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House Administration Rejects NAPA Recommendation to Charge Public for Access to Legislative Documents
In a letter to the Acting Public Printer of the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) the House Committee on Administration has rejected a recent recommendation by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to charge the public for access to GPO’s congressional documents. The response is to the NAPA report Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed, which recommended that GPO consider charging for access to its Federal Digital System (FDsys).
- House Administration Rejects NAPA Recommendation to Charge Public for Access to Legislative Documents, Committee on House Administration (May 22, 2013).
- Letter to Vance-Cooks, [PDF] Chairman Candice Miller (R-Mich.), Ranking Member Robert Brady (D-Pa) (May 21, 2013)
Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks has responded to the letter by the group CASSANDRA about the recent report Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age by the National Association of Public Administration (NAPA). .
The report recommends that GPO should consider “cost recovery” for access to FDsys (See NAPA releases report on GPO).
The Response from Vance-Cooks says that GPO has “no intention of charging public users a fee to access content available through FDsys. GPO remains committed to no-fee access to FDsys for the public as part of our mission of Keeping America Informed.”
This is, of course, good news, but we have to temper our enthusiasm with the realization that GPO’s ability to meet its intentions will inevitably be dictated by Congress and its budget.
The complete response is attached below:
Last month the National Association of Public Administration (NAPA) released a report entitled “Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age” — FGI responded with an analysis of the report and were particularly disturbed by recommendation #4 which said that GPO should consider “cost recovery” for access to FDsys.
A group of long-time government information librarians writing under the moniker of CASSANDRA (Concerned Government Information Professionals), have co-written a letter to Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks offering their strong support for NAPA’s conclusion that “free access to government information is both an important tenet of a democracy and a critical responsibility” while calling into question the same recommendation #4.
With CASSANDRA’s permission (FYI, both Jim Jacobs and James Jacobs are signatories to this letter), we’ve posted the letter here for public knowledge and so that others may also write letters to the Public Printer and cite this letter in support of free permanent public access to authentic government information now and in the long-term.
The National Academy Of Public Administration has released its report on the Government Printing Office.
- Rebooting The Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age, A Report by a Panel of the National Academy Of Public Administration for the U.S. Congress, Congressional Research Service, and the Government Printing Office. National Academy Of Public Administration, Washington, DC (January 2013).
Congress mandated that the National Academy of Public Administration (the Academy) conduct a broad operational review of GPO. The Academy formed a five-member Panel of Fellows to conduct a ten-month study of the agency’s current role, its operations, and its future direction.
The report contains 27 finding and 15 recommendations. Depository libraries will be particularly interested in three findings:
- III-3: Preservation of the Legacy (Tangible) Government Collection
- III-4: Preservation of the Digital Government Collection
- III-5: Government Information Dissemination and Access
The report repeats many of the tropes about the digital government information that have become familiar over the years. Some of these bear repeating and others are more questionable.
Perhaps the most troubling suggestion in the report is GPO should consider “cost recovery” for access to FDsys:
Now may be the time for GPO to revisit charging the public for access to FDsys content. The Academy convened a forum of experts on printing and publishing where this topic was discussed extensively. Participants noted that technologies for online payments have progressed to the point that they cost very little to administer. Also, the public is becoming accustomed to paying fees for government services that used to be free (such as admittance to National Parks). Rather than charge a publication price, GPO could explore charging a small user fee to recoup the cost of providing access to government information on FDsys, or allowing users to view documents for free, and charging for document downloads. Forum participants also discussed the possibility of GPO exploring opportunities for repackaging files and content in different ways and making them available for sale to the public.
This model (as the report notes) was tried before with GPO Access and failed. We would argue that it failed not because the “technologies of online payments” were inadequate at the time, but because attempting to charge fees for information that was also available without fees was a fundamentally flawed approach. (We have written about this issue many times. See for example: Government Information in the Digital Age: The Once and Future Federal Depository Library Program and Privatization of GPO, Defunding of FDsys, and the Future of the FDLP.)
There is much more in the report and it deserves careful scrutiny.
The White House Blog has a nice summary of Open Government Brainstorm sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). It says the brainstorm generated more than 1000 ideas.
- Wrap-Up of the Open Government Brainstorming: Transparency, White House Blog, June 2, 2009.
A few items of interest to whet your appetite:
- Convert Depository Libraries around the country into Regional Data Centers
- Use Data.gov as a repository of newly declassified information
- Make contributed data subject to a waiver of copyright and database rights
- Government should create permalinks on the paragraph level to make documents easier to cite
- Digitize all government research reports and make them available free