Comments to the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science
on the First Draft of A Comprehensive Assessment of Public Information Dissemination
by Mary Alice Baish
Acting Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries
December 4, 2000
Thank you for the opportunity to speak briefly this afternoon on the very ambitious undertaking by the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) to complete within a fairly short time frame a comprehensive study on the dissemination of Federal government information. Given the fact that the first draft of the Final Report was released only last week, and that this morning many of us for the first time saw legislative language that NCLIS is including as Appendix 21 of the report, the Public Information Resources Reform Act of 2001, my comments this afternoon will of necessity be fairly broad.
In fact, until we have adequate opportunity to analyze thoroughly the lengthy draft report, the legislative proposal we have just received today, and two additional appendices that have not yet become available to us (Appendix 22, Suggested Revisions to the Paperwork Reduction Act Reauthorization 2001 and OMB Circular A-130, and Appendix 29, Draft Proposed Executive Order), it will be very difficult to submit detailed and specific comments by the December 11, 2000 deadline.
I believe today, as I did last year about this time when NCLIS first began work on the initial report on the crisis regarding the future of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), that there are three overarching issues that need immediate attention:
First, that the Administration and the Congress reaffirm that the Federal government has the primary responsibility to ensure the entire life cycle of government information in all formats, including development of necessary, useful and timely finding tools, dissemination, permanent public access and preservation. As a member of the Panel 4 study group, I am pleased that the five Principles for Federal Government Information developed jointly by representatives of many stakeholder groups as part of the 1996 GPO Study were included in the Panel 4 report. These principles affirm that public access to government information is a cornerstone of our democracy, and I hope that they will be reiterated verbatim in your final report.
Second, it is critically important that NTIS be saved and that funding be approved immediately to preserve its clearinghouse functions in return for improved public access, including access to the NTIS bibliographic database and to it reports. At a very minimum, NTIS should be brought into compliance with Title 44 chapter 19 requirements for the Federal Depository Library Program. NTIS has been hemorrhaging for well over a year now, and many of us anticipated that the key goal of the two NCLIS studies would be to ensure the future of this important agency. Following the NCLIS meeting on November 15, 2000, during which your legislative proposal was discussed, I felt very disappointed that you seem to be proposing dramatic, global organizational changes that have not yet been reviewed by stakeholders, that may or may not have the support of the Administration, of Congress or of the many stakeholders, while in the meantime NTIS may be left dangling in the wind. I strongly urge you to recommend specific and immediate remedies to the NTIS situation that will ensure its future stability and growth.
Third, AALL believes that there should be a legislative remedy to ensure the permanent public access and preservation of the ever-increasing amounts of valuable government publications that are accessible through agency web sites. We believe that the solution should be a coordinated, collaborative approach involving government entities and library partners across all three branches of government. This requires agency cooperation and very importantly, the development of agreed upon standards. I once again urge NCLIS to review the statutory language drafted by the library community during the 105th Congress as part of S. 2288. It is a thoughtful, incremental approach to strengthening the FDLP by affirming that electronic government information must be permanently available to the public and by creating a permanent public access council.
Lastly, although as I mentioned at the onset that AALL needs additional time to analyze fully your report and its accompanying appendices, we are concerned that your legislative proposal appears to create a new large bureaucratic agency at a time when consensus seems to be that smaller government works best. I am not convinced that such a recommendation is politically feasible nor indeed necessary. I urge you to recommend incremental legislative changes to save NTIS and ensure permanent public access as immediate steps, and I look forward to making some additional comments upon thorough reading of your full report, recommendations and legislative proposals. Thank you very much.