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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.

64 Federal Courts Now Publish Opinions on FDsys

Great news from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts:

A project providing free online access to federal court opinions has expanded to include 64 courts. The federal Judiciary and the Government Printing Office partner through the GPO’s Federal Digital System, FDsys, to provide public access to more than 750,000 opinions, many dating back to 2004.

The Judicial Conference approved national implementation of the project in September 2012, expanding participation from the original 29 courts. FDsys currently contains opinions from 8 appellate courts, 20 district courts, and 35 bankruptcy courts.

Federal court opinions are one of the most heavily used collections on FDsys, with millions of retrievals each month. Opinions are pulled nightly from the courts’ Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) systems and sent to the GPO, where they are posted on the FDsys website. Collections on FDsys are divided into appellate, district or bankruptcy court opinions and are text-searchable across courts. FDsys also allows embedded animation and audio – an innovation previously only available with opinions posted on a court’s own website or on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER).

While the public already can view federal court opinions for free on PACER [users do need to register for a PACER account and there are limits on how much is available for free], the FDSys project presents just another way to make court-related information more accessible to the public. The FDSys project presents another way to make court-related information more accessible to the public.

[HT Gary Price at InfoDocket!]

House Administration Rejects NAPA Recommendation to Charge Public for Access to Legislative Documents

In a letter to the Acting Public Printer of the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) the House Committee on Administration has rejected a recent recommendation by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to charge the public for access to GPO’s congressional documents. The response is to the NAPA report Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed, which recommended that GPO consider charging for access to its Federal Digital System (FDsys).

GPO Response to NAPA Report’s Recommendation to Charge for FDsys access

Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks has responded to the letter by the group CASSANDRA about the recent report Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age by the National Association of Public Administration (NAPA). .

The report recommends that GPO should consider “cost recovery” for access to FDsys (See NAPA releases report on GPO).

The Response from Vance-Cooks says that GPO has “no intention of charging public users a fee to access content available through FDsys. GPO remains committed to no-fee access to FDsys for the public as part of our mission of Keeping America Informed.”

This is, of course, good news, but we have to temper our enthusiasm with the realization that GPO’s ability to meet its intentions will inevitably be dictated by Congress and its budget.

The complete response is attached below:

Link to pdf copy at Internet Archive.

Official Version of the State Of The Union Address Available

From a press release from GPO:

President Obama’s State Of The Union Address Available On Gpo’s Federal Digital System

The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) makes President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address available on GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys). The public can access the President’s address in the Congressional Record, which is the official publication of the U.S. Congress.

Direct link to address: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2013-02-12/html/CREC-2013-02-12-pt1-PgH443-2.htm

NAPA releases report on GPO

The National Academy Of Public Administration has released its report on the Government Printing Office.

  • Rebooting The Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age, A Report by a Panel of the National Academy Of Public Administration for the U.S. Congress, Congressional Research Service, and the Government Printing Office. National Academy Of Public Administration, Washington, DC (January 2013).

    Congress mandated that the National Academy of Public Administration (the Academy) conduct a broad operational review of GPO. The Academy formed a five-member Panel of Fellows to conduct a ten-month study of the agency’s current role, its operations, and its future direction.

The report contains 27 finding and 15 recommendations. Depository libraries will be particularly interested in three findings:

  • III-3: Preservation of the Legacy (Tangible) Government Collection
  • III-4: Preservation of the Digital Government Collection
  • III-5: Government Information Dissemination and Access

The report repeats many of the tropes about the digital government information that have become familiar over the years. Some of these bear repeating and others are more questionable.

Perhaps the most troubling suggestion in the report is GPO should consider “cost recovery” for access to FDsys:

Now may be the time for GPO to revisit charging the public for access to FDsys content. The Academy convened a forum of experts on printing and publishing where this topic was discussed extensively. Participants noted that technologies for online payments have progressed to the point that they cost very little to administer. Also, the public is becoming accustomed to paying fees for government services that used to be free (such as admittance to National Parks). Rather than charge a publication price, GPO could explore charging a small user fee to recoup the cost of providing access to government information on FDsys, or allowing users to view documents for free, and charging for document downloads. Forum participants also discussed the possibility of GPO exploring opportunities for repackaging files and content in different ways and making them available for sale to the public.

This model (as the report notes) was tried before with GPO Access and failed. We would argue that it failed not because the “technologies of online payments” were inadequate at the time, but because attempting to charge fees for information that was also available without fees was a fundamentally flawed approach. (We have written about this issue many times. See for example: Government Information in the Digital Age: The Once and Future Federal Depository Library Program and Privatization of GPO, Defunding of FDsys, and the Future of the FDLP.)

There is much more in the report and it deserves careful scrutiny.