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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.

Great news! New Bill calls for CRS reports to be publicly available

This is great news indeed! The Sunlight Foundation reported today that the “Public Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Resolution of 2012” (aka H. Res 727) has just been introduced by Representatives Quigley (D-IL) and Lance (R-NJ) — many thanks to both of them.

The resolution would ensure that reports by Congress’s $100 million-a-year think tank will become available to the public on a website maintained by the House Clerk. Numerous good government groups and advocates for more congressional transparency — including FGI! — have endorsed the measure. Please contact your Representative and ask them to vote HELL YEAH! on H. Res 727.

The reports, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, are frequently cited by the courts and the media and requested by members of the public, but CRS does not release them to the public. Instead, they come to widespread attention after they are released in dribs and drabs by Congressional offices and painstakingly collected by researchers. Some are collected and sold for $20 a copy, while others are made available by non-profit organizations for public consumption. By the time they become publicly available, the reports can become outdated, especially when an issue is moving quickly in Congress.

Reliable access to CRS Reports would ensure that everyone has timely and comprehensive access to the collective wisdom of hundreds of analysts and experts on political issues when they’re at their most salient. This is already common practice in other support arms of the Congress, like the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office.

In the past CRS reports have been more widely available, but relatively recent CRS-imposed policies are increasing limiting access even as the Internet has made the documents easier to share. In fact, the original limitation on public access was imposed in the 1950s on CRS’s predecessor agency and arose from a concern about the costs of printing and mailing the reports — not their confidentiality. In the Internet age, this limitation no longer makes sense, especially as these reports are already available on CRS’s internal website in electronic form.

38 groups ask LoC for free public access to CRS reports

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports are incredibly rich sources for budget-related information, and analyses of domestic social policy, foreign Affairs, defense and trade, and science and industry. But for many years, CRS has not provided direct public access to its reports, requiring citizens to request them from their Members of Congress — and libraries to purchase them from Penny Hill Press, LexisNexis and other private publishers.

With CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan retiring in April, 2011, this was an opportune time for 38 open government groups — including FGI! — to send a letter to Librarian of Congress James Billington asking him to appoint a new CRS Director who will facilitate free public online access to CRS reports.

Here’s the letter (PDF also available from OpenTheGovernment):


February 25, 2010
James H. Billington
Librarian of Congress
The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20540

Dear Dr. Billington:

We the undersigned organizations concerned with government openness and accountability are writing to urge you to appoint a Director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) who will work with Congress to provide online free public access to the unclassified, non-confidential, taxpayer-funded reports produced by CRS.

The public needs access to these non-confidential CRS reports in order to discharge their civic duties. American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the CRS, which generates detailed reports relevant to current political events for lawmakers. But while the reports are non-classified, and play a critical role in our legislative process, they have never been made available in a consistent and official way to members of the public.

Predictably, to fill the public void left by the CRS, several private companies now sell copies of these reports at a price. This means that non-confidential CRS reports are readily available to lobbyists, executives and others who can afford to pay. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people lack the information necessary to even request reports from their Members of Congress.

In 1822, James Madison explained why citizens must have government information: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” In the spirit of Madison, we ask you to appoint a Director of CRS who will help advance the goal of online free public access to CRS reports.

Representatives from the undersigned organizations would be happy to meet with you or your staff at any time to discuss this important issue. Please contact Amy Bennett, Program Associate, OpenTheGovernment.org (afuller@openthegovernment.org“>afuller@openthegovernment.org or 202-332-6736), at your convenience.

Sincerely,

AhEeCOSH
American Association of Law Libraries
American Library Association
American Society of News Editors
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
CAUS
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Responsive Politics
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Defending Dissent Foundation
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
Essential Information
Federation of American Scientists
Free Government Information
Government Accountability Project (GAP)
iSolon.org
Knowledge Ecology International
Liberty Coalition
MapLight.org
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Freedom of Information Coalition
National Security Counselors
No More Guantanamos
OMB Watch
OpenTheGovernment.org
Point of Order
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Public Citizen
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
RS&S INTERNATIONAL, LLC
Society of Academic Law Library Directors
Society of Professional Journalists
Special Libraries Association
Sunlight Foundation
University of Missouri Freedom of Information Center
Washington Coalition for Open Government

“Less Access to Less Information” now available in its entirety!

From 1981 until 1998, Anne Heanue and the fine folks at the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA) published an amazing series called Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government, a chronology of efforts to restrict and privatize government information.

Readers may remember that the Internet Archive was kind enough to digitize the series from 1981 to 1996 for FGI, but that I had not been able to get my hands on 1997-98 issues. Well now, thanks to Bernadine Abbott Hoduski who sent me the 1997-98 volumes, the complete chronology from 1981 – 98 is now digitized and hosted at the Internet Archive.

Please check out the entire series of Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government available in the FGI library.

Many thanks again to Ginger Bisharat and Robert Miller at the Internet Archive for their effort. Also thanks to Bernadine Abbott Hoduski for sending me her copies of the series and Emily Sheketoff, Associate Executive Director of ALA and manager of the Washington Office who graciously gave me permission to digitize the series.

Less Access to Less Information By and About the U.S. Government

[UPDATE 3/25/10: Thanks to Bernadine Abbott Hoduski for sending me 1997-98 volumes, the complete chronology from 1981 – 98 is now digitized and hosted at the Internet Archive!]

From 1981 until 1998, Anne Heanue and the fine folks at the Washington Office of the American Library Association (ALA) published an amazing series called Less Access to Less Information by and about the U.S. Government, a chronology of efforts to restrict and privatize government information. In 1986, the publication was listed in Project Censored‘s annual review, Top 25 censored stories for 1986.

I recently had a nice email exchange with Emily Sheketoff, Associate Executive Director of ALA and manager of the Washington Office in which I suggested that Less Access to Less Information ought to be online for the world to see, read, share etc. Emily graciously gave me permission to digitize the series. So, with the help of Rick and Megan Prelinger, Robert Miller and others at the Internet Archive, I give you Less Access to Less information by and about the U.S. government in several formats including text, flip book, PDF, and DjVu.

I’m still on the hunt for the last 2 years of the series, but haven’t come across them yet. If anyone’s got them hanging around their bookshelves and would lend them to me, drop me an email (freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com) and I’ll tell you where to send them.

[This is a repost of my original blog post about Less Access. I reposted it to the library so it wouldn’t get lost. JRJ]

Access to EU Documents – Some Good News….

[cross posted on LegalResearchPlus]

On July 1st, the Court of Justice for the European Communities issued a judgement on access to legal opinions and it offers good news. (Judgment of the Court of Justice in two joined cases C-39/05 P & C-52/05 P, Sweden and Turco v Council and Others, July 1, 2008):

The headline on the court’s press release reads: THE COURT AUTHORISES, IN PRINCIPLE, ACCESS TO LEGAL ADVICE GIVEN TO THE COUNCIL ON LEGISLATIVE QUESTIONS [bold text appeared in release]. The press release of the Court also states:

The Court takes the view that disclosure of documents containing the advice of an institution’s legal service on legal questions arising when legislative initiatives are being debated increases transparency and strengthens the democratic right of European citizens to scrutinize the information which has formed the basis of a legislative act.

The Court concludes that Regulation No 1049/2001 imposes, in principle, an obligation to disclose the opinions of the Council’s legal service relating to a legislative process. There are, however, exceptions to that principle as regards opinions given in the context of a legislative process, but being of a particularly sensitive nature or having a wide scope that goes beyond the context of the legislative process. In such a case, it is incumbent on the institution concerned to give a detailed statement of reasons for such a refusal.

For excellent analysis and updates on this topic, check out the Statewatch Observatory on Access to EU Documents.

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