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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.

In act of cognitive dissonance, House Renews Ban on public access to CRS Reports

In a remarkable example of ironic short-sightedness, the House Appropriations Committee again banned public access and dissemination of publications from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) according to Secrecy News’ Steven Aftergood, “House Renews Ban on CRS Publication of Its Reports.”

I find this particularly frustrating in light of the House recently holding its fourth annual Legislative Data and Transparency Conference (LDTC). Danial Schuman Reported significant successes from the LDTC including modernization efforts around House committee hearing reports and the new “legislative lookup and link” tool as well as Government Publishing Office (GPO) about to release in bulk bill status and summary information for Senate legislation and Library of Congress moving to update Congress.gov on a more frequent basis.

With all this great work on Congressional transparency, how can Congress continue to ban the distribution and access to CRS reports? It reminds me of something Adam Gopnik recently wrote in a New Yorker article The Plot Against Trains, saying sadly that ideology “give[s] you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest.” He was talking about trains, but I would add schools, libraries, post offices, and yes government information to that list.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) will continue to be barred from releasing its reports to the public, the House Appropriations Committee said yesterday in its report on legislative branch appropriations for the coming year.

“The bill contains language which provides that no funds in the Congressional Research Service can be used to publish or prepare material to be issued by the Library of Congress unless approved by the appropriate committees,” the House report said….

…In a move that is perhaps even more worrisome for CRS, “The Committee directs the Library of Congress to commission an independent survey of all Members and committees of the House of Representatives to ascertain their fundamental and optimal requirements for services and support from the Library of Congress and especially the Congressional Research Service.”

The problem here is that the CRS services that congressional offices are likely to find most “useful” are not necessarily those that are most “valuable.”

GPO FY13 budget approved by Senate Appropriations Committee

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out the Legislative Branch 2013 budget. According to the August 2, 2012 press release, GPO’s budget request was fully funded and will include:

  • $83.7 million for Congressional Printing and Binding
  • $34.7 million for Salaries and Expenses of the Superintendent of Documents
  • $7.8 million for the revolving fund
  • $126.2 million total

Government Printing Office – $126.2 million – This funding level is identical to the fiscal year 2012 enacted level in total funding. At the recommended levels, Congressional Printing and Binding will be funded at $83.632 million. This is a 7.8% reduction from the fiscal year 2012 enacted level and is identical to the request level. Within this reduced funding level, full funding is provided for printing the 2012 edition of the U.S. Code, which is published every six years under authority of Title 2, U.S. Code.

The amount recommended for Salaries and Expenses is $34.7 million, which is a reduction of $272,000 from the enacted level. This funding level would allow the GPO to continue mission requirements ordered by the Congress.

The bill would provide $7.8 million for GPO’s Revolving Fund for critical maintenance of printing systems. Of this amount:

  • $3.4 million is for Information Technology Projects such as development of a replacement system for the XML system, and replacement of systems critical to GPO’s network security monitoring and protection;
  • $3.8 million is for Federal Digital System Projects; and
  • $460,000 is for fire and safety projects at GPO facilities.

Also in the bill, the Library of Congress’ budget allocation is slated for $592.2 million. The bill would provide an additional $4.9 million for the LOC, which is an increase of 0.8% above the fiscal year 2012 enacted level. This funding level assumes current staffing levels.

There’s still some haggling to be done with House Legislative Branch FY13 appropriations bill — most notably the revolving fund is only budgeted at $4,096,000 rather than the Senate’s proposed $7.8 million. Stay tuned!

Petition to save the American Community Survey

We’ve been tracking on HR 5326 “Making appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, Science, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013” and more specifically the Webster-Lankford amendment (which passed the House on May 9, 2012 by a vote of 232 – 190) which cuts funding for the American Community Survey. Data collected by the ACS are used by policy makers to determine the distribution of federal funding for everything from schools to roads and bridges, to emergency services and Medicaid benefits — and is of vital interest to researchers, teachers, students and the public to learn more about and track on issues important to their communities.

If you care about this vital program, please sign the Save the American Community Survey petition. It’s crucial that our Federal lawmakers know about the public’s concern, and understand why they need the ACS to do their very jobs!

UPDATE 5/22/12 noon PST: The Sunday NY Times, in an article entitled “The Beginning of the End of the Census?” put it succinctly:

This survey of American households has been around in some form since 1850, either as a longer version of or a richer supplement to the basic decennial census. It tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.

It is, more or less, the country’s primary check for determining how well the government is doing — and in fact what the government will be doing. The survey’s findings help determine how over $400 billion in government funds is distributed each year.

But last week, the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the survey altogether, on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into Americans’ homes.

GPO’s fiscal 2012 appropriations cut drastically #FDLP

Amidst the turmoil of GPO Public Printer Bill Boarman being forced to step down after not receiving a vote on his confirmation, there’s this news that GPO’s 2012 appropriations have been drastically cut.

While Boarman’s approval did not go through Congress, GPO’s fiscal 2012 funding did, in a spending bill approved by the House and Senate, known as an omnibus because it consolidates a majority of individual spending bills. The bill secured Senate passage Dec. 17 in a 67-32 vote a day after the House approved it 296-121. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

The bill funds GPO at $90.7 million in fiscal 2012. The budget authority is almost $45 million less than GPO’s fiscal 2011 funding level of $135 million, and close to $48 million less than the White House’s fiscal 2012 budget request of $148.5 million. GPO will also get $500,000 to its revolving fund for information technology development, according to a report (.pdf) accompanying the bill.

House Appropriations Committee’s majority spokesperson Jennifer Hing said language in an earlier House version of the bill requiring the Government Accountability Office to conduct a feasibility study on GPO operations stands.

In July, the House legislative branch appropriations bill, H.R. 2551 (.pdf), highlighted the need to modernize GPO programs. In the report (.pdf) accompanying the bill, lawmakers said they had “some concern about the future of the GPO as a viable printing operation for the federal government.” It also suggested GPO might be privatized, since it already contracts out more than 90 percent of its printing requisitions.

Committee members said a GAO report should examine whether the General Services Administration could take over printing duties for the executive branch and the remainder of the GPO could be privatized. Such a plan would involve transfer of the Superintendent of Documents program to the Library of Congress.

Senate legislative appropriations released. Future for GPO and FDLP in doubt

Last month the House released its legislative appropriations (“Privatization of GPO, Defunding of FDsys, and the Future of the FDLP”). As we noted then, “the future of long-term preservation of and free access to government information is in the hands of Congress today.” And it doesn’t look any better today with the release of the Senate’s legislative appropriations markup, S.Rept. 112-080 (see p.42 – 44).

The Senate added $500,000 to the House’s revolving fund appropriations of ZERO (GPO had requested $6million!) — but looks to be thinking that FDsys funding will come from there (GPO requested $6million for FDsys!) — added around $6.8 million to congressional binding and printing and kept $35 million for salary and expenses for the Superintendent of Documents — the same amount as the House. There’s none of that restructuring language in the House appropriations (requesting GAO to research the efficacy of GPO privatization and splitting functions between LC and GSA). The Senate is recommending a 12.4 percent reduction in overall funding for the GPO from the fiscal year 2011 enacted level, which is only slightly less ugly than the 20% reduction recommended by the House.

Please call, write and email your Senators TODAY and express your support for FULL GPO funding, *especially* if you happen to live in a state whose Senator sits on the Appropriations Committee.