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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.

Bill introduced requiring Congressionally mandated reports be deposited to GPO

The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (ACMRA) H.R. 4631 was introduced yesterday by Representative Mike Quigley. If passed, it will require that all Congressionally mandated reports be deposited in a publicly accessible database maintained by the GPO. For more background, see Daniel Schuman’s writeup and background. The Washington Post wrote about the problem a few years ago titled “Unrequired reading.” Here’s the ACRMA bill text. 38 organizations, including FGI, wrote a public letter endorsing the bill.

The most interesting piece in the bill to me — well other than the requirement of executive agencies to deposit ALL mandated reports with GPO! — is section 4 subsection b, which directs OMB to issue guidance to agencies on implementing the act. My hope is that this is another opportunity to reform OMB circular A-130, which we here at FGI have suggested could be updated to better represent the needs of libraries and the FDLP.

The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act was introduced yesterday in the House and Senate, thanks to the tremendous leadership of Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Sens. Ron Portman (R-OH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The bipartisan bill (read it here) requires:

all reports to Congress that are required by law to be published online in a central repository, and Congress to keep a list of all of its reporting requirements and check whether agencies have submitted reports on time.

ACMRA is important because it improves the legislative ecosystem for high quality information. In short, it empowers Congressional staff to do their jobs and the public to hold the government accountable.

via Bill Requiring All Reports to Congress be Published in Online Repository Introduced.

Announcement: Bulk Download Access to Bill Status Information

Press Release:

GPO And Library Of Congress Make Senate And House Bill Status Information Available For Bulk Download

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 24, 2016 No. 16-04

GPO AND LIBRARY OF CONGRESS MAKE SENATE AND HOUSE BILL STATUS INFORMATION AVAILABLE FOR BULK DOWNLOAD

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) has partnered with the Library of Congress (LOC) to make bill status information in XML format available through GPO’s Bulk Data repository on govinfo (www.govinfo.gov) for the 113th and 114th Congresses. Bill status information, which is created by LOC and Congress, describes the activities and status steps for each legislative measure. This project commenced at the direction of the House Appropriations Committee, and is in support of the Legislative Branch Bulk Data Task Force.

https://www.govinfo.gov/features/featured-content/bill-status-bulk-data

Making Government information available in XML permits data to be reused and repurposed not only for print output but for conversion into ebooks, mobile web applications, and other forms of content delivery, including data mashups and other analytical tools by third party providers, which contributes to openness and transparency in Government. In addition to the files made available through the govinfo Bulk Data Repository, GPO ensures the authenticity of all information provided on govinfo by making available digitally signed copies in PDF format, which is the official, authentic version that matches the printed document.

“GPO is once again honored to partner with the Library in supporting a congressional initiative that furthers openness and transparency in Government,” said GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks.

“The Library of Congress is working closely and continually with GPO, the House and the Senate to improve access to timely, authoritative, free legislative information using modernized platforms,” said David Mao, Acting Librarian of Congress. “These efforts have resulted in Congress.gov and govinfo. We are pleased to have the opportunity to work closely with Congress and GPO to make legislative information that is aggregated and enhanced for Congress.gov also available in this new format and applaud GPO’s work on its govinfo platform.”

PDF copy of complete press release:
GPO AND LIBRARY OF CONGRESS MAKE SENATE AND HOUSE BILL STATUS INFORMATION AVAILABLE FOR BULK DOWNLOAD

GPO Selects SDL Technology to Digitally Manage and Publish U.S. Congressional Legislation

Press Release:

  • U.S. Government Printing Office Selects SDL Technology to Digitally Manage and Publish U.S. Congressional Legislation, September 12, 2012 09:32 ET.

    SDL (LSE:SDL), the leading provider of Global Information Management solutions, today announced that one of the world’s largest digital information facilities, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), has selected SDL to automate the publishing process for printing and accessing select Congressional and Federal agency legislation. GPO provides the three branches of the U.S. federal government with expert publishing and printing services and awarded SDL the Composition System Replacement (CSR) contract following a rigorous search and evaluation process.

    All U.S. Congressional legislation will be published using SDL XML Professional Publisher (XPP™), an automated XML publishing engine for the production of high-volume and complexly formatted publications. SDL XPP software will integrate with GPO’s Federal Digital System and be the central point for composition of content for print and online access. SDL XPP replaces a proprietary system that was developed internally but could not scale to support the growth of the GPO.

More here:

  • Government Printing Office adopts internal XML system, By Joseph Marks, Government Executive (September 12, 2012).

    The Government Printing Office is adopting a new system that will manage and publish congressional bills and other publications entirely in a pared down and machine-readable XML format, the company providing the system announced Wednesday.

    GPO plans to launch a “proof of concept” for the new system with congressional bills before expanding it to other publications such as the Federal Register and the Congressional Record, Chief Technology Officer Ric Davis told Nextgov.

Help improve public access to Congressional/legislative information #FDLP

FGI just signed the letter below written by the Sunlight Foundation asking Congress to improve public access to legislative information by directing the Library of Congress to make their Thomas database accessible in bulk format. If you and/or your organization believe that free access to Congressional information is of critical importance, please please consider adding your name to the list of signatories on the letter. Daniel Schuman, Sunlight Foundation’s policy counsel and director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency, requests that people sign on by COB on Monday April 2nd. Interested people may also email Daniel at [email protected]) with how they would like to be identified on the letter. Daniel thanks you and so do we!


Dear Congressman/Senator:

We are writing to ask you to improve public access to legislative information by directing the Library of Congress to publish the THOMAS database online. Congress created THOMAS with the mission of making federal legislation freely available to the public. While times have changed, and technologies have changed, THOMAS has not kept up.

As a result, millions of Americans access basic information about legislation and congressional actions through online information providers like GovTrack, OpenCongress, and Washington Watch. These free non-governmental websites are forced to rely on brittle programs to harvest information from THOMAS’s complex website. This harvesting is imperfect, expensive, and time consuming. The better approach — which has been adopted by industry and many in government — is to publish legislative information “in bulk” in addition to other means.

Bulk access would in essence make the entire legislative database available for download, instead of requiring users to gather information by visiting hundreds or thousands of web pages. It would make it easier for third parties to build innovative new tools, and ensure that Americans have the most accurate information at their fingertips. Congress already expressed its support for bulk access downloads in 2009, but the Library of Congress, which oversees THOMAS, has not acted. In the meantime, GPO, the executive branch, and the House of Representatives are already publishing information online in bulk.

The time has come for action. In this year’s legislative branch appropriations bill, we urge you to direct the Library of Congress to implement bulk access to THOMAS within 120 days. The Library should also immediately create an advisory committee on improving public access to legislative information composed of people inside and outside of government. Congress should ensure that THOMAS lives up to its potential of making the legislative branch more open and transparent.

For more information, please contact Daniel Schuman, policy counsel, the Sunlight Foundation, at 202-742-1520 x 273 or [email protected]

“I see a collaborative project!”

I’m going to reprint James’ comment from Wednesday on the Michigan digitization project here because I think it merits some serious discussion.  There were a series of comments on the way the government documents have been cataloged in the Michigan catalog because the variance in cataloging has caused a lot of the documents to be barred from public viewing "due to copyright":

I see a collaborative project!  it’d be great to be proactive on UMich’s govt pubs. Rather than having to submit a form when an item is found that should be accessible/in the public domain, wouldn’t it be cool if UMich put up a list of all their documents (in a wiki?) and let the community/public have at it to verify "public domainness" of documents. Documents classes could assign reviewing as well.

There is precedent for this kind of collaborative project. In 2006, the federal government set up a Web site to make public a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war (which was later shut down because detailed accounts of Iraq’s secret nuclear research were available publicly! oops!!). A site called LibriVox has volunteers who read chapters of public domain books, many of which have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.The point is, let’s leverage the power of the internet to help get govt information out to the public!

As it happens, right after I read James’ comment I was in a meeting where I found out about another project occurring at the law school library at Rutgers University.  The project, Congressional Documents Online, is a full-text archive of Congressional Hearings and Committee Prints from the Rutgers law library collection.  The Law Library is in the process of digitizing its print collection of Congressional documents and the website says that there are "7064 documents available, totalling: 1581950 pages, 238814558897 total bytes, as of: Wed Dec 19 14:47:37 EST 2007".  All are freely available online.  There’s a simple search box and a browseable list of the documents.

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