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Deepwater Horizon final report and a comment on how to (and how NOT to) post digital documents

[UPDATE: several people have let me know that the link to Volume 1 of the report is dead. I’ve posted it to dropbox for now (have patience, it’s 21MB!) and will update this post when I get a response from the Coast Guard. That raises *another* issue: the link to volume 1 on the coast guard site is a *dynamic* link (you can see the sessionID in the url). That means when the session ends, the link is dead. Documents NEED to have permanent links. One way to assure that is to send the document to the GPO for cataloging!. More soon.]

Yesterday, the Deepwater Horizon joint investigation team Released its final Report. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Federal investigators released their final report Wednesday into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last year, castigating oil giant BP PLC and its contractors for their risky decisions and criticizing the government itself for gaps in oversight.

The report contains dozens of recommendations for improving off-shore oil drilling; but that’s not really what I want to talk about. As a govt documents librarian, my concern is instead with *HOW* the report was released and its implications for trusted government information. Here are a few of the questions or issues that I have:

  1. Why did the committee created to do the work — a joint task force between the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the U.S. Coast Guard — create a separate .com site (http://deepwaterjointinvestigation.com) rather than doing/posting their work on the BOEMRE.gov site — or at least requesting a .gov domain from General Services Administration (GSA)?
  2. Why was the report released on both the BOEMRE site as well as the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) site? The fact that it’s on both .gov and .com sites calls into question the authenticity of the report — and GPO has been very strong on digital authenticity and digital signatures of key govt documents to verify chain of custody and document integrity.
  3. Further, why were the actual documents themselves (The Adm. Papp/Director Bromwich Cover Memo, volume 1, volume 2, and appendices) were posted on different sites — cover memo, volume 2 and appendices on BOEMRE’s .gov site and volume 1 on the Coast Guard’s .mil site. And why were there redacted versions posted on the Coast Guard’s site (look at the file names) and unredacted versions posted on BOEMRE and the joint taskforce site?!
  4. Lastly — and this one particularly irked me because it blocked me from actually preserving the document in the Stanford Digital Repository — why was volume 1 of the report (the part posted on the Coast Guard’s .mil site) posted as a PDF with password security in place? I needed to combine the separate PDFs ( (memo, volume 1, volume 2 and appendices) into 1 file in order to save it in the Stanford Digital Repository (for more on that workflow, see the briefing of Everyday Electronic Materials (EEMs) that my colleague Katherine Kott did at CNI in Fall, 2010). But because it was posted as a “secure” PDF, I was blocked from extracting pages or assembling the PDF together.

So here’s what I would suggest that agencies do with their reports — especially their high-profile reports — in the future:

  1. DO post them to a .gov site AND send a copy to the GPO so they can be cataloged and the bibliographic records can be distributed to federal depository libraries for more widespread access
  2. DO post the documents on the same domain as the press release
  3. DO give users a choice for large documents: downloading multiple files for specific pieces of a report AND downloading the report in its entirety as 1 file
  4. DO NOT put any sort of digital rights management on public domain govt publications (I can’t stress this point too strongly!)

Is that so much to ask?