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I can’t believe it’s finally happened, but today the House Appropriations Committee voted to “allow public access to all non-confidential CRS reports” as part of the FY 2018 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. We’re one step closer to having public access to CRS reports! A bipartisan group of 40 nonprofit organizations (including FGI!) and 25 former CRS employees have been banging on Congress to do this, and the House today finally listened!
The issue of public access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports has been something for which librarians have advocated for at least 20 years. It’s been an uphill battle because some in Congress and the Library of Congress have long viewed CRS reports — which provide non-partisan analysis of important policy issues before Congress — as “privileged communication” between Congress and the CRS. And because of this narrow thinking about *public domain* government information, Libraries and the public have been forced to pay for these reports from private publishers, subscribe to expensive databases for access or find them serendipitously on the web.
Here is the appropriations report language:
“Public Access to CRS Reports: The Committee directs the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service (CRS) to make available to the public, all non-confidential reports. The Committee has debated this issue for several years, and after considering debate and testimony from entities inside the legislative branch and beyond the Committee believes the publishing of CRS reports will not impede CRS’s core mission in any impactful way and is in keeping with the Committee’s priority of full transparency to the American people. Within 90 days of enactment of this act CRS is directed to submit a plan to its oversight committees detailing its recommendations for implementing this effort as well as any associated cost estimates. Where practicable, CRS is encouraged to consult with the Government Publishing Office (GPO) in developing their plan; the Committee believes GPO could be of assistance in this effort.”
Read DemandProgress’ press release for more background.
[Editor’s note: the following is a guest post by Emily Feltren, Director of Government Relations for the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). This post grew out of a conversation we had about “advocacy tips” sent out to the listserv of the Northern CA chapter of AALL (NOCALL) to which I subscribe. This is a great example of how a community can advocate successfully about the important work that FDLP libraries do to collect, describe, preserve, give access to government information. Emily can be reached at efeltren AT aall DOT org.]
Last year, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) began collecting stories from our members and chapters about their use of U.S. legal materials in print. Our goal was to demonstrate to Congress that researchers, attorneys, students and members of the public continue to use and value print legal resources. I’m pleased to report that our members responded with great enthusiasm to our call for stories! Through our Print Resource Usage Log, we’ve collected more than 40 examples that illustrate the ongoing need for access to print legal materials.
Stories range from urgent faculty requests where print “saved the day,” to law review cite checking, to patron preference. In several cases, law librarians said that using the print made it easier to find exact language in a document, look at multiple provisions simultaneously, and verify language and proper citations.
We’ve already described some of the excellent entries to the log on AALL’s Washington Blawg. For example, a law librarian at a private firm noted how much more practical print resources can be when attorneys use multiple titles of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) every day. She prefers the print “to be able to look at multiple provisions simultaneously without having to continually expand the table of contents at FDsys to find other provisions, or hav[ing] to bear the search expense of looking in Westlaw or Lexis.”
Maria Willmer, Legal Research Specialist at DePaul College of Law Library, shared her story of how the print not only ruled, but it saved the day! She wrote, “During a rush request from a Professor for his class, I needed to find a Proposed Rule and track it through to when it became a Final Rule and then find where it was codified in the CFR. Using the print issues and volume were the best way to track this down. I pulled a 2010 FR issue in paper – found a proposed rule – pulled the CFR volume where this potential rule would be codified and then back tracked to find the final rule. I honestly believe having the print volumes in front of me, helped me quickly navigate and find all three documents in a short [amount] of time …print rules (pun intended)!”
AALL continues to collect stories of print usage, and we invite you to join our efforts. If you find yourself referring to print legal materials, such as the print Code of Federal Regulations, Congressional Record, and U.S. Code, please log your usage on our SurveyMonkey form. We will continue to collect the responses and share them, with names and identifying information removed, with the Government Printing Office and key Committees on Capitol Hill.
I’ve heard that librarians are beginning to receive canned responses to letters to Senator Feinstein and they have not been good. Feinstein’s response to concerns about the shutting down of the Census Bureau’s Statistical Compendia Branch and killing of the Statistical Abstract have been thus:
Dear Mr. ________________:
Thank you for writing me to express your support for the U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract of the United States. I appreciate hearing from you and apologize for the delay in my response.
As you may know, the Statistical Abstract is data on the social, political, and economic organization of the Nation released by the Census Bureau. The Census Bureau publishes the information as well as making it available online for the public.
In February 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau released its tentative fiscal year 2012 budget breakdown, which includes a provision to terminate the Statistical Abstract. I understand your concerns with the Census Bureau’s proposal. According to the Census Bureau, in order to fund higher priority programs within the agency, it is recommending that certain programs be terminated or have their budgets reduced. You might be interested to know that much of the information available in the Statistical Abstract is available at university and library resources, particularly the Federal Depository Library.
Please know that I recognize your concerns and appreciate the information you have provided about what this cut could mean. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind during the 2012 fiscal year appropriations process. If you have not done so already, I encourage you to share your concerns directly with the Census Bureau at: 1-800-923-8282.
Again, thank you for writing. If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.
United States Senator
Particularly disheartening is that she references libraries, ignoring the fact that it is LIBRARIANS who are writing to her! We KNOW that much — but not all! — of the data are out there and in our stacks. But we also KNOW that the Statistical Abstract, because it is the aggregation of many data sources and data points across the .gov domain and beyond, is one of the most useful tools that librarians have to serve the public. The Statistical Abstract is the defacto Google for .gov statistical information. THAT’S why we’re so concerned that the Statistical Compendia Branch is being cut. Feinstein’s statement misses the point completely.
Thanks to a tip from Kevin McClure, a librarian at Chicago-Kent College of Law, I contacted Jean Mullin, section chief at the Statistical Abstract. Ms. Mullin’s quick and helpful response confirmed the amount of copyrighted material in the Statistical Abstract. She noted:
“100 of the Abstract’s private sector sources contribute roughly 179 tables to the book, meaning that almost 13 percent of what’s published in the book is copyrighted. All but a few of those tables are approved for the on-line and CD-ROM versions. There are also several tables in the Abstract, which are special tabulations produced by government agencies for the Abstract and can not be found anywhere else on-line. If one were to reproduce them, they would have to send a request to that agency for the data.”
Kevin, in this thread on govdoc-l and working off the same information Ms Mullin gave him, extrapolated the information and stated:
“… I think assurances that we can rely on other data sources are even more off the mark than they sound at first. The Preface to Stat Abstract says that both government and private sources contribute to its mix of data. I checked on what that would mean if we lost the publication, and found out that about 100 of those private sources, which contribute to 179 tables in the book, require copyright permission, meaning that almost 13 percent of the tables in the book are copyrighted. All but a few of those tables are approved for the online and CD-ROM versions.
So the suggestion in Sen. Feinstein’s response that we could reassemble much of the data in Stat Abstract with things in our SuDocs stacks and online, on top of being daft and irrelevant in so many irritating ways, also fails to account for that large chunk of data that will no longer be publicly accessible by any means. The resource is literally irreplaceable, because no one outside the Statistical Compendia Branch is capable of collecting it all without re establishing all those arrangements — that is, without doing what the Statistical Compendia Branch already does, and does so much better and more efficiently than anyone else could. I think that is a point worth emphasizing as we continue to talk to our representatives about preserving the Statistical Compendia Branch.”
I hope that readers will use this information as added context in their responses (really just shrugs of their shoulders 😐 ) to their Senators and Representatives.
As Paul Krugman recently wrote, “Killing the publication for the sake of a tiny saving would be a truly gratuitous step toward a dumbed-down country. And believe me, that’s not something we need more of.” Google will not and cannot help the public and librarians access that copyrighted data. Without the Statistical Abstract, NONE of that data will be available to the public and the finding by citizens of .gov statistics will be unnecessarily obfuscated beyond reason.