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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.

Obama Plans to Digitize Health Records

A special report from CNN.com states that Obama plans to digitize health records within the next five years. This is one of the endeavors to restore the economy as government estimates that this program will create around 212,000 jobs. However, there are some concerns about it because:

1) Commonwealth Fund, RAND, and Harvard have conducted independent studies which reveal that this program would cost between $75-100 billion dollars over the implementation period. The major cost will be incurred in traning the work force.

2) At present, only “about 8% of the nation’s 5,000 hospitals and 17% of its 800,000 physicians currently use the kind of common computerized record-keeping systems that Obama envisions for the whole nation.”

3) The privacy of patients must be protected as the nationalized system may be affected by system failures and hackers.

Obama asserts that this program will create new jobs, cut medical costs, and save $200-300 billion per year for the health industry.

Aids.gov podcast

The newest entrant to our government podcasts directory is the AIDS.gov podcast from the federal department of Health and Human Services. The podcasts are short videos (3-5 min) that focus on news and conversations about AIDS.  Despite the fact that these podcasts have been going out since February 2007, we seemed to have scooped our friends at usa.gov because I didn’t notice it on their Health Podcasts page as of October 16, 2007.

This is a decent example that publishing on the web isn’t the same as either distributing a document or proactively informing the public or press. Posting something to the web without further efforts means the content lays there until stumbled upon — in this case by my Google Alert that looks for podcasts in the dot gov domain.

In this particular case, I’m sure the aids.gov folks, far from hiding anything promoted their podcasts to their constituencies, but the effect for the rest of us was the same. We don’t find stuff like this unless we’re looking for it. Ideally, there should be some outlet – usa.gov, GPO, etc (I don’t know) where new content like this would be pushed out to people the moment it is published.

The Federal Digital System (FDSys) seems like it will promise this sort of functionality for government documents published with GPO’s knowledge. I’m looking forward to seeing how that promise holds up.



Dead crows: thoughts on local government information access, part I

It’s been a pretty typical week for me in Tacoma, Washington (my home when I’m not at work in Seattle).  But as I reflect back on the past seven days, I can see how local government information popped into my world in at least two conspicuous ways (and I’m sure many other more subtle ways).  I’ll share one story now.

On Monday afternoon, upon returning home from walking my dog, I noticed an unfortunate sight:  a dead crow lying near our driveway, at the base of a telephone pole.  I had just disposed of a dead sparrow I’d found in the same vicinity the day before, so this concerned me.  I remembered that dead crows could be a sign of … some health hazard, I couldn’t remember which.  Without thinking, I consulted the real, tangible phone book’s blue pages (a hidden pasttime of many of us govdocs types), figuring I’d call the county health department.  I flipped past the federal government pages, the state pages, and found the county health department and its numerous entries.  Aha!  West Nile Virus hotline.  I called the number, and, because it was after hours, got a voicemail message.  Gratifyingly, the voice said something along the lines of "If you’re calling to report a dead crow, please provide your name, contact info and a detailed location for the crow.  We’ll call you back during business hours.  Check out our web page as well."

The next day at work, I received a courteous, professional call from the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department.  The Environmental Health Specialist told me she was going to stop by my residence and remove the bird for testing.  She also conjectured that the crow was probably a juvenile who had been electrocuted by the power lines, a common occurence, but she would remove it all the same.  When I got home, I found her business card and several Washington State government brochures (yes!  it was a multi-jurisdictional day!) about mosquito repellent, West Nile Virus, and Dead Bird Reporting.  Jackpot — tangible gov docs, delivered to my doorstep!  Overall, I was quite pleased with how this terribly old fashioned combination of the phone book and telephone worked so quickly and efficiently.  Reviewing the web pages was a fun exercise after the fact, but I liked talking directly to the specialist.  Out here, Dex is one of the prominent phone books.  Its online version doesn’t seem to include government, at least not in an obvious way, leaving users with the impression that there are two types of phone numbers in the world: residential and business.  The blue pages rock.

Electronic health information

Workgroup may propose extending HIPAA to health info exchanges