ARCHIVED: Regarding S. 2288, the Wendell H. Ford Government Publications Reform Act of 1998

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Oral Statement of Robert L. Oakley
Regarding S. 2288, the Wendell H. Ford
Government Publications Reform Act of 1998

Hearing before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
July 29, 1998


Good morning. My name is Robert Oakley. I am Director of the Law Library and Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center and Washington Affairs Representative for the American Association of Law Libraries. I am honored to appear before the Committee today on behalf of the seven library associations that make up the Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy. In a very real sense, my purpose is to represent the public interest since it is the American public who will reap the benefits of the reform to Title 44 that are proposed in S. 2288, the Wendell H. Ford Government Publications Reform Act of 1998.

Chairman Warner and Senator Ford, as you both so eloquently expressed in your introductory statements regarding S. 2288, our democracy is based on the absolute right of all American citizens to participate in their government.

The roots of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) run deep--for 185 years libraries have played an integral role in putting government publications into the hands of American citizens. During his June 1996 appearance before this Committee, then Superintendent of Documents Wayne Kelley testified that several serious problems are making the Federal Depository Library Program "an endangered American Institution." The convergence of technological innovation coupled with a lack of compliance with current U.S.C. Title 44 together create barriers to the public's ability to locate and use government information created through their tax dollars. These barriers make the effort before this Committee to strengthen Title 44 this year compelling and urgent.

My statement this morning will focus on three particular areas:

First, Equitable Public Access to Government Information Through Depository Libraries Must be Maintained and Strengthened.
The Federal Depository Library Program is the most efficient system to provide the American public with government information. By designating depository libraries in each state and congressional district, Congress ensured that government information from all three branches would be distributed throughout the country and available at no charge to the user. The results of GPO's recent Biennial Survey are impressive: an estimated 189,000 to 237,000 users--your constituents--are provided expert assistance in locating and using depository materials each week.

Second, Electronic Access to Government Information Presents New Challenges and Opportunities.
In the new electronic environment, there is a strong need for a central coordinating authority whose functions should include the development of much-needed finding tools, and the preservation and permanent public access of government information. With the passage of the GPO Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993 (Public Law 103-40), Congress sought to develop a central access point to information from all three branches of government. Recent usage statistics of the GPO Access system dramatically illustrate its success: over 10 million documents are downloaded per month from more than 70 databases.

We are pleased that S. 2288 affirms a strong, centralized and coordinated Federal Depository Library Program and retains the close relationship with Congress by keeping the renamed Government Publications Office as an independent agency in the Legislative Branch.

Third, The Erosion of Government Information From Depository Libraries Must End.
Current trends toward the decentralization, privatization, and commercialization of government information have led to large amounts of government information eluding the depository library program. The list of examples is long and continues to grow:

  • Publications that historically have been excluded from the program, such as reports of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) and opinions of the federal courts.
  • Publications for which an agency enters into an exclusive contract with a private publisher, such as the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (published by Oxford University Press) and the U.S. Industrial Outlook (McGraw Hill).
  • Publications that are produced by the private sector using government data, such as the Handbook of Labor Statistics.
  • Publications for which agencies license proprietary software to use with a product, such as for the NTIS Order Now CD-ROM, with no agreement on how the licensing fee for depository access should be recovered.
  • Publications that agencies make available for a fee through the Internet. Depository libraries can select the CD-ROM index to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service but have to pay subscription costs for access to the Internet database that contains the actual reports.
  • Publications produced on CD-ROMs or Web sites whose use is restricted to only one password per depository library. The Department of Commerce's STAT-USA, a valuable database that contains literally thousands of titles that are no longer available in print, is one example.
These publications created at taxpayer expense rightfully belong in the Federal Depository Library Program. Some of these titles were subsequently distributed to depository libraries as a result of strong congressional action while others--and more--remain beyond the reach of depository libraries and the public today.

Congress, the Administration, and the courts should use electronic technologies to enhance the public's access to government publications, not to diminish it. The channels of public access to government publications must remain open, efficient, and technologically relevant.

We believe that the enactment of S. 2288 is necessary to recommit all three branches of government to the long-standing principles of public access to government publications. The enactment of S. 2288 will ensure that the Federal Depository Library Program--the new Federal Access Library Program--will continue to serve the government information needs of the American public and will not become an "endangered American Institution." Thank you again, Chairman Warner and Senator Ford, for your personal commitment to the reform of Title 44 this year and for the opportunity to appear before you this morning.