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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.

GODORT pens thank you letter re CRS reports. LoC needs to do this right.

I’m still giddy that CRS reports will soon be made public! The Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) of the American Library Association just wrote a letter to the Congressional Transparency Caucus thanking them for their ongoing efforts to make Congressional Research Service reports publicly available.

This comes at an especially opportune time because critics worry that Library of Congress isn’t delivering on the goods. My hope is that this public letter from a large library association, because it’s cc’d to Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden among others, will put a public spotlight on LC and maybe get them to fully deliver all CRS reports in a timely and cost-effective manner.

On behalf of the American Library Association (ALA)’s Government Documents Round Table (GODORT), I am writing to express our gratitude for the Congressional Transparency Caucus’s leadership in ensuring the public availability of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports; and to encourage the Caucus’s continued leadership in ensuring these reports are made available in a timely fashion.

The Congressional Research Service, informally known as the “think tank” of Congress, was founded in 1914. But until now, there has been no systematic, comprehensive, official source that provides all Americans equal access to their reports, even though they have been routinely released to the public by Members of Congress, made available through non-profit websites like EveryCRSReport.com and the Federation of American Scientists, and sold by commercial publishers.

Reports from the CRS are well researched and balanced documents, addressing a wide variety of current issues of importance to the American public. As such, the American Library Association-along with many other library- and open government organizations, grassroots efforts, and individual citizens-has long advocated that they be made public and distributed
through libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), administered by the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO).

The first bills regarding public online access to CRS reports arose in the 105th Congress (1997-1998): S. 1578 was introduced by Sens. McCain (R-AZ) and Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate, and H.R. 3131 was introduced by Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and David Price (D-NC) in the House. Though these efforts were unsuccessful, the determination to make CRS reports public never wavered. With the passage of the 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act, CRS reports will now be accessible to the American public. The Library of Congress will begin publishing nonconfidential, non-partisan reports on a publicly accessible Congressional website starting in September 2018. Once these reports are fully available, this achievement will positively contribute to the democratic process and inform citizens of the wide variety of issues before Congress.

GODORT would like to sincerely thank you and your staff for over two decades of hard work and dedication to making public access to CRS reports a reality.

Sincerely,
Shari Laster
Chair, Government Documents Round Table

cc
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden
CRS Director Mary Mazanec
Steven Aftergood, American Federation of Scientists
Daniel Schuman, DemandProgress
Kevin Kosar, R Street Institute
Josh Tauberer, GovTrack.US

Critics say LC’s plan to publish CRS reports is a fail.

Many were thrilled earlier this spring when the FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Law included the “public access to all non-confidential CRS reports.”

Well, not so fast it seems. Daniel Schuman, Kevin Kosar, and Josh Tauberer (3 folks doing great work over the last several years on the CRS reports issue) have found that the “Library plan to publish CRS reports falls short of the law, and is unduly expensive.” LOC plan “does not comport with the law or best practices for creating websites and is unusually expensive,” they wrote. By contrast, their own collection of 14,000 reports on everyCRSreport.com cost about $20,000. Another point of criticism is that the the library’s plans to publish the reports only as PDF files — rather than in both HTML and PDF formats — making them harder to access on mobile devices and potentially inaccessible to people with visual impairments. The plan also apparently ignores a directive to publish a separate index of all the reports published by CRS, they said, which would make it easier for laypeople to see all available documents at once.

the group makes several important recommendations. To comply with the law, the Library should:

  • Update its implementation plan to ensure that it publishes all CRS reports — we believe there are many more than the 2,900 the Implementation Plan says will be published by Spring 2019 — by the statutory deadline of September 19 of this year. We request it aim for September 17th, which is Constitution Day. The Library’s implementation extends beyond April of next year;
  • Update its implementation plan to include all CRS Reports, including insights, infographics, sidebars/legal sidebars, in focus, and testimony;
  • Revise its implementation plan to ensure that HTML versions of the reports are available to the public just as they are already available to Congressional staff — this would help the visually impaired read the reports as well as allow reports to be read on mobile devices;
  • Revise its implementation plan to include an index of CRS reports, in accordance with the law’s requirements; and
  • Review the code we published to see whether it would help the Library meet its obligations, in particular our automated author information redaction functionality, or whether the Library could develop an automated tool that would enable it to comply with the timeline.

With respect to the website design, the Library should:

  • Consult with the Government Publishing Office and the public on how best to implement bulk access;
  • Develop a plan to respond to any initial heavy loads on the website;
  • Implement a robust website search capability and develop a plan to do so;
  • Create predictable URLs for CRS reports and a landing page for a report series, and set forth a plan to do so;
  • Keep down costs by examining our approach to see whether it can use some of our techniques to save money; and
  • Consider engaging an entity like the General Services Administration’s 18F to help keep down costs and ensure a quality product.

So far, attempts to communicate with the Library of Congress have fallen on deaf ears. So if any of our readers have connections to Carla Hayden’s office, please forward this on to her.

Library plan to publish CRS reports falls short of the law, and is unduly expensive

GPO releases digital Congressional Record for 1911-1921

GPO is diligently working on releasing digital versions of the historic Congressional Record. The Congressional Record is now available on govinfo from 1911 – 2008. Historic!

The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) partners with the Library of Congress to release the digital version of the bound Congressional Record from 1911-1921 on GPO’s govinfo. This release covers the debates and proceedings of the 62nd through the 66th Congresses.

This era of Congress covers historical topics such as:

  • The final year of the administration of President Taft, the election and reelection of President Wilson, and the election of President Harding
  • Ratification of the 16th (income tax), 17th (popular election of Senators), 18th (Prohibition), and 19th (voting rights for women) Amendments to the Constitution
  • Admission of New Mexico and Arizona as states
  • Jeanette Rankin elected as first woman to the House of Representatives
  • Establishment of the Federal Reserve
  • Enactment of P.L. 62-5, capping the number of Members of the House of Representatives at 435
  • Senate enactment of the cloture rule to limit debate
  • Sinking of the Lusitania
  • World War I

via GPO Issues Digital Release of Historical Congressional Record for 1911-1921.

GPO releases digital Congressional Record for the 1920s

GPO has just released another decade of digitized Congressional Record, this time 1921 – 1930. The Congressional Record is now available on govinfo from 1921 – 2008. Very cool!

Washington –The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) partners with the Library of Congress to release the digital version of the bound Congressional Record from 1921-1930 on GPO’s govinfo site. This release covers the debates and proceedings of the 67th through the 71st Congresses.

This era of Congress covers historical topics such as:

  • The final two years of the administration of President Wilson, the administrations of Presidents
    Harding and Coolidge, and the first two years of the administration of President Hoover.
  • Prohibition
  • The Immigration Act of 1924
  • The Kellogg-Briand Pact to end war
  • The Dawes Plan for WWI reparations
  • The Teapot Dome Scandal
  • The Stock Market Crash of 1929

CRS reports set to become public!

I can’t believe it’s finally happened, but today the House Appropriations Committee voted to “allow public access to all non-confidential CRS reports” as part of the FY 2018 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. We’re one step closer to having public access to CRS reports! A bipartisan group of 40 nonprofit organizations (including FGI!) and 25 former CRS employees have been banging on Congress to do this, and the House today finally listened!

The issue of public access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports has been something for which librarians have advocated for at least 20 years. It’s been an uphill battle because some in Congress and the Library of Congress have long viewed CRS reports — which provide non-partisan analysis of important policy issues before Congress — as “privileged communication” between Congress and the CRS. And because of this narrow thinking about *public domain* government information, Libraries and the public have been forced to pay for these reports from private publishers, subscribe to expensive databases for access or find them serendipitously on the web.

Here is the appropriations report language:

“Public Access to CRS Reports: The Committee directs the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service (CRS) to make available to the public, all non-confidential reports. The Committee has debated this issue for several years, and after considering debate and testimony from entities inside the legislative branch and beyond the Committee believes the publishing of CRS reports will not impede CRS’s core mission in any impactful way and is in keeping with the Committee’s priority of full transparency to the American people. Within 90 days of enactment of this act CRS is directed to submit a plan to its oversight committees detailing its recommendations for implementing this effort as well as any associated cost estimates. Where practicable, CRS is encouraged to consult with the Government Publishing Office (GPO) in developing their plan; the Committee believes GPO could be of assistance in this effort.”

Read DemandProgress’ press release for more background.

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