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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.

Re-Imagining Government: Affordable Banking

The Center for Effective Government weighs in on the recent report by the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General that recommends that the US Post Office should “provide non-bank financial services to those whose needs are not being met by the traditional financial sector.”

What does this have to do with government information, you might ask? As the Center says:

For the last 30 years, various political leaders have launched efforts to “Reinvent Government.” Done in the name of making government more efficient, these initiatives have most often centered on reducing the size of the government workforce, by handing over to the for-profit sector services that have long been provided by government employees. The goal was to save money, but all too often, unintended consequences have included a troubling lack of accountability and deteriorating public services.

To me, this sounds a lot like what many library managers are doing: relinquishing traditional library roles to others (the private sector, of course, but also to other libraries [e.g., HathiTrust will do everything for us, right?], and even to the federal government itself [i.e., why should we get government information when it all is online at GPO, etc.?]). Aside from the un-sustainability of this service-without-collections model, the unintended consequences of such policies are that libraries lose control of information that they fail to select, acquire, manage, and preserve. They can no longer guarantee to their user communities that such information will be available in 10 years or even tomorrow. And they shortchange their user communities by settling for whatever services (or lack of services) those “other” see fit to provide and whatever restrictions (DRM) those others see fit to impose.

Seeing a movement against this trend anywhere is heartening. At FGI we love this Post Office idea. In another analogous comment, the Center points out:

The Postal Service provided similar financial services in the past. Between 1911 and 1967, the Postal Savings System was offered at 8,100 post offices throughout the nation.

Ah…, remember when libraries used to select, acquire, organize, and preserve information instead of pointing to it and hoping someone else would provide access? Remember when libraries provided services and collections and it was obvious to their funding agencies what their communities got for that funding?

The Post Office as Bank for the Unserved

Doc of the day: Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved, U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, Report Number:RARC-WP-14-007 (January 27, 2014) [pdf. 33 pages].

Millions of Americans do not have a bank account, or use costly services like payday loans and check cashing exchanges just to make ends meet. The entire underserved population comprises more than a quarter of all U.S. households — some 68 million adults. They are an economically diverse mix of working and middle class families, poor and unemployed people hurt by the recent economic crisis, young people, immigrants, and others who are trying to make it paycheck to paycheck. Together, they represent a huge market. In 2012, they spent about $89 billion just on interest and fees for alternative financial services.

The Postal Service is well positioned to provide non-bank financial services to those whose needs are not being met by the traditional financial sector. It could accomplish this largely by partnering with banks, who also could lend expertise as the Postal Service structures new offerings. The Office of Inspector General is not suggesting that the Postal Service become a bank or openly compete with banks. To the contrary, we are suggesting that the Postal Service could greatly complement banks’ offerings.

Also see: The Post Office Should Just Become a Bank How Obama can save USPS and ding check-cashing joints, by David Dayen, New Republic (January 28, 2014).