees

Because of the way that Congress itself chooses to disseminate information the public, bill information and vote information can be delayed. Although it is much easier to have the latest Congressional votes at your fingertips instead of digging to find them.

People is great. It was easy for me to add my Congressional delegation to a tracking list. For each Member of Congress you can do the following:

  • Call their office
  • Visit their website
  • View their voting record
  • See their sponsored bills
  • View committees they are a part of
  • See news from across the internet mentioning your Member of Congress.

As a full time information activist and an on and off political junkie and social justice person, I find this app incredibly helpful. I was also able to put it to immediate use.

In what could be a whole other post, the American Library Association (ALA) Washington Office is reporting that the secret negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has this bad news for the Public Domain:

If you use the public domain — which we all do — we’re all going to get stiffed, because there are proposals to lengthen the Berne-mandated terms from life + 50 years, to life + 70, or even life + 100 years.

There’s other bad news for copyright, including bad news for creators. There’s disturbing news on other fronts regarding the TPP, so I urge you to read the whole article.

I read ALA’s blog post right after installing the Congress App. So I used it to visit the websites of my two Senators and House member and send quick e-mails urging them to reject “fast tracking” the TPP and telling them I found ANY further extension of copyright terms unacceptable. I hope you’ll take the same message to your Congress people. You don’t have to use Sunlight’s app, but it does make it easier.

Moving back to the app itself, I wanted to remind you that free apps like these are only possible because Congressional information is publicly available. If Congress decided to go back into paper or only license its digital data to one vendor, we couldn’t have things like this.