ARCHIVED: Items To Be Included In Legislation to Enhance Public Access To Federal Government Information

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ITEMS TO BE INCLUDED IN LEGISLATION TO ENHANCE PUBLIC ACCESS
TO FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INFORMATION

December 18, 1996

American Library Association
American Association of Law Libraries
Association of Research Libraries

Congress currently is examining ways to improve public access to government information and public accountability of government entities through revisions to Title 44 United States Code and other applicable statutes. We affirm that any changes to Title 44 or federal government information policies must embrace fundamental principles of public access. These principles (outlined below) were most recently expressed in the congressionally-directed Study to Identify Measures Necessary for the Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program (submitted to Congress in June 1996), and have been widely endorsed by the library community. We recommend that the following objectives be incorporated into any legislative or regulatory attempt to enhance public access to federal government information or to modify the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP).

Congress currently is examining ways to improve public access to government information and public accountability of government entities through revisions to Title 44 United States Code and other applicable statutes. We affirm that any changes to Title 44 or federal government information policies must embrace fundamental principles of public access. These principles (outlined below) were most recently expressed in the congressionally-directed Study to Identify Measures Necessary for the Successful Transition to a More Electronic Federal Depository Library Program (submitted to Congress in June 1996), and have been widely endorsed by the library community. We recommend that the following objectives be incorporated into any legislative or regulatory attempt to enhance public access to federal government information or to modify the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP).

I. The public has a right of access to government information.

Legislation should encompass a broad perspective that stresses enhancing citizen participation in the democratic process and public accountability of government through expanding public access to federal government information.

Legislation should maintain and strengthen congressional oversight responsibilities over the information dissemination and access activities of the federal government. Oversight should be vested in a joint congressional committee empowered to set government-wide standards that facilitate public access.

II. The government has an obligation to disseminate and provide broad public access to its information.

Legislation should emphasize the public's fundamental right to government information. Dissemination and access to government information is an affirmative responsibility of every entity of the federal government.

Legislation should reaffirm the need for a centrally coordinated system whose mission is to guarantee ready, equal, equitable, no- fee access to government information, regardless of format, to the people of the United States of America through participating libraries and other program partners. Such a program would build upon the success of the current Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) to broaden and improve public access to government information.

Legislation and continuing appropriations should provide for broad public access to government information by distributing physical publications to libraries in the program at no charge, and to all others at no more than the cost of distribution. Likewise, electronic access to government information should be provided at no fee to the broadest possible audience; in cases where access fees are required, access must be guaranteed to libraries in the program at no charge.

Legislation should include incentives for agencies and libraries to participate in the program. Statutory authority should be provided to ensure agency compliance with laws and regulations regarding public access to government information, and agency participation in programs designed to facilitate and provide public access to government information.

Library services included in the program should span the entire life-cycle of government information and should include: cataloging and bibliographic control, administration of dissemination and access to electronic information products, distribution of physical publications and tangible electronic products, preservation and permanent access, development of standards, providing training, facilitating feedback and participation in the design and evaluation of government information products and services, and other services that enhance public access to government information. These services should be centrally coordinated in order to facilitate public access and to most effectively meet the needs of libraries and the public.

Legislation should clarify the definition of "government information" to include, without question, electronic information products and services. Definition of government information must include the broadest possible array of publicly-funded information, and should not be limited to only those materials originally intended for public dissemination (e.g., sales publications, brochures).

Legislation should underscore Congress' role in providing public access to government information. As the branch of government closest to the people, Congress has a vested interest in ensuring nationwide local access to federal government information.

III. The government has an obligation to guarantee the authenticity and integrity of its information.

Legislation should account for the need of the public to be assured that the information that the government provides is authentic. Policies and practices should provide for "official" versions of government information on which the public can rely in conducting their business and affairs.

Legislation should allow for the availability or dissemination of information in the most appropriate format(s). The format of dissemination must take into account the use of the information and the reliability of the format over time.

Legislation should recognize the need for multiple formats for some types of government information in order to meet users' needs and ensure the integrity, long-term preservation and permanent public access to the information.

IV. The government has an obligation to preserve its information.

Legislation should establish the affirmative responsibility of the federal government to provide permanent public access to its information.

Legislation should provide for the central coordination of permanent public access. The federal government, including the central coordinating authority working in cooperation with publishing agencies, should be responsible for establishing and maintaining formal contracts and interagency agreements that ensure permanent public access to government information. Implementation of this should include a distributed system that provides for adequate redundancy and is based on official/contractual agreements between partners.

V. Government information created or compiled by government employees or at government expense should remain in the public domain.

The definition of government information included in the program should be broadly interpreted and should include all information, regardless of form or format, which is created or compiled by employees of a component of the government, or at government expense, or as required by law, except that which is required for official use only, is for strictly administrative or operational purposes having no public interest or educational value, or is classified for reasons of national security.

Legislation should make it clear that agency information products and services, including those for which fee-based mandates or statutes exist, must be available at no fee through the program.

Legislation should eliminate the exclusion for "cooperative publications" currently found in 44 U.S.C. 1903.

Legislation should endorse the idea that access to government information must not be hindered by exclusive arrangements that apply copyright-like restrictions on use or redissemination of government information.

Legislation should ensure that public access to government information is not diminished by the privatization or commercialization of public information.

 

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For more information, please contact:

Prue Adler, Association of Research Libraries
202/296-2296 or prue@cni.org

Mary Alice Baish, American Association of Law Libraries
202/662-9200 or baish@law.georgetown.edu

Anne Heanue, American Library Association
202/628-8410 or aah@alawash.org

 


Working Document prepared by
American Library Association,
Government Documents Roundtable (ALA/GODORT),
Legislation Committee
12/18/96