Our mission

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 Report on Disseminating and Preserving Digital Government Information

The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress conducted a survey for GPO and its report is now available.

Although FRD only interviewed 12 agencies, the report is packed with interesting tables and facts and references. It should be required reading for government information professionals.

Dissemination

The findings with regard to disseminating public information will not surprise you, but they do document what we know:

  • Government "publishing" no longer provides a linear path from a central agency communications office to GPO to FDLP libraries.

  • Despite statutory mandates and Federal information policies, fugitive documents are a huge problem, with FDLP missing 50 to 85 per cent of them.

  • Agencies indicated they have limited knowledge of the Title 44’s applicability to providing digital information to GPO and FDLP.

That leads to one finding that is a doozy:

  • GPO’s reporting mechanism for digital content, the Document Discovery submission form, relies on voluntary manual entry — a method that is not easily scalable and lacks accountability.

Preservation

With regards to preservation:

  • Several agencies reported submitting static copies of the agency website to NARA. But the report notes that this does not meet the requirements established by Title 44 of the U.S. Code to make their publications accessible to the public and the FDLP on a permanent basis.

  • Most of the agencies maintain an online archive of older website content but each agency uses its own approach to this. "Some retain older content on the main website, some designate a separate archival page for older content from across the agency, and some maintain multiple archives for different types of content. Each agency also applies its own standard for how far back in time the archives go. Some retain decades-old content, while others retain content from only the past few years."

  • GPO has used the subscription-based web harvesting tool Archive-It since 2011 to capture, catalog, and provide access to the Federal digital landscape, including websites, blogs, and social media feeds. The FDLP Web Archive holds approximately 145 agency collections, encompassing 1,600 websites.

  • Compare this to the report’s enumeration of the extent of government web presence:

    • 1,316 top-level.gov domains.
    • 2,297 two-level .gov
    • 627,478 three-level .gov domains.
    • 203 two-level .mil domains
    • 181,244 three-level .mil domains.
    • 6,000 websites containing 32 million webpages and a total of 12 terabytes of data.
    • 265,000 datasets

Recommended Actions:

The report recommends that GPO continue — and “where possible” — expand its direct outreach to agencies. Some other recommendations:

  • GPO should consider developing an automated or semi-automated notification system for Federal agency product releases to replace its manual Document Discovery submission form.

  • OMB should release "a detailed memorandum on the FDLP provisions in Title 44." It also notes that "The OSTP memorandum on federally funded research might be considered an appropriate model for such a directive."

FDLP Libraries

Although the report was not designed to recommend actions by FDLP libraries, it does provide some information that could help FDLP direct its activities.

  • Concentrate on Designated Communities. The report reminds us also that "agencies serve the information needs of specialized audiences" as well as the general public and "tailor many of their products to customers in specific fields or sectors of the U.S. economy, including financial and industry analysts; lawyers; medical professionals; scientists; publishers, academic educators and researchers; and natural resources managers." As FDLP libraries develop their own digital collections, they could focus on specific communities based on subject, discipline, and how they use information. Libraries could build collections of such information from many agencies making the information easier for the communities to discover, identify, and use the information they need. Concentration on Designated Communities also helps libraries identify OAIS-compliant preservation plans.

  • Work with agencies. Librarians who have good contacts with agencies should promote GPO and FDLP to those agencies to help GPO’s outreach program.

  • Lobby for Legislation and Policies. Librarians should lobby for the best possible version of a revised Title 44 and for changes to OMB A-130 that will require agencies to provide digital information to GPO and FDLP.

(For more on these actions, see our recent post: Preserving What’s Gone — The Healthcare Guidelines Case.)

 

GODORT pens thank you letter re CRS reports. LoC needs to do this right.

I’m still giddy that CRS reports will soon be made public! The Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) of the American Library Association just wrote a letter to the Congressional Transparency Caucus thanking them for their ongoing efforts to make Congressional Research Service reports publicly available.

This comes at an especially opportune time because critics worry that Library of Congress isn’t delivering on the goods. My hope is that this public letter from a large library association, because it’s cc’d to Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden among others, will put a public spotlight on LC and maybe get them to fully deliver all CRS reports in a timely and cost-effective manner.

On behalf of the American Library Association (ALA)’s Government Documents Round Table (GODORT), I am writing to express our gratitude for the Congressional Transparency Caucus’s leadership in ensuring the public availability of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports; and to encourage the Caucus’s continued leadership in ensuring these reports are made available in a timely fashion.

The Congressional Research Service, informally known as the “think tank” of Congress, was founded in 1914. But until now, there has been no systematic, comprehensive, official source that provides all Americans equal access to their reports, even though they have been routinely released to the public by Members of Congress, made available through non-profit websites like EveryCRSReport.com and the Federation of American Scientists, and sold by commercial publishers.

Reports from the CRS are well researched and balanced documents, addressing a wide variety of current issues of importance to the American public. As such, the American Library Association-along with many other library- and open government organizations, grassroots efforts, and individual citizens-has long advocated that they be made public and distributed
through libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), administered by the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO).

The first bills regarding public online access to CRS reports arose in the 105th Congress (1997-1998): S. 1578 was introduced by Sens. McCain (R-AZ) and Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate, and H.R. 3131 was introduced by Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and David Price (D-NC) in the House. Though these efforts were unsuccessful, the determination to make CRS reports public never wavered. With the passage of the 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act, CRS reports will now be accessible to the American public. The Library of Congress will begin publishing nonconfidential, non-partisan reports on a publicly accessible Congressional website starting in September 2018. Once these reports are fully available, this achievement will positively contribute to the democratic process and inform citizens of the wide variety of issues before Congress.

GODORT would like to sincerely thank you and your staff for over two decades of hard work and dedication to making public access to CRS reports a reality.

Sincerely,
Shari Laster
Chair, Government Documents Round Table

cc
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden
CRS Director Mary Mazanec
Steven Aftergood, American Federation of Scientists
Daniel Schuman, DemandProgress
Kevin Kosar, R Street Institute
Josh Tauberer, GovTrack.US

NARA embroiled in politics surrounding documents re Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh. The public loses.

I’ve been trying to get my head around the very public wrangling of the release of archival records relating to Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The National Archives (NARA) is in the process of releasing “Approximately 900,000 pages of email and paper records were requested by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Charles Grassley.” But democratic Senators Diane Feinstein and Chuck Schumer are accusing NARA of withholding documents relating to Kavanaugh’s time as Staff Secretary under President George W. Bush. NARA has responded by saying that it is “longstanding and consistent practice” to respond only to requests from the Chair of Congressional Committees. Senate democrats have submitted FOIA requests for the remaining documents and are threatening to sue NARA if the FOIA request is denied.

Regardless of how many documents are released and made available to the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Grassley has scheduled the committee hearing for September 4, 2018, long before NARA says it will be able to finish its work. NARA says it expects to complete its review of the first roughly 300,000 pages by August 20, and the remaining 600,000 pages by the end of October. It’s unclear whether a lawsuit to release additional records will cause the committee’s work to be postponed.

Lost in all of this political wrangling (on top of the political wrangling whereby republicans blocked President Obama from nominating someone to the Supreme Court during his term) is the fact that the American public, regardless of political leaning, is losing out on really knowing the person being nominated for a lifetime position on the US Supreme Court, effecting the US political system for at least a generation to come.

Politics is a vicious game, but the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice shouldn’t be left to the will of pure partisanship. The public needs to have access to ALL of the records regarding Judge Cavanaugh’s public work, and the committee should have time to “advise and consent,” to understand the nominee’s record, deliberate, and appoint judges.


Feinstein wrote to archivist David Ferriero in a letter obtained by CNN on Wednesday, criticizing him for his narrow view of the law used to justify denying Democrats the documents. Democrats are set to begin meetings with Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the high court, after the August recess.

“Under your overly restrictive reading of the Presidential Records Act, minority members of the Senate Judiciary Committee now have no greater right to Mr. Kavanaugh’s records than members of the press and the public,” the California senator wrote.

“I ask that you reconsider the position set forth in your August 2 letter,” she continued. “These records are crucially important to the Senate’s understanding of Mr. Kavanaugh’s full record, and withholding them prevents the minority from satisfying its constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent on his nomination.”

Democrats are pushing for the federal government to release all documents created during Kavanaugh’s time at the White House, roughly three years during the George W. Bush administration when he served as staff secretary. Republicans have accused Democrats of seeking to delay Kavanaugh’s nomination with the request.

via Feinstein ‘alarmed’ National Archives is withholding Kavanaugh documents | TheHill.

On July 31, 2018, the National Archives received a request from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Minority Member Senator Dianne Feinstein and the other minority members of the committee for Judge Kavanaugh’s Staff Secretary records, which number the equivalent of several million pages. However, this request does not meet the requirements of section 2205(2)(C) of the Presidential Records Act, as the Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero explained in an August 2, 2018, letter to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. On August 6, 2018, Senator Feinstein asked the Archivist to reconsider this position, and the Archivist responded on August 10, 2018.

As noted in both letters, since the Presidential Records Act was enacted in 1978, the National Archives longstanding and consistent practice has been to respond only to requests from the Chair of Congressional Committees, regardless of which political party is in power. For the same reason that the National Archives was not able to respond to Senator Feinstein’s request, the agency also declined to respond to the requests by Republican Ranking Members for Presidential records during President Obama’s Administration.

via National Archives Works to Release Records Related to Judge Kavanaugh

A day in the life of a govinfo librarian: FOIA’ing an old report

I thought I’d just share this here as no doubt other govinfo librarians have had similar experiences. When I say “day” it should really be “several months” because what started out as a simple ILL request grew into a several month email trail.

A researcher asked the library to do an Interlibrary loan request for a 1966 USGS report: Navigation channel improvement of the Alto Parana River, Argentina and Paraguay: peaceful uses for nuclear explosives. (Who says govt documents are boring?! This one was about using nuclear explosives to excavate river channels. Crazy, yes, but not boring!! Govt documents have much fodder for works of fiction but don’t get me started about the US Life Saving Service :-)) However, our ILL staff (normally *amazing* at digging out old/obscure/out-of-print materials for our patrons!) couldn’t find this one and so asked me for help.

After perusing the Monthly Catalog and much trolling of government tech report sites like National Technical Reports Library (NTRL), Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), and the Technical Report Archive and Image Library (TRAIL), I finally came across a catalog record for it in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Library.

(more…)

The Pentagon’s $660 million FOIA fee

A friend reminded me today about this story from 2016 which was a Finalist for 2016 Golden Padlock award given each year by the group Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) “celebrating” the most secretive government agency or individual in the United States. that year, there were some real doozies. But I think the winner hands down was the US Department of Defense charging a $660 million fee to fulfill a FOIA request because the request would require 15 million labor hours (more than 1,712 years for one person)! MuckRock has the rest of the story.

There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s break it down, bottom to top.

  • The $660 million fee estimate is nearly 500 times our previous record, and will likely hold that dubious title for quite some time.
  • 15 million labor hours breaks down into 625,000 days, or a little over 1,712 years. So assuming one DoD employee started working on this nonstop tomorrow, they’d finish somewhere in the summer of 3728. To put that in perspective, if they started on year zero, by the time they were done, they’d only have to wait 20 years to hand off the work to an infant George Washington for safekeeping.
  • Finally, the idea that DoD can’t search their digitized contracts – therefore creating the need for the labor and associated cost – is problematic for a couple reasons. First, here at MuckRock, we know a thing or two about scans of paper copies, and running those through even a rudimentary OCR is pretty simple. The fact that they’re allegedly not doing that somewhat defeats the purpose of digitized archives. Second, there’s got to be a better way to preform this search than a brute force look through all their contracts.

via The Pentagon’s $660 million FOIA fee • MuckRock.

Archives