Dateline: July 31, 1997
AALL Endorses Goals for the Revision of Title 44
AALL, along with other members of the Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy (IAWG), has recently endorsed the IAWG's "Goals for Revising U.S.C. Title 44 to Enhance Public Access to Federal Government Information." These goals were developed by the drafting subcommittee, of which I am a member, to assist our efforts in rewriting Chapter 19 that governs the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). The four goals below will also serve as a benchmark to measure the legislative proposal currently being redrafted by the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP).
Library Community's "Federal Information Access Act of 1997"
- To broaden, strengthen, and enhance public access to all forms of government information;
- To strengthen the role of the Superintendent of Documents (SuDocs) and the FDLP in providing public access;
- To establish the government's affirmative responsibility to preserve and provide permanent public access, and to develop regulations and guidelines to ensure the authenticity of government information;
- To resolve the constitutional issues, establish accountability, and facilitate public access from all three branches of government.
Following the May hearings on the JCP's first draft of a bill revising Title 44, we worked diligently to develop a new Chapter 19, assisted by ALA's counsel, Tom Susman. Brief highlights of the library community's bill include:
- Renaming the FDLP the Federal Information Access Program (FIAP), and defining a broader scope of information to be available through participating libraries, including government information in all current or future formats from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government;
- Elevating the SuDocs to a presidential appointee, with added responsibility for coordinating permanent public access, and developing with each branch of government standards relating to government information, including those for ensuring authenticity;
- Providing continued strong congressional oversight for coordinating the dissemination of government information to the public;
- Establishing agency incentives and enforceable compliance mechanisms to ensure agency compliance with Title 44 in order to guarantee public access to government information through the program;
- Providing flexibility to enable the SuDocs and FIAP librarians to respond to changing needs of libraries, users, and agencies;
- Establishing advisory councils to the SuDocs that include representatives from agencies, librarians, and users.
I had the pleasure of drafting the transmittal letter to Sen. John Warner (R-VA) and other key legislators to which were attached the Goals document and our bill. These can be found at lt060997.asp
Virginia Librarians Meet with Sen. Warner
I also planned and coordinated an important meeting on July 10, 1997 between Sen. John Warner and ten Virginia librarians who serve in federal depository libraries. Our purpose was to urge support for our Chapter 19 revision and to remind Sen. Warner of our concerns that the Title 44 revision must result in improved public access. Based on the talking points that I had prepared for the meeting, AALL President-elect Jim Heller and ALA President Barbara Ford lead a discussion on the value of FDLPs, the growing erosion of government information from the public domain, and the challenges and shifting costs to libraries as more information becomes available only electronically.
Free Public Access to MEDLINE
In an unexpected move, after long resisting pressure to make MEDLINE available to FDLPs, the National Library of Medicine announced in June that it will provide all Americans with free access to MEDLINE, "the world's most extensive collection of published medical information." MEDLINE includes more than 8.8 million references to articles published in 3800 biomedical journals. It is available through two Web-based systems, Grateful Med and Pub Med, at www.nlm.nih.gov/databases/freemedl.html.
Supreme Court Victory on the CDA
In a unanimous decision, Justice Stevens announced on June 24, 1997 that the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) prohibiting the "indecent transmission" and "patently offensive display" of material deemed to be "indecent" for minors is unconstitutionally broad and violates the First Amendment. Relying heavily on the findings of last year's District Court decision, the Court ruled that the CDA (47 USC 223) suppressed a broad array of materials that adults have a constitutional right to receive and transmit. AALL participated in this challenge to the CDA as a member of the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition.
Two New Noteworthy Reports
The General Accounting Office released "Internet and Electronic Dial-up Bulletin Boards: Information Reported by Federal Organizations" (GAO/GGD-97-86) in June. Relying on data collected from 42 federal organizations, it estimates expenditures of about $349 million from FY 1994-96 that includes the costs of Internet and BBS access and development of agency Web sites. Not surprisingly, only half of these agencies reported having any type of guidelines for establishing their Web presence. The supplement report, "World Wide Web Sites Reported by Federal Organizations" is available only electronically. It lists and provides links to the 4,300+ Web sites developed by these 42 agencies. Both reports can be found on the GAO Web site at www.gao.gov.
The final report on GILS by Professors Bill Moen and Charles McClure, "An Evaluation of the U.S. Government's Implementation of the Government Information Locator Service (GILS)," is available at www.unt.edu/slis/research/gilseval/gilsdocs.htm. Having participated in a focus group last November during the fact-gathering period for this study, I am pleased to note that the report includes many of our recommendations. GILS is at best a very difficult tool for users, and we can only hope that implementation of the recommendations in this report will lead to achieving the vision for which GILS was initially proposed.
Great to See You in Baltimore!
Members of the Government Relations Committee, Bob and I were energized by the wonderful attendance at this year's Legislative and Regulatory Update that also featured guest speaker Eric Peterson, Staff Director of the JCP, to discuss the revision of Title 44.
The Wednesday program on "A Sea Change in Access to Federal Government Information" attracted an even larger audience and provided a welcome opportunity for our members to hear more about the impact of changes to Title 44 from key government officials. During the Q & A, AALL members made it very clear that public access to judicial branch information must be improved and included in any legislative change. The IAWG's Chapter 19 proposal meets that mandate.
New GRC Chair Jackie Wright and I personally want to thank all those of you who represented your chapter at our Chapter Government Relations Meeting. Guest Marvin Anderson's enthusiasm for Minnesota's North Star system captivated the audience, and David McFadden provided important advice on how to impact state legislative issues. I'm pleased to announce that two members of this year's GRC committee have volunteered to assist us in helping our chapters develop more active GRCs, and in achieving better communication between the chapters and the Washington Affairs Office.
Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
Georgetown University Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001