ARCHIVED: Goals For Revising U.S.C. Title 44 To Enhance Public Access To Federal Government Information

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GOALS FOR REVISING U.S.C. TITLE 44 TO ENHANCE PUBLIC ACCESS
TO FEDERAL GOVERNMENT INFORMATION

 
Developed by the Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy
May 1997
 

Congress currently is examining ways to improve public access to government information and public accountability of government entities through revisions to Title 44 of the United States Code and other applicable statutes. We affirm that any changes to Title 44, the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), or federal government information policies must incorporate the following fundamental principles and goals of public access.

GOAL 1: The law must broaden, strengthen, and enhance public access to all forms of government information.

PRINCIPLES:

1) The public has the right to access the information produced by their government. All government information in all formats should be published initially by the government and be made available, with no restrictions, to the public through libraries.

2) To foster an informed citizenry capable of fully participating in our democratic process and provide for economic development, the public must be ensured easy and equitable access to federal government information from the legislative, executive, and judicial branches at no cost to the citizen.

3) To guarantee the availability of its information, the government should disseminate it in usable formats to the public, libraries, and other information providers and provide timely, equitable, effective, no-fee public access to its information through depository libraries.

4) Government information created or compiled by government or contractor employees or at government expense must remain in the public domain with no copyright-like restrictions. The public's access to government information must not be denied or impeded by exclusive arrangements that apply copyright-like restrictions on the use or redissemination of government information. Republication of government information is the right of all citizens, and no obstacles should be placed in the way of that right.

AREAS OF REFORM:

a) Legislation must guarantee the public's fundamental right to government information. Providing for the dissemination of and access to government information is an affirmative responsibility of every entity of the federal government. The definition of "government information" under Title 44 should include information from all government agencies, military agencies, independent regulatory agencies, government corporations, government-controlled corporations, and other establishments in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of the federal government, as well as information created, compiled, or published under government contract.

b) Legislation must provide 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 provide for multiple formats for some types of government information to meet users' needs and ensure the integrity, long-term preservation and permanent public access to the information.

c) The definition of "government information" to be made available to the public and included in the depository program must 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.

d) Legislation must clarify the definition of "government information" to explicitly include electronic information products and services. The definition of government information must include the broadest possible array of publicly funded information of public interest or educational value and should not be limited only to those materials originally intended for public dissemination (e.g., sales publications, brochures).

e) Legislation must specify that agency information products and services, including those developed under a fee-based mandate or statute, must be made available to the public at no fee through depository libraries. Legislation should ensure that access to government information is not hindered by exclusive arrangements that apply copyright-like restrictions on use or redissemination of government information.

f) Legislation must ensure that, regardless of any other agreements or mandates, government information created or compiled at taxpayer expense must be made available to the public at no fee through depository libraries. This includes:

  • government information accessible only through government contracts with private commercial services;
  • cooperative publications, or government information created, compiled, or disseminated through contracts, cooperative research and development agreements, or other formal arrangements.

GOAL 2: The law must strengthen the role of the Superintendent of Documents and the Federal Depository Library Program in providing public access to government information.

PRINCIPLES:

1) The government must provide a strong, centralized, coordinated, and managed program that provides for the acquisition, bibliographic control, dissemination, and long-term public access of government information at no cost to the public through depository libraries.

2) To facilitate broad public access to electronic government information, the government must develop, adopt, and utilize government-wide standards for the production, dissemination, and access to government information in electronic formats.

AREAS OF REFORM:

a) Legislation should strengthen the Federal Depository Library Program, the Superintendent of Documents Sales Program, and the GPO Access online service as essential mechanisms for ensuring public access to government information. [To reflect the impact of electronic technologies on public access, the name of the FDLP should be changed to the "Federal Depository Library and Public Access Program."]

b) The law must unequivocally state that electronic information be made publicly available and included in the FDLP.

c) Library services included in the FDLP must span the entire life-cycle of government information (creation, dissemination, access, use, preservation, and evaluation) and include:

  • cataloging and bibliographic control;
  • administration of access to online electronic information products;
  • distribution of physical publications and tangible electronic products;
  • preservation and permanent public access;
  • development of standards;
  • training;
  • feedback and participation in the design and evaluation of government information products and services;
  • other services that enhance public access to government information.

These services must be centrally coordinated to facilitate public access and to meet most effectively the needs of libraries and the public.

d) Legislation must provide the statutory basis for appropriations for broad public access to government information. This includes the distribution of physical publications to depository libraries at no charge, and to all others at no more than the incremental cost of printing and 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, no-fee access must be guaranteed to the public through depository libraries. Adequate appropriations to the FDLP must be included to provide depository libraries with copies of publications and access to online databases. The Superintendent of Documents should be empowered to reimburse publishing agencies at the incremental rate for replicating depository copies of tangible products. Appropriations must cover the costs of producing and disseminating products through the FDLP as well as any costs for software licenses that accompany electronic products.

e) Legislation must make it clear that regardless of any other legal or administrative requirements, government information must be made accessible to the public through the FDLP; specifically, an agency's mandate to recover costs does not relieve it from fulfilling its depository obligations under Title 44.

f) Legislation must provide for a centrally managed procurement and production system for government information products and services. Such a system should facilitate the identification of information products for inclusion in the FDLP. It is essential also that the system provide for appropriate penalties and enforcement power to ensure agencies' compliance with their FDLP obligations under Title 44.

g) Legislation must require that each branch of government develop a standardized system to describe their electronic information products and services at the database level (e.g., GILS/Government Information Locator Service) in consultation with the national libraries and the judicial branch libraries. These records should provide interactive links to online databases and information resources.

h) Legislation should provide for the utilization of advisory council(s) that include members from all three branches of government, librarians, and the public.

GOAL 3: The law must establish the affirmative responsibility of the federal government to preserve and provide permanent public access to its information, and to ensure the authenticity of government information.

PRINCIPLES:

1) The government has an affirmative obligation to guarantee:

  • the preservation of government information to ensure its availability for future generations;
  • permanent public access to government information;
  • authenticity and integrity of its information to ensure that it is "official."

AREAS OF REFORM:

a) Legislation must provide for the central coordination of permanent public access to government information. The federal government, including the Superintendent of Documents working in cooperation with the federal agencies, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress and other national libraries, depository libraries, and other library partners, must be responsible for establishing and maintaining a system of permanent public access to all formats of government information. Implementation of this should include a distributed system that provides for adequate redundancy and is based on official/contractual agreements between partners. The Superintendent of Documents should be responsible for coordinating and overseeing the formal contracts and interagency agreements that ensure the preservation and permanent public access to government information.

b) Legislation must account for the public's need 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 its business and affairs.

GOAL 4: The law must resolve the constitutional or inter-branch issues regarding the oversight and administration of the life-cycle of government information (creation, acquisition, production, bibliographic control, dissemination, and permanent public access) to establish clear accountability and facilitate public access to government information from the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

PRINCIPLES:

1) Congress must continue to provide effective oversight in a manner that will ensure that the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government comply with the principles of public access.

AREAS OF REFORM:

a) Legislation must provide for strong congressional oversight of government information policies and practices and the power to effect government-wide standards that facilitate public access. Legislation should underscore the important role of Congress in providing public access to government information. As the branch of government closest to the people, Congress must ensure local access to federal government information nationwide.

b) Legislation must provide enforceable compliance mechanisms for procurement and production systems. Enforcement authority should be established encompassing all three branches of government to ensure compliance with the public access and dissemination requirements of the law.

c) Legislation must include incentives for agencies and libraries to participate in the depository program. Statutory authority should be provided to ensure agency participation in programs designed to facilitate and provide public access to government information.


Document of the Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy

The Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy is a cooperative team of representatives from several major library associations working to enhance public access to government information through the revision of U.S.C. Title 44. Together, these associations represent more than 80,000 librarians, information specialists, library trustees, libraries, and others interested in library issues.

For more information, please contact:
Francis Buckley, IAWG Chair; Director, Shaker Heights Public Library
216/991-2030 or francis.buckley@shpl.lib.oh.us

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