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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.

New Report on Disseminating and Preserving Digital Government Information

The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress conducted a survey for GPO and its report is now available.

Although FRD only interviewed 12 agencies, the report is packed with interesting tables and facts and references. It should be required reading for government information professionals.

Dissemination

The findings with regard to disseminating public information will not surprise you, but they do document what we know:

  • Government "publishing" no longer provides a linear path from a central agency communications office to GPO to FDLP libraries.

  • Despite statutory mandates and Federal information policies, fugitive documents are a huge problem, with FDLP missing 50 to 85 per cent of them.

  • Agencies indicated they have limited knowledge of the Title 44’s applicability to providing digital information to GPO and FDLP.

That leads to one finding that is a doozy:

  • GPO’s reporting mechanism for digital content, the Document Discovery submission form, relies on voluntary manual entry — a method that is not easily scalable and lacks accountability.

Preservation

With regards to preservation:

  • Several agencies reported submitting static copies of the agency website to NARA. But the report notes that this does not meet the requirements established by Title 44 of the U.S. Code to make their publications accessible to the public and the FDLP on a permanent basis.

  • Most of the agencies maintain an online archive of older website content but each agency uses its own approach to this. "Some retain older content on the main website, some designate a separate archival page for older content from across the agency, and some maintain multiple archives for different types of content. Each agency also applies its own standard for how far back in time the archives go. Some retain decades-old content, while others retain content from only the past few years."

  • GPO has used the subscription-based web harvesting tool Archive-It since 2011 to capture, catalog, and provide access to the Federal digital landscape, including websites, blogs, and social media feeds. The FDLP Web Archive holds approximately 145 agency collections, encompassing 1,600 websites.

  • Compare this to the report’s enumeration of the extent of government web presence:

    • 1,316 top-level.gov domains.
    • 2,297 two-level .gov
    • 627,478 three-level .gov domains.
    • 203 two-level .mil domains
    • 181,244 three-level .mil domains.
    • 6,000 websites containing 32 million webpages and a total of 12 terabytes of data.
    • 265,000 datasets

Recommended Actions:

The report recommends that GPO continue — and “where possible” — expand its direct outreach to agencies. Some other recommendations:

  • GPO should consider developing an automated or semi-automated notification system for Federal agency product releases to replace its manual Document Discovery submission form.

  • OMB should release "a detailed memorandum on the FDLP provisions in Title 44." It also notes that "The OSTP memorandum on federally funded research might be considered an appropriate model for such a directive."

FDLP Libraries

Although the report was not designed to recommend actions by FDLP libraries, it does provide some information that could help FDLP direct its activities.

  • Concentrate on Designated Communities. The report reminds us also that "agencies serve the information needs of specialized audiences" as well as the general public and "tailor many of their products to customers in specific fields or sectors of the U.S. economy, including financial and industry analysts; lawyers; medical professionals; scientists; publishers, academic educators and researchers; and natural resources managers." As FDLP libraries develop their own digital collections, they could focus on specific communities based on subject, discipline, and how they use information. Libraries could build collections of such information from many agencies making the information easier for the communities to discover, identify, and use the information they need. Concentration on Designated Communities also helps libraries identify OAIS-compliant preservation plans.

  • Work with agencies. Librarians who have good contacts with agencies should promote GPO and FDLP to those agencies to help GPO’s outreach program.

  • Lobby for Legislation and Policies. Librarians should lobby for the best possible version of a revised Title 44 and for changes to OMB A-130 that will require agencies to provide digital information to GPO and FDLP.

(For more on these actions, see our recent post: Preserving What’s Gone — The Healthcare Guidelines Case.)

 

Tracking the unlawful or accidental removal of government records

In the age of digital information, it is easier than it ever has been for government agencies to alter or delete official records at the flick of a switch. The U.S. Code (Title 44) and Code of Federal Regulations (Title 36) require agencies to “prevent the unlawful or accidental removal, defacing, alteration, or destruction of records.” But the official government guidelines for Managing Web Records are 13 years old and are subject to interpretation by political appointees in individual agencies.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) investigates allegations of violations of this law and will assist agencies in retrieving records. Its Performance Accountability Report has, for for many years, provided an end-of-year snapshot of cases investigated.

This year, NARA has created a web dashboard, which it will update monthly, listing the “Unauthorized Disposition of Federal Records.” More information about this is available from the Sunlight Foundation:

The dashboard lists the agencies and records involved, the status of the investigation, and provides links to documentation about the events.

Recently listed events include the “Suspicious-activity reports (SARs)” (which were widely reported as being absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN)), and the use of private (non-.gov) email accounts by officials of Homeland Security. There are currently 24 open cases and 46 cases closed cases.

MSU scholars find $21 trillion in unauthorized government spending. Agencies disable links to key documents

I visited the MSU Today news site for the headline about massive unauthorized spending happening at the Department of Defense and Housing and Urban Development. That in and of itself was troubling. But what really drew my attention was in the 2nd paragraph where it stated that the agencies’ Inspector Generals(!) — which are supposed to be the watchdogs of their agencies! — had “disabl[ed] the links to all key documents showing the unsupported spending” and the parenthetical note about the researchers having downloaded and saved their documents locally. Read more of the story at USAWatchdog.

This is the reason why libraries need to get on the ball and become active in digital collection development. Professor Skidmore luckily downloaded and made the documents available. But as long as govt publications are only available on .gov websites and Title 44 regulations for executive agencies to make their documents available to the FDLP are ignored by agencies and the OMB, then this kind of thing will continue to happen. Whether it’s 1 document or 100TB of data, FDLP libraries owe it to themselves and their local communities to do this kind of work. I’m now mulling about how to best provide space for the documents that my library’s researchers download to do their research.

Earlier this year, a Michigan State University economist, working with graduate students and a former government official, found $21 trillion in unauthorized spending in the departments of Defense and Housing and Urban Development for the years 1998-2015.

The work of Mark Skidmore and his team, which included digging into government websites and repeated queries to U.S. agencies that went unanswered, coincided with the Office of Inspector General, at one point, disabling the links to all key documents showing the unsupported spending. (Luckily, the researchers downloaded and stored the documents.)

via MSU scholars find $21 trillion in unauthorized government spending; Defense Department to conduct first-ever audit | MSUToday | Michigan State University.

New GPO IG report includes troubling findings regarding fugitives and FDLP

“although the exact number of USDA publications could not be determined, the amount would be a small percentage because GPO focuses most of its efforts on congressional publications.”

We just came across this recent report of the GPO Inspector General (IG) called “Additional Information Needed for Ensuring Availability of Government Information Through the Federal Depository Library Program” (archived copy). Though this report was published the week before the recent Fall ’17 Depository Library Conference, it was not mentioned at all at conference, though there was information within the report which would have been incredibly useful for the Title 44 discussion held over the bulk of the first 2 days of conference.

There were some positives mentioned in the report. For example, I hadn’t known that GPO and the Library of Congress are currently working on a project to develop new strategies for increasing discovery and access to Government information across federal agencies. the project’s goals are to identify “top-level agency stakeholders in agency publishing,” make agencies aware of their Title 44 responsibilities and work on preservation policies for agency publications and especially born-digital materials.

Additionally, according to GPO, the approach it takes in finding agency publications is a “proactive” one. In general, the approach consists of: 1) providing a web presence and means for agencies to notify GPO of published documents; 2) directly contacting agency representatives, 3) reaching out to agency customers, and 4) web harvesting.

Key findings:

  1. “Some” Agencies Did Not Provide List of Publications to GPO, as Required (my quotes, the report did not specify a number.)
  2. GPO Policies and Procedures Need to be Detailed to Support Program Goals
  3. Strengthening Processes that Capture Government Publications

Although the GPO Inspector General “consider[s] management’s comments responsive to the three recommendations, which are considered resolved but will remain open until implementation of the proposed corrective actions,” we’re disturbed by some of the IG’s findings, especially in regard to the seeming nonchalance of GPO toward executive agency fugitive documents in general and the USDA in particular.

Though GPO has a supposedly “proactive” approach to capturing government publications, it seems that an inordinately large amount of executive publications are not made available to the FDLP, or otherwise collected, described or preserved (see the IG report’s analysis of USDA). Their Web harvesting program only has 6 Web archived USDA publications. And their outreach to agency customers is woefully inadequate as it seems from this report that very few agencies — or even the federal librarians working in those agencies! — are aware of their Title requirements, OMB Circular No. A-130, and other governing compliance requirements, have been contacted by GPO staff or even know that GPO exists. Case in point, on page 10 of the report, the Chief Collection Development Librarian for the U.S. National Agricultural Library had “identified and provided OIG with a list of 3,299 publications he believed should be included in the FDLP. The Librarian told us the information was not provided to GPO and that GPO had not contacted the Library for a list of issued publications.”

On a side — equally disturbing — note, we also found that a) none of the GPO IG’s investigation outcomes and only a very small percentage of the audits are available online; b) only the GPO IG’s semiannual reports to Congress are available on the new Oversight.gov site whose tagline is “all federal Inspector General reports in one place;” and c) even more worrying, NONE of them are cataloged in the CGP though they are hosted on GPO’s Website and presumably are within the scope of the FDLP. It seems like a no-brainer for ALL GPO IG REPORTS to be hosted on govinfo.gov in the GPO Collection.

We hope that GPO will be taking all necessary steps to implement the proposed corrective actions laid out by the IG. We will be sending this post and the IG report to Depository Library Council in the hopes that DLC can stress to GPO the ongoing importance of both digital and physical collection development activities to libraries and the public.

“Congress established the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) to provide free public access to Federal Government information. Creation, distribution, retention, and preservation of information has evolved from a simple tangible, paper-based process to now include digital processes managed primarily through various information technologies. Regardless of format, FDLP publications must conform to the definition of Government publications as defined in section 1902, title 44 of the United States Code (44 U.S.C. § 1901), GPO policy, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-130, that is, generally all published Federal information products, regardless of format or medium, that are of public interest or educational value or produced using Federal funds.

The transition to digital information raises a number of issues resulting in more diverse responsibilities for GPO. In that context, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted a review to determine the steps GPO took for ensuring information developed at the expense of taxpayers was made available to the public through the FDLP. To address our objective, in general, we tested compliance with select sections of Title 44, reviewed program goals and achievements, and tested processes used to capture Government publications at a select agency—the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).”

Document of the day: NSA’s guide to the internet

This just came through my twitter feed from @MuckRock. Through a FOIA request which shook it loose from the notoriously difficult NSA, we now have access to NSA’s 2007 Untangling the Web: a guide to Internet research. It kind of reads like a Terry Pratchett novel if Terry was having a psychotic/psychedelic episode. As MuckRock notes, “you don’t have to go very far before this takes a hard turn into ‘Dungeons and Dragons campaign/Classics major’s undergraduate thesis’ territory.” Read on, you’ll thank me later!

And if you’re interested, I collected and cataloged a version for our library. The original NSA link to the document no longer resolves (and it was put up just last year!!), but there’s an archived copy in the WayBack Machine.

The NSA has a well-earned reputation for being one of the tougher agencies to get records out of, making those rare FOIA wins all the sweeter. In the case of Untangling the Web, the agency’s 2007 guide to internet research, the fact that the records in question just so happen to be absolutely insane are just icing on the cake – or as the guide would put it, “the nectar on the ambrosia.”

via The NSA’s guide to the internet is the weirdest thing you’ll read today.

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