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A recent battle in the California Legislature over public records has a lesson for all of us who work with government information. A story in the Los Angeles Times sums up the issue exactly: “In the end it wasn’t really about public records or the people’s right to see them. It was about money.”
- Who pays for all those public records, By Robert Greene, Los Angeles Times (June 21, 2013).
[P]olicymakers will talk about which level of government can serve the public better. But they’ll really be talking, at least in part, about which level ought to pay for it.
Either way, the same taxpayers get the bill.
In the California case, the issue was over whether the state will pay the costs that cities, counties, school districts and other local governments incur in providing public access to their public records.
Regardless of the needs of the public, regardless of the intentions of individual government agencies, and regardless of the value of public records, in the end, whether or not the public will have long-term, free access to the records of its democratically elected governments is largely a question of who will pay.
We at FGI have covered this repeatedly. (See, for example: Privatization of GPO, Defunding of FDsys, and the Future of the FDLP, and GPO’s Budget and Priorities, and Impact of the Sequester on GPO, and GPO Response to NAPA Report’s Recommendation to Charge for FDsys access, and The Technical is Political.)
The lesson for us remains the same: To ensure against loss or corruption of government information, we need more than one copy, more than one technology, more than one constituency, more than one budget. Libraries play an essential complementary role to governments that produce the information. Libraries focus on user communities and use of information whereas governments focus on the producers and the production of information. We need both and that means libraries must select, acquire, organize, and preserve government information and provide access to and services for that information. Otherwise, a government budget cut at one level will result in loss of that information.
Daniel Schuman went to the hearing today on budgets for GPO, LoC, GAO, and CBO. On the Sunlight Foundation blog, he reports on the tiny room, the lack of space for the public, and he posts documents that were handed out:
- An almost live look at today’s H. Leg Branch Approps hearing, by Daniel Schuman, Sunlight Foundation, (Feb. 7, 2012).
The new acting Public Printer, Davita Vance-Cooks, gives her opening remarks.
GPO Press Release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 7, 2012 No. 12-10
ACTING PUBLIC PRINTER PRESENTS APPROPRIATIONS REQUEST FOR FISCAL YEAR 2013
WASHINGTON-Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks presented the FY 2013 appropriations request for the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) today before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Legislative Branch Appropriations. GPO is requesting no increase over the level of funding the agency is receiving for FY 2012 due to savings garnered from cost-cutting activities last year as well as projected workload changes for FY 2013. GPO’s budget request also includes a significant shift in funding away from conventional printing and distribution toward digital systems. The current level of $126.2 million is a 6.6% reduction from FY 2011 and about a 15% reduction from FY 2010. GPO’s funding level for FY 2013 is provided through three separate accounts in the annual Legislative Branch Appropriations bill:
. The Congressional Printing and Binding Appropriation covers the cost of information products in digital and print formats that GPO produces for Congress. About 70% of this cost is for preparing the electronic files used for both digital access and printing. For FY 2013, GPO is requesting $83.6 million, a decrease of about $7 million.
. The Salaries and Expenses Appropriation of the Superintendent of Documents primarily covers the cost of the Federal Depository Library Program, which works in partnership with 1,220 libraries nationwide to provide public access to Federal Government information. For FY 2013, GPO is requesting $34.7 million, a decrease of about $300,000.
. The GPO Revolving Fund receives appropriated funds for specific technology investment and facility improvements. For FY 2013, GPO is requesting $7.8 million. The request includes funding for the continued development of GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) to support increased online access to congressional and Federal agency information as well as other digital information technology improvements.
GPO achieved significant savings in FY 2011 by reducing unnecessary overhead expenses and conducting a buyout that helped reduce staffing by about 15%. As a result, GPO achieved positive net income of $5.6 million for the year. The agency, whose information production and dissemination operations have transitioned to digital technologies, is currently operating with its smallest workforce in more than a century.
“GPO is doing more with less in meeting the digital information needs of Congress, Federal agencies, and the public,” said Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks. “GPO’s plan of reducing costs while continuing to expand services to our customers is working and showing real and measurable benefits.”
Economic census could get reprieve, by LIZ ENOCHS, Housing Wire (September 17, 2011).
The 2012 economic census, which was at risk of being eliminated after the House of Representatives sliced the Census Bureau’s funding 25% two months ago, could be retained after the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations voted for a smaller funding cut and specifically voiced its support for the report….
It’s still unclear whether the Senate’s smaller budget cut will leave the bureau enough financial wiggle room to continue producing the report, which costs $124 million, according to figures from NABE.