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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).
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). The latest draft of the bill has not been made publicly available beyond GPO and a few lobbyists, so I have not seen this version. But it’s clear from GPO’s comments and analysis that the bill still contains a number of poison pills that will weaken if not completely gut GPO and make it impossible for GPO to support any positive FDLP changes for libraries and public access to govt information in general. If anyone has a copy of the 2/22 draft that they are able to share, I’d like to see how it compares to the earlier draft.
GPO sent “Comments on Draft Legislation to Amend Title 44, U.S.C. (February 22, 2018 version)” to the Committee on House Administration on February 27, 2018. This document relays all comments, observations, and concerns with the draft revision to Title 44 as it relates to the Federal Depository Library Program, other Superintendent of Documents programs, and to GPO as an organization.
The Government Publishing Office (GPO) has recently made public their comments regarding the draft title 44 reform bill (PDF) currently working its way through the Congressional Committee on House Administration (CHA). GPO’s comments are broken into the following sections:
- Contracting out congressional printing
- Decentralizing agency printing
- Work produced in agency plants
- Economic impact on GPO
- Regulatory authority
- Government Printing Office / Public Printer
- Joint Committee on Printing
- Elimination of duplicating from statutory definition of printing
- Increased discretionary expenditures
- FDLP Improvements
We certainly appreciate GPO’s analysis of the draft bill and its impact. It mirrors and reiterates much of what we and many others have been saying about this bill. That is, the bill as written would have extreme negative effects on GPO’s budget, infrastructure and staff — which would have a drastic impact on GPO’s ability to manage FDLP services for the nation’s libraries downstream! — it would re-decentralize and deregulate printing and public information access across the government, thus driving up the costs of public information provision and greatly expand the issue of fugitive government information. If this bill is enacted, the public, libraries and the government itself would suffer as the long-standing FDLP system providing access to and preservation of government information would crumble.
We recommend that you read GPO’s analysis as well as our “Suggestions for Revisions to Chapter 5 of the Title 44 Bill” and contact Chairman Greg Harper and your representatives on the CHA as well as your Senators on the Joint Committee on Printing.
“Comments on Draft Legislation to Amend Title 44, U.S.C. (December 11, 2017 version)” to the Committee on House Administration on January 31, 2018. This document relays all comments, observations, and concerns with the draft revision to Title 44 as it relates to the Federal Depository Library Program, other Superintendent of Documents programs, and to GPO as an organization.
The draft bill to reform Title 44 of the U.S. Code provides some much needed improvements over the current law. It explicitly requires GPO to follow existing privacy laws and would, for the first time, legally require GPO to preserve digital government information. It also removes the provision that allows GPO to charge for online access and requires GPO to offer “no-fee” access to its online repository.
Unfortunately, the bill leaves some big loopholes in these improvements. Some of these loopholes are explicit — such as allowing GPO to delete online information without providing any principles or guidelines or goals to achieve when it does so. Some others, especially in chapters 1 and 3, implicitly and negatively impact GPO’s continued functioning via the privatization of printing and other GPO functions which will slash GPO’s budget and cause it not to be able to do any of the FDLP improvements in chapter 5.
But the biggest flaw in the draft bill is that it puts the burden of digital preservation and access in the sole control of GPO. This “all eggs in one basket” approach to access and preservation is not just risky, it is dangerous — and we do not use that word lightly. The danger comes from failing to distribute the responsibility for preservation and control of the information to trusted partners outside the federal government.
There has been a vocal fear that the current Presidential administration might take important digital government information offline or even destroy it — see for example the recent report from the Environmental and Governance Initiative (EDGI). But the danger of that happening was made possible by the weakness in the model that puts all digital government information under the control of the government. With control centralized, access and preservation are vulnerable to policy changes, financial short-falls, and technical problems of that government. Central control of the information creates a single off-switch that can be tripped all too easily — intentionally or unintentionally. The bill does provide more obstacles to a nefarious or malicious government wishing to delete information, but it does not prevent it. In fact, the bill does not just maintain this single off-switch model that was developed more than 20 years ago. It takes it out of the temporary GPO policies where it resides today and writes it into the much-harder-to-change law of the land, the U.S. Code.
The bill has many good intentions. Virtually every section of Chapter 5 explicitly supports long-term free public access. It also expands the scope of the FDLP to include most of the information that the government distributes. We do not think the drafters of the bill intended to write a law that gives government an off-switch. Nor do we think they intended to draft a bill that endangers long-term preservation of government information. The problem is that the draft would clearly have these effects, regardless of the intentions of the drafters.
We know skeptics of our critique of the weaknesses of the bill will say This Can’t Happen Here. But it can. If Congress changes priorities or does not adequately fund GPO, we could lose access and even lose raw information. If you don’t believe that could happen, look at Title 2, Chapter 15, §472 of the U.S. Code. That is the law that established the Office of Technology Assessment. The law still exists, but the office has not existed since 1995 because Congress simply refuses to fund it. There is a long history of government information being privatized, withdrawn, and otherwise lost in the paper-and-ink world. And we have seen small examples such as our loss of access to GPO services for a week in 2009, and when NASA took its Technical Report Server offline for a week, or when Inspectors General disabled links that documented massive unauthorized spending, or when the Treasury Department scrubbed a techical paper from its website because it did not reflect department policy even though the site explicitly says that such papers are not intended to reflect department policy. As we write this today, GPO just announced that, if the government shuts down this weekend, it cannot ensure that all PURLs will work and that “Federal Register services on FDsys/govinfo will be limited to documents that protect life and property.” In the digital age, it is exponentially easier to lose government information when all it takes is the flick of a switch.
We live in uncertain times, particularly with regards to the role of government and the funding of government programs. Changing the law to require long-term free public access to government information is essential and this bill does that. But supporting a law that assumes that future Congresses and Presidents will fully fund long-term free public access to government information and will refrain from exercising the power to withdraw, redact, or hide information is not just short-sighted; it is being willfully blind to the present.
The solution to the weaknesses of the draft bill is actually simple. The solution is to truly modernize the FDLP to ensure that digital government information, just like paper government documents, are under the control of FDLP libraries in addition to GPO.
We have heard some argue that the bill does modernize the FDLP — by instructing GPO to provide for “digital deposit” as an “option.” It does indeed make digital deposit optional — optional and explicitly segregated from every aspect of the depository system defined everywhere else in the bill. Instead of integrating digital content into the depository system, the bill explicitly describes Selective and Regional FDLP libraries as receiving only “tangible” materials. Instead of describing a depository system in which digital and tangible content are treated equally, the bill goes to great lengths to repeatedly segregate responsibility for “tangible” items (FDLs) from the responsibility for digital content (GPO). If FDLs are to share responsibility for digital content with GPO, the law must integrate that role rather than segregate it as the draft bill does. Our suggestions for changes do just that by making all digital content just as selectable as all paper content.
The good news is we can do all this with small changes to the bill — changes that actually simplify the language of the bill. The small changes that we recommend can ensure that those apparent good intentions of the drafters of the bill will be fulfilled regardless of policy or economic or technical problems in the future.
In the attached document, we suggest specific changes to the draft bill (highlighted text) and provide comments (blue text) explaining them and how they will help. The changes we suggest focus only on Chapter 5, the FDLP chapter of the bill. (We have heard that, because the other chapters of the bill have garnered so much opposition, a bill with just Chapter 5 may be introduced.)
We know that many of our colleagues have hoped for changes that would make the FDLP more “flexible” and that would maintain or increase the number of participating libraries. We believe that such changes should be tactics, not goals, and should be used only if they actually help ensure preservation and long-term free public access. That is why we focus our recommendations around 4 principles: Privacy, Preservation, Free Access and Free Use, and Modernizing the scope of information covered by Title 44. The changes that we recommend do provide FDLs and GPO with more flexibility while focusing on the needs of users. The modernized FDLP we describe will, we think, provide more value to users and therefore more incentives for libraries to remain part of or join the FDLP community.
James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University