ARCHIVED: Comments Regarding Permanent Public Access and Authenticity

PrintEmail

Meeting between OMB Deputy Director for Management
G. Edward DeSeve and Representatives of the
Public Access Working Group (PAWG)

Comments of AALL Assistant Washington Affairs
Representative Mary Alice Baish
July 2, 1998

The Clinton Administration has been a big supporter of federal agencies' using the Internet to disseminate information to the public in a very timely manner. The value to the agency is enormous: a Web site promotes the agency, its mission and the online publications that it produces. The value to American citizens is that they have timely access to these publications; they can better participate in our democracy; and the ready availability of business and economic data is a boon to our economy.

 

The Clinton Administration has been a big supporter of federal agencies' using the Internet to disseminate information to the public in a very timely manner. The value to the agency is enormous: a Web site promotes the agency, its mission and the online publications that it produces. The value to American citizens is that they have timely access to these publications; they can better participate in our democracy; and the ready availability of business and economic data is a boon to our economy.

The user and library communities applauded last year's decision by the National Library of Medicine to make the MEDLINE database available at no fee to the public through the Internet. We are equally pleased to learn that the Patent and Trademark Office is planning to provide no-fee public access to its database by the end of the year.

On the other hand, though, from the library and user perspective, along with these benefits are some enormous challenges. I'd like to use my time this morning to touch briefly on two critically important issues: permanent public access and authenticity.

Permanent public access means that when agencies choose to disseminate publications only through their Web site, they must recognize their responsibility for ensuring that the publication is either permanently archived on the Web site, or, if taken off the Web, that it is captured and made available to the public through another means, such as a CD-ROM. Sample titles that illustrate this particular problem include:

  • The Department of Education's School District Data Book. The good news here is that the Department of Education provides Web access to the School District Data Book. The bad news is that first, only a subset of the entire title is available through the Internet, and second, distribution of the full set of CD-ROMs has not been provided for federal depository libraries.
  • The Defense Intelligence Agency's Monographic Series. The DIA used to post a monographic series on their Web site, including such important titles as Global Threats to the U.S. and Its Interests Abroad. The entire series has been dropped from the Web site and individual titles have not been archived for permanent public access.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development's Urban Community 2020 Software. This is a slightly different, though related, problem. HUD has been promoting this software broadly but unless an individual or a library purchases it, the Urban Community 2020 information on HUD's Web site is inaccessible, and therefore of no use or value to the public. In selecting software, agencies should avoid agreements involving licensing restrictions that limit public access.

While I've probably already exceeded my time limit this morning, I'd like to briefly raise the second issue that is of concern to all users but especially to those in the research and legal communities, and that is the question of authenticity. Citizens must be assured that electronic government information available on an agency Web site is official and reliable. One example that I often cite in raising consciousness about this issue is the disclaimer on OMB's own Web site that reads as follows:

(NOTE: Electronic versions of OMB documents are intended to provide broad public access to the text of OMB directives and other key information. These electronic versions should not, however, be treated as authoritative. The only official versions of these documents are printed or hard copy materials obtained from the White House Publications Office and/or from official OMB sources.)

Lastly, a few years ago OMB developed and circulated draft guidelines for agency Web sites. Unfortunately, these seem to have disappeared into a black hole (like some agency Web information). The crux of the problem is that there are no guidelines, policies or legislative mandates to ensure that agencies recognize their responsibility to ensure the permanent public access and authenticity of their Web-based publications. We believe that these are very important issues that OMB must quickly address and resolve.