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In the age of digital information, it is easier than it ever has been for government agencies to alter or delete official records at the flick of a switch. The U.S. Code (Title 44) and Code of Federal Regulations (Title 36) require agencies to “prevent the unlawful or accidental removal, defacing, alteration, or destruction of records.” But the official government guidelines for Managing Web Records are 13 years old and are subject to interpretation by political appointees in individual agencies.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) investigates allegations of violations of this law and will assist agencies in retrieving records. Its Performance Accountability Report has, for for many years, provided an end-of-year snapshot of cases investigated.
This year, NARA has created a web dashboard, which it will update monthly, listing the “Unauthorized Disposition of Federal Records.” More information about this is available from the Sunlight Foundation:
- National Archives publishes online dashboard of its investigations into lost, altered or destroyed public records, by Alex Howard, Sunlight Foundation (Apr 24, 2018).
The dashboard lists the agencies and records involved, the status of the investigation, and provides links to documentation about the events.
Recently listed events include the “Suspicious-activity reports (SARs)” (which were widely reported as being absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN)), and the use of private (non-.gov) email accounts by officials of Homeland Security. There are currently 24 open cases and 46 cases closed cases.
The so-called FDLP Modernization Act of 2018 (H.R.5305) corrects many of the flaws of the 1993 law. It catches the law up to what it should have been in 1993 and conforms to current GPO practice. Specifically, it requires GPO to provide free access to digital content; it requires GPO to have a program of digital preservation; it changes the scope of GPO and FDLP with new definitions of “Information Dissemination Products” (IDPs) — a term used by OMB since 1996; and it requires GPO to abide by existing privacy laws (going back to 1974 and 2002).
These are welcome improvements, but they fall short of “modernizing” the law to the conditions of 2018 and beyond. A few small changes can go a long way to truly modernizing the law. These changes will create a collaborative, digital FDLP; guarantee long-term, no-fee access to government information insulated from federal political and economic pressures; and enhance services to users.
[UPDATE 3/21/2018: The CHA’s business meeting has been postponed to Thursday, April 12, 2018 at 11:00 am eastern. JRJ]
On March 15th, a bill to “modernize” the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was finally introduced. There is good news and bad news.
The good news is that the bill does provide much-needed improvement of the current law in the areas of privacy, preservation, and free access to government information. It also has very strong language that attempts to address the problem of fugitive documents (those documents that are within scope of the FDLP but do not make it into the program. For more on this issue, see “‘Issued for Gratuitous Distribution’ The History of Fugitive Documents and the FDLP”). It even allows digital deposit into Federal Depository Libraries (FDLs).
The bad news is, first, that the improvements noted above do not go far enough. They have loopholes that could easily make those good features little more than halfway solutions or empty promises. Second, (and this is a fatal flaw in the digital age) the bill not only fails to create a digital FDLP, it actually writes that failure into law.
Small changes to the text of the bill can correct most of these problems. But to get those changes into the bill, librarians will have to let Congress (and their lobbyists in the ALA Washington Office, ARL and AALL!) know that they want them. These improvements are essential because this law will affect both the free access to and the preservation of government information for the coming decades.
Library Journal published our opinion piece in its “Peer to Peer Review” section today:
Save Government Information! by James A. Jacobs and James R. Jacobs. Library Journal Peer to Peer Review (March 15, 2018).
In it, we make the case that the impending Title 44 bill does not go far enough to building a truly collaborative, 21st century FDLP.
We got our hands on a copy of the 2/22 draft “GPO Reform Act of 2018.” So now we can read GPO’s comments on the draft alongside the actual draft. Please help us dig through and let us know where the potential roadblocks and poison pills are at. Our general working assumption is that chapter 5, the FDLP chapter, includes *some* good new pieces but largely sets in legislation how the FDLP has worked for the last 20 years. And chapters 1 and 3, the GPO “reform” chapters, contain a bunch of pieces that will restrict and/or decrease GPO’s budgets and operations to the point that it will negatively effect GPO’s ability to do any of the good items in chapter 5. Of course, we’re willing to be wrong on that assumption (but don’t think we are). The only question remaining to our minds is whether the main lobbying participants — ALA Washington Office, ARL, and AALL — are willing to support the bill (which will go a long way toward getting it over the finish line) *despite* gutting GPO. Let us know your thoughts.
GPO just released its comments on the latest draft Title 44 “reform” bill dated February 22, 2018 (here’s a PDF copy saved to FGI’s servers for posterity).