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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.

“New Congress New Legislation.” Hoduski outlines next steps for FDLP legislation

Our pal Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, long-time FDLP advocate extraordinaire, writes a regular column covering lobbying and government information in the U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d Librarian newsletter. Her latest, titled “New Congress New Legislation,” describes the undoing of the “FDLP Modernization Act of 2018″ (H. R. 5305) in the 115th Congress and proposes a new, very targeted bill for this Congress. We agree with her that a short targeted bill is more likely to pass. We thought her recommendations for what the FDLP community should focus on for legislation to update the FDLP were just the right target. If you agree, please contact your representative, *especially* if that representative is on the Committee on House Administration (we’re looking at you CA, IL, MD, NC, GA!).

She and U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d publisher Mitch Freedman have kindly agreed to let us “reprint” Bernadine’s piece in its entirety on FGI. Please consider subscribing to U*n*a*b*a*s*h*e*d. It’s a practical and valuable newsletter on all things library-related.

Unabashed Librarian 190 New Congress New Legislation

With Democrats taking over control of the House of Representatives we have a new Congress. We also have many new members who know little about laws that support and fund library programs. The American Library Association in order to quickly educate the members about the library community’s priorities has switched from promoting petitions to organizing grass roots lobbying. Instead of the traditional legislative day in DC in May, ALA brought librarians to the Hill in February to talk to members about the library communities priorities for the next 2 years.

ALA is rejoicing that five bills supported by the library community became law during the 115th Congress. Two of those bills were supported for years by the ALA Government Documents Round Table. They are a law requiring LC to provide on line free access to the Congressional Research Office reports and a law promoting open access to government electronic data.

I am relieved that the “FDLP Modernization Act of 2018″ (H. R. 5305) did not pass because it was overly broad, poorly written, and used language that could be interpreted to harm the mission of the federal depository library program. As a former Congressional legislative staffer I learned from Representative Charlie Rose, former chair of the Joint Committee on Printing and the Committee on House Administration, that a smaller and more targeted bill is more likely to pass. A good example is the “GPO Access Act of 1993″, which was introduced by Representative Rose, and Senators Ford and Stevens. That law transformed the depository library program bringing thousands of digital publications and data bases into the program.

I urge the library community to zero in on the issues most important to the survival of the federal depository library program and propose a very targeted bill. Those issues include:

  1. Revise the definition of Government Publication in USC Title 44 to include publications in multiple formats, including paper, fiche, and digital. Keep the term Government Publication because it is term used by publishers, printers, librarians, and library users.
  2. Restructure the federal depository library program to allow regional and selective depository libraries to co-operatively share the task of acquiring, cataloging, and preserving government publications in multiple formats.
  3. Ask Congress to authorize the Government Publishing Office to provide money to libraries that agree to preserve government publications.
  4. Ask Congress to direct the GPO, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives to conduct an inventory of government publications held in those agencies and in the depository libraries so the community can easily identify which publications are in danger of disappearing.

Do not wait for the Committee on House Administration to re-introduce a flawed bill. Develop a bill, which includes the most urgent of solutions to improve the current depository program and take it to the Congress, just as librarians did with the “GPO Access Act”.

Bernadine Abbott Hoduski, Congressional Joint Committee on Printing Professional Staff Member (retired), former depository librarian, and author of “Lobbying for Libraries and the Public’s Access to Government Information,” Rowman Publishing.

Agenda for 2019: Exploring Digital Deposit

As 2018 ends, it is time to start setting the agenda for the FDLP for 2019. This year has a lot of potential despite (or because of) the failure of Title 44 reform, the shutdown of the government, and the general political gridlock of Congress.

2018: The Year of "Modernizing"

The biggest FDLP news in 2018 was the progress of the FDLP Modernization Act of 2018. Although it failed to pass during the 115th Congress, there is a good chance that (more…)

Tracking the unlawful or accidental removal of government records

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:

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.

Modernizing the FDLP Modernization Act

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.

Suggested Changes

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FDLP Modernization Act of 2018 introduced. Take action now to improve the bill!

[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.

H.R.5305 – FDLP Modernization Act of 2018

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.

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