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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.

It’s Time to Publish CRS Reports

We have long advocated for public access to reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Congress’ think tank. But CRS reports are little known and difficult to find because they are not distributed to FDLP libraries or made public — I harvest them up from sites around the ‘net that post them when they can, but it’s pretty random.

But now, thanks to the tireless efforts of Daniel Schuman, our friend and colleague and others at the Congressional Data Coalition, public access to CRS reports seems to be gathering steam. The NY Times published an editorial yesterday entitled “Congressional Research Belongs to the Public”. There are 2 legislative efforts underway in the House and Senate to make these valuable but difficult-to-find-or-even-know-about reports publicly available. Librarians have been fighting for this forever. Now it finally looks like it might just happen!

Over the years our coalition has submitted testimony in favor of public access to these reports, most recently in March. In summary, the reports explain current legislative issues in language that everyone can understand, are written by a federal agencies that receives more than $100 million annually, and there is strong public demand for access. A detailed description of the issues at play is available here.

This congress, two legislative efforts are underway to make CRS reports public. First, the bipartisan H. Res. 34, introduced by Reps. Leonard Lance (R-NY) and Mike Quigley (D-IL), would make all reports widely distributed in Congress available to the public, except confidential memoranda and advice provided by CRS at the request of a member. Second, Rep. Quigley offered an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have required CRS to make available an index of all of its reports. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate in prior years.

More information on shutdowns of federal websites

Informative, but non-essential websites are likely candidates for being shut down.

White House says critical websites won’t be affected by shutdown, By William Matthews, Next Gov (04/07/2011).

In the event of a government shutdown, federal websites “would remain operational” if they are deemed “necessary to avoid significant damage to the execution of authorized or accepted activities,” a White House official told Nextgov in an email message late Wednesday.

…For the duration of a shutdown, agency-operated websites that are not judged to be critical “would not remain active,” the official said. That doesn’t mean they will necessarily vanish from the Internet. Rather, if they remain available, the information on them might not be up to date, and transactions submitted to agencies through the sites might not be processed until the shutdown ends…

Sites to be closed include the International Trade Administration, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Economics and Statistics Administration, the and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

…Informative, but non-essential websites, such as USASpending.gov, ITDashboard.gov and Data.gov are likely candidates for being shut down…

…Agencies are expected to post notices on their Web home pages about which online features will work and which won’t during the shutdown.

Federal websites may go dark if shutdown occurs

Declan McCullagh at CNET reports that many federal Web sites will likely go offline if the government shuts down Friday night. “A 16-page memo (PDF) to federal agencies says their Web sites may stay online only in a small number of situations, including tax collection and handling ‘exempted’ activities such as payments and other functions that are paid for by previous annual budgets.”

So how will permanent public access be maintained in the event of a shutdown? Will the standard notice include information on how to find your local federal depository library? The public won’t even be able to find a list of depository libraries on the FDLP desktop (fdlp.gov) but will have to go to Documents Data Miner hosted by the library at Wichita State University. The Washington Post has a list of govt agency shutdown plan details — including GPO — but only states, “If the government were to shut down, a [GPO] skeleton staff is expected to stay on to print copies of the Congressional Record and other White House documents.” It’s unclear whether or not fdlp.gov, fdsys.gov or other GPO sites will remain online in the event of a shutdown.

“The mere benefit of continued access by the public to information about the agency’s activities would not warrant the retention of personnel or the obligation of funds to maintain, or update, the agency’s Web site” during a shutdown, says the memo, prepared by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget.

It adds: “If an agency’s Web site is shut down, users should be directed to a standard notice that the Web site is unavailable during the period of government shutdown.” The IRS’s Web site would likely stay online, the memo says, because tax collection is an exempted activity, “but the entire Treasury Department Web site would not.”

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