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URGENT! Comments Needed by December 13th on OMB's Proposed Amendments to the FAR That Threaten Public Access and the Federal Depository Library Program.

BACKGROUND:

Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued Memorandum No. M-02-07 entitled "Procurement of Printing and Duplicating through the Government Printing Office" (GPO) on May 3, 2002. The memorandum calls for amendments to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) that will allow agencies to procure their own printing outside of GPO. The proposed amendments were published in the Federal Register, Vol. 67, No. 219, November 13, 2002, 68914-8. The deadline for comments is Friday, December 13, 2002.

Accessible Government information is an essential principle of a democratic society and a valuable public good created at taxpayer expense. AALL believes that Government should provide for equitable, effective, no-fee, efficient and dependable access to and dissemination of Government information in permanent and readily accessible formats. AALL further believes that a strong, centralized, coordinated and managed Federal information dissemination and access program, such as the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), is necessary to achieve this important goal.

CURRENT CRISIS:

OMB's efforts to have agencies procure printing outside of GPO are not new. Congress, successfully thwarted similar efforts in 1987 and 1994 thereby demonstrating their full support for public access and the FDLP. Members of the 107th Congress, on a bicameral and bipartisan basis, strongly opposed OMB's proposed amendments to the FAR by including provisions in their continuing resolutions funding government operations (most recently, in H.J.Res. 124) that would prevent agencies from using any appropriated funds to procure publications outside of GPO.

The following talking points will be useful in your comments on the proposed amendments to the FAR:

  1. The proposed amendments are a clear violation of 44 U.S.C. §501 since they authorize agencies to procure their printing outside of GPO.

  2. In addition to violating 44 U.S.C. §501, the proposed changes to the FAR violate other Title 44 provisions that neither OMB nor the Department of Justice have ever challenged as unconstitutional:

    • §1903 that requires agencies who procure outside of GPO to bear the costs of printing and binding the necessary copies for depository libraries.

      The proposed FAR change that the Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) would bear these costs is contrary to current law.

    • §1710 that requires agencies to supply a copy of all publications to the SuDocs for cataloging purposes.

    How this might be achieved on a comprehensive basis under the proposed FAR change is very unclear.

  3. While attempting to solve the fugitive documents problem, agency responsibilities in the proposed FAR amendments are so vague that the result will be more fugitive publications, not fewer. Today, the SuDocs, working with its professional library personnel, provides a strong, centralized, coordinated and managed Federal information dissemination and access program through the FDLP.

  4. A strong system of coordination, including an effective and transparent system to bring Government publications into the FDLP, is as necessary in the electronic environment as it is in the print world to ensure that agency publications in all formats are permanently accessible by the public. The proposed FAR change does not create such a system, choosing instead to leave a void in the place of the current effective structure.

  5. The proposed changes to the FAR do not take into account the need for an effective enforcement mechanism, with Congressional oversight, to ensure that agencies meet their legal obligations to provide tangible and electronic publications to the SuDocs. This change will negatively impact the FDLP and the public's ability to locate, use, and have permanent access to agency publications in all formats.

  6. Today, the SuDocs is able to ride agency procurement orders to obtain publications for the FDLP and the Sales Program at low cost. Libraries and members of the public depend on GPO's Sales Program to acquire print Government publications.

Law libraries especially depend on the Sales Program to purchase print Federal primary legal materials that may be provided to depository libraries only in an unofficial electronic version. The proposed amendments to the FAR do not adequately provide for a continued cost effective Sales Program. ACTION NEEDED:

Please submit electronic comments on the proposed amendments to the FAR to farcase.2002-011@gsa.gov by Friday, December 13th, citing "FAR Case 2002-011" in the subject line and the text. Base your comments on a few of the talking points above, and be sure to talk about the needs of your patrons to have timely, comprehensive and permanent access to Federal government information in print and electronic formats.

Please also fax a copy of your comments to your Senators and Representative at their Capitol Hill and local offices with a brief note of explanation. If you have a newly elected representative, this is a good time to introduce yourself while explaining the negative impact of OMB's action on public access. (Fax is preferable to e-mail because it provides staff with a tangible version of your comments.)

We are in a crisis situation! Members of AALL and our state chapters have been very instrumental in helping to ward off previous efforts that would harm the FDLP and diminish the public's right to access Government information. I urge all law librarians to submit comments on this very important issue by the December 13th deadline.

I would also appreciate it very much if you would send your comments along to me via e-mail at: baish@law.georgetown.edu.

Thank you very much,
Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries
202-662-9200

Date: December 4, 2002.

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