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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.

Tax bill’s automatic spending cuts would decimate GPO along w many critical programs

I was struck by the data visualization in today’s NY Times UpShot column which showed just how much impact the “tax cut” bill would have on government services across the federal government for at least the next 10 years! “If Congress passes its tax bill and then takes no other action, the funding for dozens of federal spending programs could be cut — in many cases to nothing — beginning next year.”

Of course the biggest bubble/cut would occur to Medicare, with a sequesterable amount of $25.5 billion for 2018. As I scrolled down to the table listing the 228 agencies and programs which would be cut in 2018, the 4th one down is GPO’s Business Operations Revolving Fund, which could be cut $2 million in 2018, with cuts for 10 years. $2 million doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but GPO only requested $8,540,000 for the revolving fund for FY18. That’s a 25% cut! The revolving fund pays for improvements to GPO’s FDsys (and its successor system, govinfo) as well as other essential IT projects and things like enhancing the cybersecurity of GPO’s IT systems and other necessary physical infrastructure projects.

GPO is already working with a shrinking number of employees and a bare bones budget which has been flat or cut over the last 10 years. GPO programs — including the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP)! — can NOT be sustained if this “tax cut” bill is passed.

With passage of this “tax cut” bill, GPO’s demise is no longer hypothetical. What will FDLP libraries do in that case? Does GPO have a formal succession plan or escrow arrangements (key components of a Trusted Digital Repository audit!)? And what will FDLP libraries do to maintain critical access to and preservation of government information going forward?

We need EVERY librarian to contact their representatives early and often and let them know what devastating effects this “tax cut” bill will have — on libraries yes, but on so many critical programs from Medicare to flood insurance, farm security, meals on wheels, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, and so many other programs across the Federal government.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit increase from the tax bill would be large enough — $1.5 trillion over 10 years — that spending for the unprotected programs would be reduced to zero next year and nearly zero over the next nine years.

Each bubble above represents the size of an automatic budget cut that could take place next year.

The Statutory Pay-as-You-Go Act of 2010, or Paygo, is an Obama-era update of a rule first enacted under President George H.W. Bush. It requires that legislation that adds to the federal deficit be paid for with spending cuts, increases in revenue or other offsets.

via The Tax Bill’s Automatic Spending Cuts – The New York Times.

John Oliver explains special districts

John Oliver explains special districts on “Last Week Tonight.” These units of government are local government bodies designed to collect taxes dealing with one specific service, like water, parks or sewage. But they are “ghost” entities with little or no oversight and are largely unknown to the public. Hilariously informative!

Smithsonian campaign and hacker tax credit

Here’s a twofer to give you some more reading matter over the long weekend:

A friend sent me this internet campaign to shed public light on the secret Smithsonian/Showtime contract that would give Showtime a 30 year, non-competitive stranglehold on Smithsonian (i.e. public domain!) archives. Background on the story can be found at boingboing. If you want to be added as a signatory, please send email to Carl Malamud (carl@media.org) no later than Sunday, November 25, 2006.

After, I signed the letter, I was looking around the public.resource site and came across another campaign (perhaps dated but still viable!) that Carl had put together calling for a hacker tax credit! The basic idea is that open source software, because it is the driving force behind our new information culture, should be supported publically so that more growth can happen. Check out the text of the letter below that Malamud suggests you send to your Congresspeople. This campaign, as I said earlier, may be dated (he lists Vice President Al Gore as a suggested addressee), but open source software (sometimes called FLOSS) is still something for which we should all be advocating!

Pablo Picasso once said that good art is created, but great art is stolen. On the Internet, the same holds true. Good code is created, but great code is copied over and over.

The Internet was created from open source software, code that people can freely use to build new code, to run their networks, to create a new business, or to build a service that people can use.

Take for example the work of Paul Vixie, who has placed in the public domain the software that the Domain Name System runs on. This software has been used by every major Internet Service Provider and has been bundled into the operating system products of IBM, DEC, Silicon Graphics, and Sun.

Open source software created the Internet, and created the economic boom we now see in Silicon Valley. Most of the large web sites in the world run on the open source Apache web server. The $4 billion Netscape Corporation was built from the open source Mosaic. The PERL programming language was created as open source, but now fuels over $100 million in book sales for publishers like O’Reilly & Associates.

But, we are eating our seed corn. There is no systematic national effort to create open source software and it is increasingly difficult to keep this infrastructure alive. For every success story like Apache, there are dozens of projects that languish because of the lack of formal support for open source projects.

In the global village, open source software is not an alternative to commercial software, just as in our real cities public parks are not an alternative to our commercial districts. The parks make our cities thrive, and thriving cities are a good place to do business.

It is a happy accident that we have open source software, but there are simple steps that the federal government can take to provide even more fuel for the growth of our information economy. Here is a simple algorithm for a Hacker Tax Credit that could be added to the U.S. Code:

      if {
            You produce software that is in the public domain ; 

      } andif {
            That software is used by at least 1000 people ; 

      } then {
            You may deduct your development and operational costs from your gross income for tax purposes ; } 

If the U.S. Congress could compile this simple subroutine into the U.S. Code, this simple step would have a greater effect than any cuts in capital gain taxes. I urge you to consider steps that the U.S. Congress can take to insure a strategic national reserve of open source software.


Carl Malamud