ARCHIVED: AALL Government Relations Office: Ridley R. Kessler, Jr. Q&A regarding FY2000 Appropriations for GPO

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Answers from Mr. Ridley Kessler, Jr. to Questions from Representative Steny Hoyer

Question 1.You have lauded GPO for its progress in transforming the depository library program into more of an electronic resource that millions of Americans can use to access over 140,000 electronic titles. You also say that the government must provide publications "in all formats." Doesn't that include, for the foreseeable future, ink on paper? Can you comment on the need to assure permanent access to government documents going into the future.?

The Future of Ink on Paper
As noted in my formal testimony, according to GPO statistics, in FY 1998 34% of all titles disseminated to Federal depository libraries were in electronic format, mostly through GPO Access. This is a significant number and speaks to the ever-evolving transition to a more electronic Program, but at the same time it means that ink on paper documents certainly will continue to be distributed for the foreseeable future to depository libraries. "Paper" documents are still the most proven format for ensuring permanent access in depository libraries, and they are heavily used for research and historical purposes. We have in our depository collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill documents printed in the late 1700 and 1800's that are still in excellent shape. If published on acid free paper and handled with care, these older documents will last indefinitely.

During fiscal year 1997-98, we received 12,572 paper documents, 38,564 pieces of microfiche, and 969 CD-ROMs. We consider all of these formats to be permanent although we question the long term viability of CD-ROM because in the future, the hardware and software needed to use them may no longer be available. (See Attachment 1, "Whoops, there goes another CD-ROM...") Print documents are an easy format to use, and they require no training, no special equipment or special software. They last indefinitely and are easily passed from one generation to another. In addition, there are still some government agencies that do not have the ability to provide information in electronic formats and must continue to provide information in paper.

One of the roles of the Regional Depository Libraries is to provide permanent public access for government information. U.S.C. Title 44 Section 1912 states that the Regional Libraries shall, "receive from the Superintendent of Documents copies of all new and revised Government publication authorized for distribution to depository libraries." It further states that these Regionals will, "retain at least one copy of all Government publications either in printed or micro facsimile form; and within the region served will provide interlibrary loan, reference service, and assistance for depository libraries in the disposal of unwanted Government publications."

The intent of this section is that the Regional Depository Library is to act as the storehouse and historical repository for government information provided through the Federal Depository Library Program. It ensures that each region (or state) will have one depository library that is certain to have the government information needed by the citizens residing in that state. If the local or selective depository library does not have the needed government publication, then they can procure it from or refer citizens to the Regional Library. This has been the core function of Regional Libraries since the inception of the program in 1962.

Thus our library at UNC-CH has over two million paper documents in our collection dating back to our early history as a Republic, and over 1.4 million pieces of microfiche. This material has been serving American citizens in North Carolina ever since we became a depository library in 1884. Millions and millions of students, faculty members, towns people, and North Carolina citizens have been using this material for well over a 150 years, and they will continue to do so for another hundred years.

In summary, in the print world, the responsibility for archiving and permanent public access is being met successfully by the system of Regional depository libraries. As cultural institutions dedicated to public access, libraries are proven and effective partners in providing broad public access to physical collections. Whether these collections contain printed publications or tangible electronic products like CD-ROMs, there are tremendous advantages to having multiple, geographically dispersed collections of government information located around the country for the public to use.

The Permanent Public Access of Electronic Government Information
The landscape changes, however, when we begin to talk about citizen access to today's electronic government information that is available solely through the Internet, and whether in another hundred years Americans will have access to these valuable publications available to us today. Government information transmitted online is not an archival resource, nor has the library community, the government, or the private sector agreed on any major archival plan for the permanent no-fee public access to these valuable government resources funded through tax dollars.

Therefore, outside of the permanent public access that the Government Printing Office provides for publications available through GPO Access, when GPO catalogs or provides links to government publications on agency web sites, there are no guarantees that those valuable materials won't be removed from the web site without being captured for permanent public access. The Internet is still a tenuous medium as compared to paper or fiche formats. And while the National Archives and Records Administration and the Government Printing Office have discussed some details for permanent archiving of some selected electronic materials, the great majority of these materials are not captured anywhere.

The Government Printing Office has embarked upon plans to develop formal partnership agreements between libraries and agencies so that depository libraries will assume responsibility for the permanent public access of an agency's web-based publications. Some large research libraries have entered into formal agreements to become the repositories for agencies' electronic documents. The University of Illinois at Chicago is in a partnership with the State Department, and Cornell University engages in a partnership program with the Agriculture Department. Both are done under formal contract and with funding provided by the agency. However, separate agreements between academic universities and Government agencies are probably not a viable alternative to Government controlled and Government planned archiving for the simple reason that most academic universities do not have the staff, technology, computer space, nor can they guarantee budgets to maintain such sites for the long-term without government funding.

As computer technology grows and expands, and as Government agencies continue to increase the amount of materials that they make available through electronic formats, the more vital and urgent it becomes for the Government to develop a comprehensive permanent access plan for this information. Not only must it be archived and preserved, but it must also remain usable and easy to read and research by anyone who needs it. While the expanding array of electronic government information brings many new and exciting opportunities with it, the greatest challenge is how will the Government capture and preserve electronic publications for future use.

It is critical that Title 44 explicitly recognize the responsibility of the Federal government to provide for permanent public access to government information in all formats through a comprehensively coordinated program that includes the Superintendent of Documents, federal agencies, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Library of Congress and other national libraries, depository libraries, and other library partners. This is a perfect segueway into Questions #2, because the library community was very pleased to see that S. 2288 recognizes the Federal government's obligation to future generations and establishes this responsibility within the new Superintendent of Government Publications Access Programs. This is a natural and important extension of the current public dissemination and permanent access roles of the Superintendent of Documents as administrator of the Federal Depository Library Program.

Question 2.You mentioned the failure of the comprehensive Title 44 reform bill last year. What could this Congress do by way of incremental change to Title 44 to reduce the number of fugitive documents or otherwise improve the depository library program?

During the 105th Congress, members of our associations representing more than 80,000 librarians, information specialists, library trustees, friends of libraries, and their institutions all dedicated to public access to government information joined together to form the Inter-Association Working Group on Government Information Policy (IAWG). In July 1998, we presented testimony in strong support of S. 2288, the Wendell H. Ford Government Publications Reform Act of 1998, because we believe that our democracy is based on the right of all American citizens to participate in their government. Congress wisely recognized the importance of the public's right and need to have access to the information created by the Federal government when they established the Government Printing Office and the Federal Depository Library Program.

Our testimony focused on provisions of S. 2288 that IAWG members and congressional staff worked closely together to develop, the Federal Publications Dissemination Act of 1998 (Title IV). The bill includes provisions to revise chapter 19 of Title 44, the law governing public access to government publications and the Federal Depository Library Program. It provides for the reorganization of the Government Printing Office into the Government Publications Office, and elevates the Superintendent of Documents to a new presidentially-appointed Superintendent of Government Publication Access Programs. Our chapter 19 provisions:


  • affirm the long-standing policy of no-fee public access to federal government publications through a system of geographically-dispersed designated libraries;
  • expand the scope of the FDLP to include publications in all formats from all three branches of government, explicitly recognizing the challenges and opportunities of electronic information technologies;
  • resolve the problem of "fugitive documents" by establishing incentives as well as strong enforcement and compliance mechanisms to ensure participation and compliance by agencies with Chapter 19 dissemination requirements; and
  • address the loss of electronic government information by establishing in law the affirmative responsibility of the federal government to provide current, continuous, and future public access to electronic publications at no fee to the public. The bill gives the Superintendent the responsibility to establish and coordinate a system of permanent public access for all branches of government, and to establish certifying criteria to ensure the authenticity of electronic government publications.

New Definition of "Government publication"
One of the means of expanding the scope of the Program is a new definition of "Government publication" that includes publications in all formats from all three branches of Government. This definition explicitly brings electronic government publications--including CD-ROM and publications available through the Internet or any future technology-- into the renamed Federal Publications Access Program. And it includes explicit language showing the intent to have the federal courts participate fully in the Program and make their publications--including court opinions--available for current and future public access. The new definition follows, along with only three exceptions:


The term "Government Publication " means:


any information product or discrete set of Government information, regardless of form or format, that is created or compiled-- (I) by the Government, or (ii) at Government expense in whole or in part, or (iii) as required by law; and that an agency discloses, disseminates, or makes available to the public, or which has public interest or educational value; and shall not include information that is required for official use only or is for strictly internal administrative or operational purposes having no public interest or educational value, and publications classified for reasons of national security.


The three exceptions to this mandate are:


(1) publications that are required for official use only or are for strictly internal administrative or operational purposes having no public interest or educational value; (2) publications that are classified for reasons of national security and, (3) orders, notices, or documents filed by litigants in a proceeding before a judicial branch entity.

Notification and Enforcement
Legislative language was developed as well to enforce compliance from agencies in all three branches of government. Increasingly federal agencies are circumventing their obligations under Title 44, and we believe that the Government must take steps to reduce the growing number of fugitive documents. The trends toward decentralization, privatization, and commercialization of government information and the increased use of electronic technologies to produce and disseminate information have led to large amounts of government information eluding the primary systems of public access. The result is increased "fugitive" information and reduced public access.

The library community has long believed that agency compliance will be achieved only when there is a balance between incentives for agencies to comply with chapter 19 provisions and a strong enforcement mechanism to bring fugitive documents into the Program when they fail to comply. To achieve this goal, the Federal Publications Dissemination Act of 1998 (Title IV) of S. 2288 includes a two-fold solution that was envisioned to work with other provisions of the legislation to reduce the fugitive documents problem: a seamless system of notification to the renamed Superintendent of Government Publications Access Programs so that publications in all formats can be brought into the Program, along with an enforceable incentive for agencies to comply.

The bill requires that publishing agencies notify the Superintendent of their intent to produce, procure, substantially modify, or terminate the production of government publications so that the Superintendent may include the publications in the program. The bill establishes two enforcement mechanisms to ensure agency compliance with Chapter 19:


  1. if an agency fails to fulfill its Chapter 19 requirements to notify the Superintendent and provide program libraries with access to publications, then the law would allow the Superintendent to automatically recoup the costs of producing program copies of publications, or the costs of providing access to program libraries;
  2. 2) the bill requires that agencies use GPO for procuring and producing government publications, and makes Chapter 19 compliance a requirement for any agency seeking authority from GPO to procure and produce government publications outside of GPO.

Permanent Public Access to Electronic Government Publications is Essential
The traditional role of the Superintendent of Documents has been to provide permanent public access to print, microfiche, and tangible electronic products through the system of Regional depository libraries. We are pleased that S. 2288 extends this responsibility in the online environment to include ready, permanent public access to remotely accessible electronic products. In the current absence of a coordinated national program to systematically capture, preserve, and maintain ongoing access to electronic government data, important information is lost every day as files come and go from agency Web sites and computer servers. The information becomes inaccessible and thus useless to the American public whose tax dollars have supported its creation. The permanent public access provisions in S. 2288 are necessary to correct the inadequacies in current law and to ensure permanent access to electronic government publications for future generations.

Chapter 19 provisions allows the Superintendent to request the electronic source files of government publications from agencies so that the Superintendent may produce the publication in an appropriate format(s) for the program, and enables the Superintendent to provide permanent public access to electronic publications. Further, the bill requires the Superintendent to establish a committee to make recommendations within two years on the components of a distributive system for permanent public access to electronic government publications.

During this period of study on the complex issues of permanent public access, the bill makes agencies responsible for maintaining permanent public access of their web-based publications during the transition period until the Superintendent's system is in place. Thus, the Superintendent will coordinate a government wide plan for the permanent public access of electronic government information, and in the interim, agencies will be required by law to capture and provide public access to any and all publications that they remove from a web-site.

We must also develop mechanisms to ensure the authority and integrity of information available on agency Web sites. Users must be assured that the information they locate is, in fact, official. We are pleased that S. 2288 includes a provision to establish certifying criteria for online government publications to ensure that they are official versions.

In sum, the government must recognize both the challenges and opportunities of the electronic age and assume new roles and responsibilities. The use of new technologies has rapidly changed the way that Congress, government agencies, and the courts create and provide access to information. While these are very exciting times in many ways, our steadfast goal must be to use technology to improve and enhance public access to government information. Without the enactment of S. 2288, we are very concerned that, especially during these transitional years, current models will continue, resulting in a further loss to the public of information created at taxpayer expense. It is imperative that all three branches of government fulfill their responsibilities in making electronic information permanently available to the American public.

Representative Hoyer, the library community strongly believes that the incremental approach suggested in your question to address these long-standing problems, especially the new challenges of electronic government information, can be solved by legislative language developed by congressional staff and the library community in Title IV of S. 2288. Attached for you information is the July 29, 1998 IAWG Issue Brief (Attachment 2) which describes the key provisions of chapter 19. Additionally, I am attaching some of the follow-up questions and answers from the July 19, 1998 hearing before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration that further elaborate on the points that you raised both at the hearing and through your excellent questions (Attachments 3 & 4).

Our library associations believe that legislative change is necessary this year to strengthen the Federal Depository Library Program. We are very anxious and willing to work with you, and with other members of the House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, on our chapter 19 revisions, to seek congressional sponsors for the legislation, and to dedicate ourselves to its enactment during the 106th Congress.