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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.

CIA search: Down for two years and counting

Yesterday, when I was writing a post about The CIA’s Intelligence Officer’s Bookshelf, I was looking on CIA.gov for a link to all the occurences of this regular feature in the CIA’s magazine Studies in Intelligence. Naturally, I used the CIA’s own search box. I was a bit surprised to find that every search I tried got the same result: (click image to enlarge)


In case you cannot read the above image, it says:

Search is Temporarily Unavailable

Search is temporarily unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again later.

Posted: Aug 27, 2012 04:31 PM
Last Updated: Aug 27, 2012 04:31 PM

I don’t know if the date is correct, but if it is, search as been “temporarily” unavailable on the CIA website for more than two years.

I did not find a robots.txt file on CIA.gov (which means that the site is open to public search services) and I was able to find pages there that Google and USA.gov had indexed. Interestingly, when I tried Yahoo and Bing, I did not find the same pages, though I did not check thoroughly enough to determine if the pages were not indexed at all or if my failure to find them was a quirk of the search engines and my search strategy.

This seems to me yet another example of how, when libraries use that all-purpose excuse that “all government information is on the web” to minimize collections and services, they are providing their communities with a hollow promise.

As we have pointed out repeatedly here, when we fail to collect government information, it can be deleted or altered or moved. But this disabled CIA search service gives us another lesson: When we do not have the information in our collections, we have no control over how it is organized or indexed. We are at the mercy of the agency and commercial search engines: They decide what to index, and how to index it, and what ads to show, and how to deal with privacy of users.

As governments move toward “e-government” they are moving to information-services and when they are the only ones who control the information, they are also the only ones that control the services for that information. A Library that wishes to demonstrate its value to its community would do well to ask itself what value it is adding when it turns over collections and services to others.

FOIA request about the cost of American Factfinder with pointers to MuckRock and census.ire.org

I ran into this odd post recently about the US Census Bureau’s census tool called American Factfinder — odd because it was mix of interesting, fact-based reporting with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek facetiousness. Nursing a “long-standing grudge against another piece of contractor-built government software,” William Hartnett (who may or may not be a journalist) decided to submit a FOIA request to find out how much it cost to build and then wrote a post about it entitled “The U.S. Census Bureau’s American FactFinder, which everyone in the universe hates, cost taxpayers $33.3 million. So that’s great.”

Hartnett’s FOIA request garnered an amazingly quick response from the US Census Bureau:

The name of the company that developed the current version of the American FactFinder web application is IBM U.S. Federal and the total $33,340,681.00.

While I’m the first to admit that FactFinder is a difficult and confusing tool to use (not to mention that the Census Bureau decided not to host the 1990 census data on AFF2 but instead to only make it available for download on their FTP server!), I would put it in neither the “useless boondoggle” nor even the “steamy pile of sh*t” category. But at least now we now know how much FactFinder cost to build.

Besides that little informational tidbit, Hartnett also provided pointers to 2 Web sites of interest:

Muckrock: This site, for a small fee (not clear if they’ll manage your FOIA fees exemption), helps researchers, journalists and the public submit and manage their FOIA requests, and scans and makes them available to the public. Check out the FOIA requests currently in their queue. You can follow @MuckRockNews on twitter.

Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) has a Census project “designed to provide journalists with a simpler way to access 2010 Census data so they can spend less time importing and managing the data and more time exploring and reporting the data.” This is a great example of a useful tool built from bulk data supplied by the US Census Bureau! Check out the tool and let us know what you think.

Four Seriously Cool Information Resources

Our friend Gary Price has started a new series over at searchengineland on “incredibly useful online information resources that are most effectively searched using their own site search tools, rather than relying on general-purpose engines to surface their valuable content.” This looks to be a series worth following.

At least 3 of the 4 in his first entry should be of particular interest to government information specialists: the C-SPAN Video Library, Old Maps Online, and Archive-It. Gary’s comments are always useful. Did you know that, “unlike the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, Archive-It collections are keyword searchable”?

Check it out!

Science.gov Goes Mobile Plus New Databases Added!

Via INFOdocket:

First, Science.gov Mobile is now available at m.science.gov as a web app. No download required.

Second, Science.gov added three new databases today that are available when searching either at Science.gov or m.Science.gov.

The new databases:

  • Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) (EPA) under Environment and Environmental Quality
  • DOE Data Explorer under Math, Physics, Chemistry (a product of Science Accelerator)
  • Energy Science and Technology Software Center (ESTSC) DOE (a product of Science Accelerator)

Science.gov now provides access to more than 45 databases that can be searched one at a time or simultaneously and can also be a very useful discovery tool to learn about U.S. government science databases accessible to the general public.