ARCHIVED: Legislative and Regulatory Update - April 1996

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April 1996

Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
Georgetown University Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
202/662-9200 *FAX:202/662-9202
Internet: baish@law.georgetown.edu

Legislative Branch Appropriations Hearings, FY 1997

The appropriations cycle begins anew. House appropriations subcommittee hearings on the budget requests for the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP), the Government Printing Office (GPO), and the Library of Congress (LC) were held on March 5-6, 1996. Committee chairman Ron Packard (R-CA) shared few hints of what we might expect to see in terms of the FY 1997 funding levels for either agency. Packard warned both Public Printer Michael DiMario and Librarian of Congress James Billington that level funding would be difficult as the Congress is committed to balancing the budget in seven years. In his remarks to Billington, Packard noted that LC had escaped cuts in FY 1996, the only legislative branch agency to do so. The warning was not to expect the same to happen for the next fiscal year. Packard did not state what the total amount of legislative branch cuts for FY 1997 would be. Needless to say, any substantial decrease in funding for either GPO or LC would have dire consequences. As you may recall, the FY 1996 goal of reducing legislative branch costs by $200,000,000 was achieved by Congress, but among the cuts was the elimination of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).

The Joint Committee on Printing

Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) touted the fact that the JCP, having downsized staff by half, returned $434,000 of its 1995 appropriations to the U.S. Treasury. Significant savings were also made by reducing by about one-third the number of publications sent to House members' offices, including the Congressional Record and the Congressional Directory. Thomas also commented very positively on the fact that GPO had reduced their losses from $21.7 million in FY 1994 to $3 million in FY 1995.

He reiterated that the JCP should be eliminated and that its oversight functions should be shifted to the House Oversight and Senate Rules and Administration Committees. One of Thomas' first acts as the new chairman of the JCP last year, that was met with a contentious revolt by the Senate members, was his attempt to eliminate the committee. Following Thomas' statement at this hearing, Rep. Ray Thornton (D-ARK) submitted for the record a letter from Sen. John Warner (D-VA) stating that the JCP should not be eliminated as it serves a very important oversight function. The letter cited the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), the Department of Labor, and the Defense Printing Service as agencies whose printing operations have bypassed GPO and thus, the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). Warner also announced his plans, as chairman of Senate Rules and Administration, to hold hearings on Title 44 possibly as early as late March. We should regard this as a positive sign and perhaps a strategy to assure that any changes to the FDLP will properly emanate from the authorizing committees rather than appropriations. Also, at last August's GPO hearing before the House Oversight Committee, Chairman Thomas mentioned that the committee would likely hold spring hearings following the release of the GPO Study which is due to Congress by the end of March.

At one point during his testimony, Thomas made it clear that the elimination of the JCP is not just his own personal goal but the wish of the majority leadership. At one point, he noted that libraries could (his tone inferred "easily") download and print documents for circulation to the public. Thomas has signaled this message before and he seems to take it for granted that the responsibility and costs of printing documents will be shifted to libraries and users. Despite the overall nature and tone of his remarks, Thomas ended on a positive note regarding the transition to a more electronic FDLP. He stated that he prefers to aim for an overly ambitious timeframe for the transition but that it is more important to "get it right."

The Government Printing Office

Rep. Packard commended DiMario for the development of the Transition Plan that recommends a rapid shift to a "predominately" electronic FDLP. DiMario stated that GPO is requesting level funding of $30.8 million for the FY 1997 Salaries and Expenses Appropriations of the Superintendent of Documents. An additional $500,000 was requested for technology grants to assist depository libraries and $20,000 to offer training sessions around the country. DiMario said that in retrospect GPO realizes that the Transition Plan is too ambitious. The plan was released in December for broad public comment, and both agencies and the library community have expressed serious concerns about the timeframe and the lack of data to support its proposals. DiMario mentioned that a 5-7 year plan had been suggested as being more realistic but Packard discouraged any notion of prolonging the transition beyond two years. DiMario replied that the transition must be based on the technological capabilities of agencies and libraries.

Regarding the technology grants, Packard remarked that these could be a disincentive to local community support for libraries. He also brought up the issue of the LC study, also mandated by last year's appropriations bill, that makes recommendations towards developing a consolidated access system for all legislative information. The fact that both agencies were mandated to carry out different studies this past year, and that the two agencies obviously do not regularly communicate with one another, was noted as quite problematic. Packard urged cooperation between LC and GPO in order to reduce any duplication between the GPO ACCESS and THOMAS systems.

The Library of Congress

Having been warned by Packard of the slim chances of getting level funding for FY 1997, Dr. Billington expressed his fear that the effects of a reduced LC budget would be impossible to reverse. LC requested $373 million for FY 1997, a 5.8 increase necessary to fund mandatory salary increases, provide continuity for many programs, and target strategic activities such as electronic initiatives and collection security measures. LC unveiled a very polished video for the subcommittee members that did a nice job of highlighting the Law Library and the Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), the Copyright Office and the National Digital Library.

There was an important discussion regarding the proposal to move the Copyright Office to the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). Both Dr. Billington and Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters emphasized that this would have a devastating effect on LC's collection of both published and unpublished works. This legislative proposal (S. 1458) is particularly troublesome since Vice President Gore just this week announced the NPR recommendation to change both the PTO and NTIS to "performance-based organizations," i.e. government corporations. On another matter, Packard asked Dr. Billington whether the Congressional Research Service (CRS) had picked up any OTA functions; the answer was no, that CRS has a very limited capacity to deal with long-range studies. A brief discussion about the THOMAS/GPO ACCESS overlap followed, with Packard once more urging better cooperation between the two agencies. His words did not fall on deaf ears, as within a day of this hearing Billington and DiMario had scheduled a meeting to discuss how THOMAS, GPO ACCESS and the Congressional information service might be consolidated.

Joint Library Association Statements

Chairman Packard was the only committee member present on the second day of the hearing when outside witnesses presented their statements. The hearing opened with comments from Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) who is overseeing House computerization efforts. He emphasized the importance of highly trained personnel and adequate resources. He said that the long-term result of the House Information Resources (HIR) system would be improved efficiencies and cost savings, but that it takes a significant up-front investment and ever-continuing costs to keep up with new technologies. Ehlers also stressed the need for standardization and centralization. As we listened to his statement, we were hopeful that the problems and expenses that he described relating to the development of the HIR would be carried over to the perspective of libraries and end-users.

Dr. Betty J. Turock, President of the American Library Association, presented testimony on behalf of ALA, AALL and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in support of both the LC and GPO budget requests. To backtrack just a bit, the principal library associations have served in an advisory role to the GPO study working group since last fall. On February 23, 1996 we sent a letter to Public Printer DiMario on behalf of AALL, ALA, ARL, the Medical Library Association and the Special Libraries Association. In it we raised several serious concerns regarding the Transition Plan, chief among them whether the ambitious two-year timeframe could be efficiently achieved. Underlying many of our concerns also is the fact that the plan was developed without benefit of concrete data to support its basic assumptions and provisions. The key points of Turock's statement at this hearing, already raised in the letter to the Public Printer, were that:

The technological infrastructure necessary to support the nearly all electronic FDLP described in the Transition Plan does not yet exist.

The two-year timeframe is too ambitious and does not take into account the current capabilities and readiness of GPO, agencies, depository and other libraries, or users.

Government information should be made available in the most usable format, including print, to best meet the informational needs of the American public.

A change to a more electronic program must take into account the entire life cycle of information--from its creation to its long-term access and preservation.

Before implementing this shift to a nearly all electronic FDLP, the government must ensure the authenticity and integrity of electronic government information so that users know that the information is "official."

The Transition Plan must ensure incentives so that libraries will be able to continue participation in the FDLP.

The government must ensure that Americans in every Congressional district will continue to have access to electronic government information in depository libraries.

And last but not least, that the move to a predominately electronic FDLP may jeopardize the cooperative International Exchange Program through which the Library of Congress, and particularly the Law Library, receive important foreign government publications.

Dr. Turock's written and oral statements hopefully served to shed some light on the complexities and multiple uses of federal information. She emphasized that libraries have always been in the forefront of technological change and committed to providing access to the broad and growing array of electronic products and services. She noted that information is of value, however, only when it is used, put to work in a real-life situation. Library investments were also stressed since our institutions must continue to maintain print collections while investing heavily in equipment, connections and support for electronic access.

 

 

Turock concluded her comments by stating that any and all changes to the FDLP must maximize the efficiencies of an electronic program with the guarantees of broader, more equitable, and long- term public access to federal information. Following her statements, Packard had only one brief question regarding the technology grants. Although we did not learn the extent of the budget cuts for FY 1997, we undoubtedly have a herculean task ahead of us in terms of educating members of Congress on the above issues. As the appropriations process continues, we may well need your grassroots support. Packard at one point did ask Mr. DiMario whether users of depository libraries were complaining about the transition to a more electronic program. We must be prepared to do just that if cuts are proposed that would curtail the public's right to timely, equitable, efficient and no-fee government information. As always, the documents mentioned in this column-- the joint letter to the Public Printer and the statements in support of the LC and GPO budget requests--are available on Aaallnet.

Late Breaking News:

Members of the Consortium of Law Schools Receieve James Madison Honoary Citations

1996, American Association of Law Libraries