ALA Washington D.C. Office of Government Relations- Issue Briefs
E-Government, Open Government, and FDLP Issues
The library community has a long-standing commitment to public access to information created by or for the federal government. This principle of the public’s “Right to Know” is the cornerstone of government accountability and informed public participation. This is why ALA supports legislative efforts that promote public access to government information, open government, and E-government services.
E-Government Services & Libraries
As government agencies continue to digitize forms and services, public libraries – as centers for public access computing in their communities – are often the only organizations that can help citizens interact with these agencies and access E-government resources. Public libraries assist members of their community with government services in many ways: completing job applications, filing unemployment claims, contacting Immigration and Naturalization Services, and signing up for voter registration, to name a few. These are essential services for the public, which have consequently added up to an unfunded mandate for libraries.
Further, a new and expanding role for public libraries is supporting emergency services. Recent disasters have shown the important role that libraries play in disaster preparedness efforts and serving urgent needs of the public. Financial support is also required to provide training, technology (including broadband services), and the necessary resources to provide a government service that is reliable, trusted, expert, and available to citizens in their communities. In libraries’ expanding role as front line service providers during emergencies and natural disasters, support and more coordination with federal, state, and local agencies is also necessary. ALA is working to generate awareness, recognition, and support that reflect the reality that libraries are primary service providers for E-government services as needed.
ALA supports passage of the E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007 (S. 2321). The bill should recognize the important roles that libraries already serve in this arena, the need to expand these roles as E-government services expand, and ensure that the legislation includes the appropriate resources for libraries to continue effectively serving the public.
Whistleblower ProtectionsALA supports “whistleblower” legislation to ensure that the American public is prohibited from only that information which is truly secret. Both the House and Senate have passed bills but a conference committee has not started to negotiate. These bills complement one another and should be melded together in order to provide the most protection to employees. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2007 (H.R. 985), introduced by Rep. Waxman (D-CA) with 29 co-sponsors, would overturn a harmful U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2006, Garcetti v. Ceballos, which ruled that the over 21 million public employees could not claim First Amendment rights when they voice concerns to their supervisors. Whistleblowers have been instrumental in revealing information necessary for investigating and assuring oversight and public accountability. Whistleblowers were critical to exposing the problems with the EPA library closings. Passed 331-94.
The Federal Employee Protection of Disclosures Act of 2007 (S.274), introduced by Sen. Akaka (D-AK) with 10 co-sponsors, is similar to H.R. 985 and has been referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and to the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia Committees.
Open the Congressional Research Service (CRS)
For the past several years, librarians, academics, journalists, open government advocates, and concerned citizens have urged Congress to provide free, public access through the Internet to the unclassified, taxpayer-funded reports produced by the CRS. Taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the CRS, which generates detailed reports for lawmakers. These reports play a critical role in our political process, but have never been made available in a consistent manner to the public. Although lawmakers may give copies of the reports to their constituents upon request, this is a slow, unreliable process, and there is no way for taxpayers to know what reports have been published.
The ALA encourages Congress to again consider a bill like the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 (S.2695) introduced in the 109th Congress. Such legislation should require every federal agency with an annual extramural research budget of $100 million or more to implement a public access policy that is consistent with and advances purposes of the Federal agency. Articles resulting from federally funded research should be deposited in a public archive and made available no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Presidential Records Act (PRA)
The Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2007 (H.R. 1255), introduced by Rep. Waxman (D-CA), and its Senate companion (S. 886), introduced by Sen. Bingaman (D-NM), would revoke President Bush’s executive order (E.O. 13233) and other restrictions on access to Presidential records. In October 2007, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Presidents do not have authority to control executive records after they have left office. This ruling invalidates part of E.O. 13233 that allows former Presidents and Vice Presidents to review executive records before they are released under the Freedom of Information Act. Presidential records are an important resource for historians and the larger public and it is vital that these papers are made available.
H.R. 1255 passed in March (333-93); S. 866 stalled in the Senate. H.R. 1255 was sent to the Senate, but was prevented from moving due to a hold by Sen. Bunning (R-KY). The hold was removed December 2007; however, there is still Republican opposition to moving it forward. The bill was brought to the floor again in January 2008 and again was blocked – this time by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
GPO & the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP)
Congress should support the full amount listed in the Public Printer’s FY 2009 budget request of $174,354,000 for the GPO, including $43,426,000 for the Salaries and Expenses (S&E) Appropriation of the Superintendent of Documents and $97,928,000 for the Congressional Printing and Binding (CP&B) Appropriation. The majority of the S&E appropriation is for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), by which Congressional and other important government publications and information products are disseminated to the nearly 1,300 participating academic, research, public, federal, law and other libraries nationwide.
The FDLP is vital to the dissemination and acquisition of federal government information by our citizens. The ALA believes that the FY 2009 S&E budget request is essential to the Program. Since GPO is responsible for permanent public access to the content of its Electronic Collection, funding to strengthen digital archiving and migration capabilities is a critically important component.