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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.

Vigilance and Action in Uncertain Times

During this past week, there were many reports about the Trump administration’s actions that appear to be either removing information, or blocking information, or filtering scientific information through a political screen before allowing that information to be released.

How concerned should government information specialists be about these developments? Very.

What can we do? First, let’s be cautious but vigilant. As librarians, we are well aware that today’s information environment bombards us with fragments of news and demonstrably false news and speculation and premature interpretation of fragmentary speculation of unverified news. We should neither panic nor dismiss all this as noise. There is so much happening in so many areas of public policy right now that no one can keep up with everything; one thing that government information specialists can do is keep up with developments about access to government information so we can keep our colleagues and communities informed with accurate information.

We also need to evaluate what is happening critically. The Trump administration has attempted to normalize last week’s actions, saying, essentially, that removal of information and control of information is a normal part of a transition. On Tuesday of last week, for example, White House press secretary Sean Spicer addressed concerns about reports of censorship at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by saying “I don’t think there’s any surprise that when there’s an administration turnover, we’re going to review the policies.” And on Wednesday, Doug Ericksen, the communications director for the President’s transition team at the EPA, said “Obviously with a new administration coming in, the transition time, we’ll be taking a look at the web pages and the Facebook pages and everything else involved here at EPA.” In short, this explanation is that the new administration is just updating and transitioning and making sure that information from agencies conforms to its new policies. This is “business as usual.” Nothing to see here; relax; move on. Even some govinfo librarians minimize the significance of what is going on.

This sounds reasonable on the surface. Indeed, since even the entire Executive Office of the President, which includes the Council of Economic Advisers and the National Security Council and the Office of Management and Budget, has been offline since Inauguration day and a temporary page asks us to “Stay tuned as we continue to update whitehouse.gov,” perhaps we should just be patient? Surely those will be back, right?

I think we need to realize that this actually is pretty odd behavior. And we need to help our communities who still need access to important policies (like OMB Circular A-130 [IA copy]) that are gone but, presumably, still in effect.

We need to be aware that this administration presents difficulties for the public in just figuring out what it is actually doing. It appears that the administration has reversed or modified some of its initial information policies or that they were incorrectly reported, and that these reversals — if they are reversals and if they are permanent — seem to have come about because of public outcry.

I think we need to take the administration’s actions seriously and let them know when they are doing something unacceptable or uninformed. We need to stand up for public access and transparency.

I suggest that it is our professional duty to address these issues. I suggest that the communities that our libraries serve expect and need us to do this. This administration is doing many troubling and controversial things and everyone cannot fight every battle. Ensuring long-term free access to government information should be a job responsibility for every government information librarian.

Actions

What can we do? What should we do? How can we best allocate our resources?

  • We need to keep our library administrators informed. We can do that by putting Government Information on committee agendas and preparing accurate and well-informed briefings that address how political changes will affect the library’s ability to provide content and service and how they will affect library users’ ability to find and get and use government information.
  • We need to talk to our user-communities. We need to provide them with accurate and well-informed information about how political changes are already affecting their ability to find and get and use government information. We need to provide alternate sources where necessary and update library guides and catalogs. We need to learn from them when they identify issues and problems and solutions.
  • We need to keep our professional colleagues informed through local library meetings, informal communication, and professional activities.
  • We can still contribute to the EOT. There are lots of things you can do.
  • We can make the case for digital collections.

    We need to realize and understand that the underlying issues of long-term free access to government information are not new and they are not limited to this administration

    • We need to remind our administrators that when we depend on pointing instead of collecting we lose information.
    • We need to remind them that even though preservation sites like obamawhitehouse.archives.gov and the 2016 EOT crawl are worthwhile and valuable, they still create the problem of link rot. We need to remind library administrators that pointing to remote collections that move is not a cheap way to provide good service. It is a time-consuming, never-ending task that is neither easier than nor as reliable as building local digital collections.

Sample of News Stories

  • Reports of Federal Government Agencies Directed Not to Communicate with the American Public
  • Trump Administration Restricts News from Federal Scientists at USDA, EPA By Dina Fine Maron (January 24, 2017)
  • Information lockdown hits Trump’s federal agencies By Andrew Restuccia, Alex Guillén and Nancy Cook (01/24/17)
  • USDA lifts gag order: report By Paulina Firozi (01/25/17)
  • How far will President Trump’s media blackout spread? The Sunlight Foundation is trying to find out By Kelly Hinchcliffe (January 25, 2017)
  • Trump officials suspend plan to delete EPA climate web pages By Robin Bravender (Jan 25, 2017)
  • USDA Calls Scientist Gag Order a “Misunderstanding” By Dina Fine Maron (January 25, 2017)
  • The USDA Says That Trump Didn’t Send Its Order Restricting Scientists
  • by Dino Grandoni (Jan. 26, 2017)

  • EPA science under scrutiny by Trump political staff
    By MICHAEL BIESECKER and SETH BORENSTEIN (Jan. 26, 2017)
  • What’s Up With the Office of Management and Budget Website? by Frank Konkel (January 27, 2017)
  • Science off to a rough start in the Trump administration (Jan 29, 2017)
  • Agencies Halt Public Releases USDA and EPA Both Go Quiet Following Orders from Trump Administration Emily Unglesbee (1/30/2017)
  • NASA rolls out PubSpace, public portal for NASA-funded research

    The 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memorandum, “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research,” is really starting to bare fruit. NASA just announced the creation of PubSpace — which will go hand in hand with the NASA Data Portal — to provide a public access portal to NASA-funded research AND the underlying data.

    There are 2 things to note: 1) NASA is using PubMedCentral (PMC) as its repository, along with other federal agencies like National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute of Standards and technology (NIST), and the Veterans Administration (VA); and 2) as the NASA press release notes, there will be a deficit embargo period placed on NASA funded publications as researchers will have 1 year to deposit articles and data into PubSpace.

    This is a very good step in the right Open Access direction for free access to federally funded research and data!

    Public access to NASA-funded research data now is just a click away, with the launch of a new agency public access portal. The creation of the NASA-Funded Research Results portal on NASA.gov reflects the agency’s ongoing commitment to providing broad public access to science data.

    “At NASA, we are celebrating this opportunity to extend access to our extensive portfolio of scientific and technical publications,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. “Through open access and innovation we invite the global community to join us in exploring Earth, air and space.”

    NASA now requires articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings be publicly accessible via the agency’s PubSpace.

    PubSpace is an archive of original science journal articles produced by NASA-funded research and available online without a fee. The data will be available for download, reading and analysis within one year of publication.

    via NASA Unveils New Public Web Portal for Research Results | NASA.

    FGI submits OMB A-130 comments. Help us raise OMB awareness of library issues

    As FGI readers will know, OMB has asked the public for comments and suggestions to revise its Circular A-130 “Managing Information as a Strategic Resource.” Interestingly, they have chosen to manage the commenting process on http://github.com, the collaborative software versioning and management site.

    We at FGI have submitted a comment (or “issue” in GitHub parlance) at: https://github.com/ombegov/a130/issues/65. We could really use readers’ help in raising awareness of library issues at OMB and in their A-130 policy to executive agencies. Please go to GitHub and leave a comment or additional suggestion on that issue. The more comments an issue gets, the more likely that OMB will take the suggestion seriously. You can also add your own suggestions/issues [see instructions at https://a130.cio.gov].

    We the FGI editors thank you for your assistance!

    OMB’s Circular A-130 “Managing Information as a Strategic Resource” — along with the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) 94 Stat. 2812, which “establishes a broad mandate for agencies to perform their information resources management activities in an efficient, effective, and economical manner” – do not directly address and therefore have had unintended negative consequences for long-term access to and preservation of Federal government information.

    These policies, along with agency practices of using the web for distribution without attending to consistent standards or to preservation, have resulted in the creation of many incompatible, inconsistent, often badly indexed and difficult to use agency web sites and a propagation of “deep Web” .gov databases. This not only makes it more difficult for individuals to find and use the government information they need, it also makes it difficult for institutions to identify, acquire, describe, and preserve agency “publication information” (defined in draft A-130 line 1066) for the long-term. Such institutions include the Government Publishing Office (GPO), libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), the Internet Archive, and institutions (like Sunlight Foundation, the Government Accountability Project and Open The Government) that promote open-government and government transparency.

    Draft A-130 mentions “threats” on page 1, but does not mention the threat of loss of information because of insufficient preservation actions. We recommend therefore that A-130 be updated to require that all government agencies facilitate preservation of and long-term free public access to their publications. This would put the same requirement onto information produced at government expense by government agencies that the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other government funding agencies put onto the data produced by government funded research.

    Requirement:

    Every government agency should be required to have an “Information Management Plan” for the public information it acquires, assembles, creates, and disseminates. The Information Management Plan should specify how the agency’s public information will be preserved for long-term, free public access and use including its deposit in a reputable, trusted, government or non-government digital repository (including, but not limited to GPO’s FDsys). All executive agencies should deposit their publications in FDsys.gov and their data in data.gov.

    As one aspect of implementation of the Information Management Plan, we recommend that every government agency be required to make its own website compatible with a few basic, consistent requirements to make it easier for the public to discover, acquire and use its information. Each agency’s site – including subdomains – should be required to:

    1) Follow Web standards and design their sites with site maps. All agency sites should be Archive ready (http://archiveready.com);

    2) Use a standardized directory structure that identifies major types of information (e.g., ../publications ../data ../video ../blog ../podcast ../pressreleases ../rss etc);

    3) Have permanent urls in the form of DOIs or some other standard for all agency publications and other information products.

    Updating A-130 for the 21st century to take full advantage of the Internet will bring executive agencies in line with the White House’s Open Government Initiative, will facilitate public access, will require the preservation of agency publications, and will facilitate economic efficiency by encouraging centralized digital preservation while allowing for the use and expansion of non-government digital repositories.

    Respectfully submitted,

    James A. Jacobs and James R. Jacobs
    Free Government Information
    http://freegovinfo.info

    Public comment open until Nov 20 on OMB Circular A-130

    [UPDATE 11/20/15: OMB has extended the commenting period for 15 days until December 5, 2015. JRJ]

    Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-130 Managing Information as a Strategic Resource — along with the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) 94 Stat. 2812, which “establishes a broad mandate for agencies to perform their information resources management activities in an efficient, effective, and economical manner” — has had a *huge* negative impact on the work of libraries and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), and has had many unintended consequences for access to and preservation of Federal government information. It has made GPO’s work in maintaining the national bibliography much harder because A-130 and PRA have given Executive agencies broad leeway in publishing their information without regard for Title 44, GPO, and description and distribution of FDLP materials to libraries.

    But now, OMB has requested comment on A-130 — via GitHub no less! — which hasn’t been updated since 2000. So here’s a chance for depository librarians and others to let OMB know how they can edit A-130 in order to assure free public access to — and most importantly preservation of! — federal government information and help libraries and librarians across the country deliver access and services to their communities.

    We outlined some of FDLP’s needs in our 2010 Letter to Deputy CTO Noveck: “Open Government Publications” and in other places. Basically, we need executive agencies to work with GPO in creating and maintaining the national bibliography. We need executive agencies to create and follow Web standards and design their sites to make it easier for the GPO and FDLP to do their jobs — and by extension make it easier for the public to access federal information. For example, each agency should have ../publications and ../data directories (and others like ../video etc) on their sites, all of their publications should have permanent urls in the form of DOIs or some other standard, agencies should deposit their publications in FDsys.gov and their data in data.gov.

    Please consider submitting comments so that the FDLP can have a federal information policy that helps libraries and GPO do their jobs.

    The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is proposing for the first time in fifteen years revisions to the Federal Government’s governing document establishing policies for the management of Federal information resources: Circular No. A-130, Managing Information as a Strategic Resource. More specifically, Circular A-130 provides general policy for the planning, budgeting, governance, acquisition, and management of Federal information resources. It also includes appendices outlining agency responsibilities for managing information, supporting use of electronic transactions, and protecting Federal information resources.

    The proposed revisions to the Circular are the result of new statutory requirements and enhanced technological capabilities since the last update to the Circular in 2000. Modernizing this policy will enable OMB to provide timely and relevant guidance to agencies and will ensure that the Federal IT ecosystem operates more securely and more efficiently while saving tax dollars and serving the needs of the American people.

    The proposed Circular reflects a rapidly evolving digital economy, where more than ever, individuals, groups, and organizations rely on information technology to carry out a wide range of missions and business functions. Information technology changes rapidly and the Federal workforce managing IT must have the flexibility to address known and emerging threats while implementing continuous improvements. This update acknowledges the pace of change and the need to increase capabilities provided by 21st century technology while recognizing the need for strong governance and safeguarding of taxpayer funded assets and information.

    The proposed guidance is now open for public comment on this page. The public feedback period will be 30 days, closing on November 20, 2015. Following the public feedback period, OMB will analyze all submitted feedback and revise the policy as necessary.

    via Circular A-130 Managing Information as a Strategic Resource.

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