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This just in from our friends at MuckRock: Senate introduces legislation to clarify presumption of disclosure in FOIA. This new bill will will protect public access to information from private entities that do business with the government following the *terrible* Supreme Court decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader, which overturned more than 40 years of FOIA precedent by letting corporations decide whether the public was entitled to access government spending information. Also, according to OpenTheGovernment’s analysis, the bill addresses “…the EPA’s move to undermine FOIA by issuing regulations, without the legally required public notice and comment period, that appear to allow officials to withhold portions of documents as “not responsive” to a FOIA request, despite a federal court ruling forbidding the practice.”
The “Open and Responsive Government Act of 2019” would address limits to FOIA being imposed by regulatory agencies, in addition to those recently created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media. That decision allowed for a broad interpretation of confidentiality under the FOIA’s b(4) trade secret exemption, and transparency advocates are confident the ruling, if allowed to stand, would severely limit access to government dealings with private companies.
“Last month’s Supreme Court overturned more than 40 years of FOIA precedent, and will force government agencies to withhold large swaths of information about private contractors and other companies who do business with government,” said Emily Manna, policy analyst at Open The Government. This bill would return us to the status quo, and restore the public’s right to access this critical information.”
The proposed amendments would expand the language of the “trade secrets” exemption to explicitly require a standard of substantial harm for the nondisclosure of commercial information. That standard seemed to have been set by the case National Parks & Conservation Ass’n v. Morton, but the Supreme Court’s recent ruling did not acknowledge it.
Our pal Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, long-time FDLP advocate extraordinaire, writes a regular column covering lobbying and government information in the U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d Librarian newsletter. Her latest, titled “New Congress New Legislation,” describes the undoing of the “FDLP Modernization Act of 2018″ (H. R. 5305) in the 115th Congress and proposes a new, very targeted bill for this Congress. We agree with her that a short targeted bill is more likely to pass. We thought her recommendations for what the FDLP community should focus on for legislation to update the FDLP were just the right target. If you agree, please contact your representative, *especially* if that representative is on the Committee on House Administration (we’re looking at you CA, IL, MD, NC, GA!).
She and U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d publisher Mitch Freedman have kindly agreed to let us “reprint” Bernadine’s piece in its entirety on FGI. Please consider subscribing to U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d. It’s a practical and valuable newsletter on all things library-related.
Unabashed Librarian 190 New Congress New Legislation
With Democrats taking over control of the House of Representatives we have a new Congress. We also have many new members who know little about laws that support and fund library programs. The American Library Association in order to quickly educate the members about the library community’s priorities has switched from promoting petitions to organizing grass roots lobbying. Instead of the traditional legislative day in DC in May, ALA brought librarians to the Hill in February to talk to members about the library communities priorities for the next 2 years.
ALA is rejoicing that five bills supported by the library community became law during the 115th Congress. Two of those bills were supported for years by the ALA Government Documents Round Table. They are a law requiring LC to provide on line free access to the Congressional Research Office reports and a law promoting open access to government electronic data.
I am relieved that the “FDLP Modernization Act of 2018″ (H. R. 5305) did not pass because it was overly broad, poorly written, and used language that could be interpreted to harm the mission of the federal depository library program. As a former Congressional legislative staffer I learned from Representative Charlie Rose, former chair of the Joint Committee on Printing and the Committee on House Administration, that a smaller and more targeted bill is more likely to pass. A good example is the “GPO Access Act of 1993″, which was introduced by Representative Rose, and Senators Ford and Stevens. That law transformed the depository library program bringing thousands of digital publications and data bases into the program.
I urge the library community to zero in on the issues most important to the survival of the federal depository library program and propose a very targeted bill. Those issues include:
- Revise the definition of Government Publication in USC Title 44 to include publications in multiple formats, including paper, fiche, and digital. Keep the term Government Publication because it is term used by publishers, printers, librarians, and library users.
- Restructure the federal depository library program to allow regional and selective depository libraries to co-operatively share the task of acquiring, cataloging, and preserving government publications in multiple formats.
- Ask Congress to authorize the Government Publishing Office to provide money to libraries that agree to preserve government publications.
- Ask Congress to direct the GPO, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives to conduct an inventory of government publications held in those agencies and in the depository libraries so the community can easily identify which publications are in danger of disappearing.
Do not wait for the Committee on House Administration to re-introduce a flawed bill. Develop a bill, which includes the most urgent of solutions to improve the current depository program and take it to the Congress, just as librarians did with the “GPO Access Act”.
Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, Congressional Joint Committee on Printing Professional Staff Member (retired), former depository librarian, and author of “Lobbying for Libraries and the Public’s Access to Government Information,” Rowman Publishing.
Happy Sunshine Week, the week where we celebrate government transparency, FOIA and all things open government information! There’s lots happening this week including the upcoming 1/2 day live and streaming celebration at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). But there’s also work to be done. Evidently, appropriators are holding up the smart, pro-transparency “HR 736 Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act” scheduled for a floor vote on Tuesday. Contact your Representative today and tell them to pass this important act!
There’s too much news happening this week to list it all — make sure to subscribe to the First Branch Forecast weekly newsletter published by Daniel Schuman and his crack team at Demand Progress to keep up to date! — but I did want to highlight the good news coming out of the LIBRARY of Congress. Slowly but surely, they’re expanding the number of Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports being published on their site crsreports.congress.gov. They still don’t have the coverage of EveryCRSReport.com which includes 14,742 CRS reports (and still growing) but LoC is getting there so good on them. Celebrate Sunshine Week by leaving LoC a comment and contacting your Representative to tell them to vote for “HR 736 Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act”. Sunshine is the best disinfectant!!
Since launching, we’ve added hundreds of new reports and are working hard to include the back catalog of older CRS reports – a process that is expected to be complete later this month. Today, you can access more than 2,300 reports on topics ranging from the Small Business Administration to farm policy.
Starting this week, the Library is making additional product types available on the site. The site now includes In Focus products, which are two-page executive level briefing documents on a range of policy issues. For example, recent topics include military medical malpractice and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant. Another newly-added product type is the Insight, which provides short-form analysis on fast moving or more focused issues. Examples of topics include volcano early warning systems and Congressional Member Organizations. Users can filter by product type using the faceted search on the left hand of the search results page.
[UPDATE 1:30pm 09122018: The bill going forward in the Senate is S. 2944, NOT 2673. And S.2944 includes reference to the depository library program! I’ve updated the link below to the correct Senate bill. JRJ]
Heads up! There’s a bill at the beginning of the legislative process called “Preventing Additional Printing of Electronic Records Act of 2018″ or the PAPER Act of 2018. Don’t you just love how Congress has to acronymize their bill titles?! This bill seeks to limit the printing of the Congressional Record, one of our most important Congressional publications, the official record of the proceedings and debates of the US Congress. It’s important to the Federal Depository Library Program to keep publishing the CR in paper for research utility and preservation purposes.
The House version mentions the FDLP, but the Senate version does not:
(d) Depository libraries
The Director of the Government Publishing Office shall furnish to the Superintendent of Documents as many daily and bound copies of the Congressional Record as may be required for distribution to depository libraries.
This bill is at the very beginning of the process, so it’s not time to get nervous. But the depository community ought to keep an eye on this bill in case it gathers momentum in the House and/or Senate.
The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act (ACMRA) H.R. 4631 was introduced yesterday by Representative Mike Quigley. If passed, it will require that all Congressionally mandated reports be deposited in a publicly accessible database maintained by the GPO. For more background, see Daniel Schuman’s writeup and background. The Washington Post wrote about the problem a few years ago titled “Unrequired reading.” Here’s the ACRMA bill text. 38 organizations, including FGI, wrote a public letter endorsing the bill.
The most interesting piece in the bill to me — well other than the requirement of executive agencies to deposit ALL mandated reports with GPO! — is section 4 subsection b, which directs OMB to issue guidance to agencies on implementing the act. My hope is that this is another opportunity to reform OMB circular A-130, which we here at FGI have suggested could be updated to better represent the needs of libraries and the FDLP.
The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act was introduced yesterday in the House and Senate, thanks to the tremendous leadership of Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Sens. Ron Portman (R-OH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The bipartisan bill (read it here) requires:
all reports to Congress that are required by law to be published online in a central repository, and Congress to keep a list of all of its reporting requirements and check whether agencies have submitted reports on time.
ACMRA is important because it improves the legislative ecosystem for high quality information. In short, it empowers Congressional staff to do their jobs and the public to hold the government accountable.