September 29, 1998
Twelve members of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration met last evening and by voice vote approved the Chairman's mark to S. 2288, the "Wendell H. Ford Government Publications Reform Act of 1998." Yesterday's last-minute grassroots effort was tremendous, and a big THANK YOU to everyone who took a few minutes from a busy day to make that important call or to fax a quick letter to your Senator on the Rules Committee!
Two committee members, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), voiced dissent. Four committee members were absent: Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK), Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), and Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ). Lott's schedule prevented his attending the mark-up, and Torricelli was out of town.
With the exception of Helms and Hutchison, all other Committee members voiced support for S. 2288. It is very important that you follow up as soon as possible so that the Committee members whom you contacted yesterday know that you appreciate their support, and that enactment of S. 2288 is very important to the citizens of your state.
Your help has been crucial in getting this important legislation favorably reported out of the Committee, and it is needed now more than ever to get S. 2288 enacted this year. We must overcome heavy opposition from those, like Xerox and other information technology companies, who rely on the sale of products to federal agencies and therefore want to see the status quo continue.
When S. 2288 goes to the Senate floor, the debate will center on the public's right to government information versus the status quo. We all know that the status quo is simply not good enough. There are an increasing number of "fugitive documents"; more and more government agencies are entering into cooperative arrangements with the private sector that circumvent the depository library program; and there is no government-wide policy to provide permanent public access to Web-based government publications.
Of special importance to AALL members is that--if we are successful--the new S. 2288 definition of "Government publication" will include opinions of the lower Federal courts. Another provision will require the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to provide no-fee public access to the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system (PACER) for the new Federal publications access libraries.
ACTION NEEDED NOW--URGE YOUR SENATORS TO CO-SPONSOR S. 2288 AND TO VOTE FOR ITS PASSAGE
The Senate report on S. 2288 could be filed as early as this Thursday, which means that the bill could reach the Senate floor by the middle of next week. The best means of lobbying at this point is a short faxed letter to both your Senators.
Frame your core message on public access to government publications v. the financial interests of a few companies and the unacceptable status quo. You are the surrogates for the American public, and you need to speak loudly on their behalf. In addition to a short faxed letter based on the following talking points, PLEASE forward this alert to as many other individuals or listservs as you can, including library colleagues; faculty; professional, public interest and community organizations; or even chat rooms. We need to generate broad public interest and support for this legislation so that Senators hear from as many of their constituents as possible.
Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries
Member, Inter-Association Working Group
on Government Information Policy
Additional information about S.2288 is available from the Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy Web site at http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/IAWG.
SUGGESTED TALKING POINTS:
- S. 2288 is good government policy. It improves public access to government information which we believe the government has an affirmative obligation to provide. It reaffirms the principle that our democracy is based on the right of all American citizens to participate in their government.
- The basic law governing the printing and dissemination of government publications has not been changed in 103 years--much of the current law dates back to the Printing Act of 1895.
S. 2288 provides much-needed reforms to bring the law up-to-date and to make it relevant in today's world of new electronic technologies.
- S. 2288 will bring Title 44 and the Federal Depository Library Program into the electronic age. The convergence of technological innovation coupled with a lack of compliance with current Title 44 together create barriers to the public's ability to locate and use the government information they need.
- S. 2288 will resolve the "fugitive documents" problem and stop the erosion of public access to government publications taking place under the current law. The bill will ensure that the public has access to government publications created and produced at taxpayer expense from all three branches of government--including the Federal courts.
- S. 2288 will ensure that electronic government publications are preserved and permanently available for current and future users. This will address the current loss of government information taking place on a daily basis as agencies delete files from their Web sites and file servers without first providing for ongoing, permanent public access.
- Those groups who oppose S. 2288 are doing so for their financial gain and to preserve the status quo. This is unacceptable and contrary to the public good derived from the free flow of government information to all Americans. Members of the 105th Congress have the opportunity and the responsibility to support S. 2288 for the benefit of their constituents and all American citizens.