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.

How the shutdown is affecting flow of government information

Two things to note this morning as the government shutdown continues.

  1. A lot of government information is being affected. Examples:
  2. But, a lot of information was in the pipeline and is still being released. Gary Price has one of his excellent roundups of reference resources (Recently Published or Updated Data-Rich Reports Available on the Web) over at InfoDocket. Many of these are government documents including: Federal Justice Statistics, 2015-2016, Union Membership in the United States 2018, Separated Children Placed in Office of Refugee Resettlement Care, and more.

GPO Gets OAIS Certification!

Congratulation to GPO for getting govinfo.gov certified as a Trusted Digital Repository! This is an important step for ensuring long term preservation and access to the contents of the GPO digital repository. The Government Publishing Office (GPO) announced today that it has received this certification.

(For those unfamiliar with certification, check out the “core criteria for digital preservation repositories” that four preservation organizations wrote in 2007. These are a consensus guide auditing and certifying repositories and will give you a general idea of the concepts of certification.)

The certification was awarded to GPO by PTAB (The Primary Trustworthy Digital Repository Authorization Body). This was the second certification completed by PTAB and the first in the United States.

PTAB used the international standard known as ISO 16363, Audit And Certification Of Trustworthy Digital Repositories. This is the newest and official version of the standard also known as OAIS ("The Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System"). (The standard is available for free from CCSDS and for a fee from the International Organization for Standards ISO.)

PTAB is accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies of India (NABCB) to conduct ISO 16363 audits worldwide utilizing ISO standard 17021 (Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems) (freely available from CCSDS).

PTAB uses a two stage ISO 16919/17021 audit process.

Waiting for details…

(more…)

Government shutdown causing information access problems

Twitter and newspapers are buzzing with complaints about widespread problems with access to government information and data (see for example, Wall Street Journal (paywall 😐 ), ZDNet News, Pew Center, Washington Post, Scientific American, TheVerge, and FedScoop to name but a few).

Matthew Green, a professor at Johns Hopkins, said “It’s worrying that every single US cryptography standard is now unavailable to practitioners.” He was responding to the fact that he could not get the documents he needed from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) or its branch, the Computer Security Resource Center (CSRC). The government shutdown is the direct cause of these problems.

Others who noticed the same problem started chiming in to the discussion Green started, noting that they couldn’t find the standards they needed in Google’s cache or the Wayback machine, either. Someone else suggested that “Such documents should be distributed to multiple free and public repositories” and said that “These documents are “Too important to have subject to a single point of failure.” Someone else said that he downloads personal copies of the documents he needs every month, but had missed one that he uses “somewhat often.” One lone voice wondered about “Federal Depository Libraries, of which I believe there is at least one in every state.” (James responded to that one, letting people know about the FDLP and End of Term crawl!)

There are at least two reasons why users cannot get the documents they need from government servers during the shutdown. In some cases, agencies have apparently shut off access to their documents. (This is the case for both NIST and CSRC.) In other cases, the security certificates of websites have expired — with no agency employees to renew them! — leaving whole websites either insecure or unavailable or both.

Regardless of who you (or your user communities) blame for the shutdown itself, this loss of access was entirely foreseeable and avoidable. It was foreseeable because it has happened before. It was avoidable because libraries can select, acquire, organize, and preserve these documents and provide access to them and services for them whether the government is open or shut-down.

Some libraries probably do have some of these documents. But too many libraries have chosen to adopt a new model of “services without collections.” GPO proudly promotes this model as “All or Mostly Online Federal Depository Libraries.” GPO itself is affected by this model. Almost 20% of the PURLs in CGP point to content on non-GPO government servers. So, even though GPO’s govinfo database and catalog of government publications (CGP) may still be up and running, during the shut-down GPO cannot ensure that all its “Permanent URLs” (PURLs) will work.

This no-collections-model means that libraries are too often choosing simply to point to collections over which they have no control — and we’ve known what happens “When we depend on pointing instead of collecting” for quite some time. When those collections go offline and users lose access, users begin to wonder why someone hasn’t foreseen this problem and put “all those publications somewhere public.”

The gap between what libraries could do to prevent the kind of loss of access the shutdown is causing and what they are doing is particularly notorious in the area of government information. Most federal government information is in the public domain and is available without technical or copyright restrictions or fees. There is nothing preventing libraries from building collections to support users except the will to do so.

Many library administrators are eager to proclaim that pointing to collections they do not control is the new role of libraries in the digital age. Those who promote this new model of services without collections then struggle to demonstrate the value of libraries to their user communities. This is difficult when those communities go directly to collections of information, bypassing libraries and, perhaps, wondering why libraries still exist at all.

This represents a failure by libraries to fulfill their role in society and in the digital information ecosystem.

When the shutdown ends, access will, presumably, be restored. In the wake of the many other problems caused by the shutdown (many of them immediate and even dangerous), this temporary loss of access to some government information may not seem pressing. But librarians should see this as another wake-up call. Hopefully, Depository Library Council’s recent recommendation regarding digital deposit will answer that call. Libraries should not focus on bemoaning the short-term problem. We should, instead, focus on making the next crisis impossible. We can do this by focusing on the long-term problems of digital collection development, preservation and access. The current crisis may be temporary, but when we rely only on the government to provide access to these important resources, access will remain vulnerable to the next crisis or misstep or conscious decision to cut off access. We need to recognize that government agencies do not always have the same priorities as our users.

Today, libraries cannot ensure long-term access to government information because they do not control it. But, if libraries select, acquire, organize, and preserve the government information that is vital to their user communities, then they can ensure long-term access to it. You will not have to persuade your users of the value of your library when you do what they value.

Authors:
James A. Jacobs, University of California San Diego
James R. Jacobs, Stanford University

Could DoD IG Reports be made “private” due to Trump’s off-hand remark?

Steven Aftergood over at Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News project writes today that President Trump recently commented off-handedly that reports from the Department of Defense’ Inspector General should be private and not publicly accessible. It’s unclear if this off-the-cuff comment will lead to less public access to these important reports, but Aftergood notes that “secrecy in the Department of Defense has increased noticeably in the Trump Administration” but that the Pentagon still publishes a massive amount of information. What is clear is that this one small comment could have huge implications going forward from “For Official Use Only” markings to restrict access to information to perhaps an erosion of the FOIA process. This is certainly something to keep an eye on.

The recurring dispute over the appropriate degree of secrecy in the Department of Defense arose in a new form last week when President Trump said that certain audits and investigations that are performed by the DoD Inspector General should no longer be made public.

“We’re fighting wars, and they’re doing reports and releasing it to the public? Now, the public means the enemy,” the President said at a January 2 cabinet meeting. “The enemy reads those reports; they study every line of it. Those reports should be private reports. Let him do a report, but they should be private reports and be locked up.”

It is not clear what the President had in mind. Did he have reason to think that US military operations had been damaged by publication of Inspector General reports? Was he now directing the Secretary of Defense to classify such reports, regardless of their specific contents? Was he suggesting the need for a new exemption from the Freedom of Information Act to prevent their disclosure?

Or was this simply an expression of presidential pique with no practical consequence? Thus far, there has been no sign of any change to DoD publication policy in response to the President’s remarks.

via Trump Says DoD IG Reports Should Be “Private” – Federation Of American Scientists.

Justice Dept. admits error but won’t correct report falsely linking terrorism to immigration

[UPDATE 1/8/2019]: Here’s more context about the DoJ’s disinformation report on immigrants:

Case Closed: The Justice Department Won’t Stand Behind Its Report on Immigrants and Terrorism””. By Benjamin Wittes Monday, January 7, 2019.

Don’t look now, but the United States Department of Justice just came perilously close to admitting that it engaged in disinformation about immigrants and terrorism in a formal government report.

Also of interest in this post is the reference to an obscure law called the “Information Quality Act” which “requires federal government agencies to employ sound science in making regulations and disseminating information” (“What is the Information Quality Act (aka Data Quality Act?). JRJ


Well this is pretty messed up. The Justice Department is refusing to retract or correct a document that falsely links terrorism to immigration, according to the Washington Post. The Federal government is supposed to be a reputable publisher who is supposed to work for the American public. But when dubious, politicized reports based on misleading data are published, it calls into question the veracity of government published works.

This is the reason that information literacy — or as my buddy howard Rheingold calls it, “crap detection” (borrowed from Ernest Hemingway!) which 2 librarians at Dominican University helpfully turned into an acronym: Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose/Point of View! Unfortunately, a document like this would probably pass the information literacy standards set by the American Library Association. The reader must have a great amount of context in order to detect the crap in this report. Perhaps GPO will update the record for this document in its Catalog of Government Publications to include a note on the report’s dubious nature. yes, librarians need to teach crap detection, but they should also include context to metadata describing the information which is under their control.

The Justice Department has acknowledged errors and deficiencies in a controversial report issued a year ago that implied a link between terrorism in the United States and immigration, but — for the second and final time — officials have declined to retract or correct the document.

via Justice Dept. admits error but won’t correct report linking terrorism to immigration – The Washington Post.

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