Washington Brief - May 2005

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By Mary Alice Baish

Dateline: March 18, 2005

GPO to Continue Print Distribution through the FDLP
In last month's column, I reported on plans announced in January by Superintendent of Documents Judy Russell to distribute to depository libraries only the 50 titles listed on the Essential Titles for Public Use in Paper Format beginning in October 2005. This was extremely problematic for our community because the Essential Titles List, last revised in 2000, does not include important materials including administrative decisions and other legal materials, as well as Senate and House reports, documents, and hearings that inform the citizenry of the workings of Congress. Once again, law librarians saved the day by responding quickly to the Action Alert posted on January 26th and contacting members of their congressional delegation about this latest threat to public access to authenticated legal materials through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). (www.ll.georgetown.edu/ aallwash/aa01262005.html)

In addition, on February 16th our Executive Board endorsed the AALL Resolution Opposing GPO's Plan to Eliminate Important Titles in Print Prior to Establishing a Reliable Electronic System. (www.ll.georgetown.edu/ aallwash/re021605.html) The resolution urges the Government Printing Office (GPO) to establish a reliable system ensuring version control, authenticity, adequate distribution, permanent public access and preservation of electronic information before discontinuing production and distribution of print documents—currently the only authenticated version of critical official government legal information—to depository libraries. It also urges Congress to: first, provide adequate appropriations to GPO for print distribution and its important digital initiatives; second, require that GPO maintain production and distribution of authenticated print legal materials at adequate levels until a reliable system for electronic information is in place; and, third, hold timely oversight hearings on GPO's new initiatives and changes to the FDLP. With huge pressure from members of Congress to reverse GPO's plans, on March 1st Ms. Russell announced via various listervs that,

  • "GPO will continue to expand electronic information offerings through the FDLP and will continue to provide for dissemination of tangible products to depository libraries in accordance with existing policy, in full consultation with the library community."
  • "GPO's Superintendent of Documents will actively seek the guidance and input of the library community in planning for and implementing changes in the dissemination of Government information products in either electronic or tangible formats."
She also announced that the plan to initiate a Print on Demand (POD) Allowance Program of $500 for selective depository libraries would be put on hold until a small pilot POD project can be conducted in consultation with the Depository Library Council (DLC) and the broader library community. This consultation will officially begin at the DLC's April 17-20th meeting in Albuquerque. On March 4th, Ms. Russell announced a new survey for depository libraries to identify additional titles to be added to the Essential Titles List (www.gpoaccess.gov/essential/). The stated purpose of the survey is to help GPO determine the resources that will be necessary to provide these materials to depository libraries in print or other tangible format. In a clear victory for our community, Ms. Russell announced that GPO had already added to the Essential Titles List congressional publications, including reports, documents, hearings, and prints; the House and Senate Journals; Supreme Court slip decisions; and the Code of Federal Regulations.

The AALL community is taking the survey very seriously, even though we have many questions about it and how its results will be used. Depository librarians are especially concerned that each library can recommend only ten titles they would like to see added to the Essential Titles List. Ms. Russell is on record as stating that, "No changes in existing policy or program practice regarding the dissemination of tangible products will be implemented until the results of these efforts have been fully reviewed in consultation with the library community and GPO's oversight committees in Congress." Nonetheless, the law depository library community will be in Albuquerque next month in full force to participate in these important discussions. Stay tuned for an update on the DLC meeting in next month's column.

New Momentum in Congress to Strengthen FOIA
Thanks to the bipartisan leadership of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Judiciary Committee, and its Ranking Member, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), there are two new bills in Congress to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Senators Cornyn and Leahy jointly introduced the Openness Promotes Effectiveness in Our National Government (OPEN) Act of 2005 (S. 394) on February 16th. The OPEN Government Act promotes accountability, accessibility, and openness in the federal government by strengthening and enhancing FOIA. A companion bill, H.R. 867, was introduced in the House the same day by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-21-TX).

In addition, Senators Cornyn and Leahy once again joined forces by cosponsoring the Faster FOIA Act of 2005 on March 10th. This second bill is very important in that it would establish a 16-member FOIA commission to be charged with reporting to Congress and the President on recommendations for steps that should be taken to reduce delays in the processing of FOIA requests. It also would strengthen agency reporting requirements on how quickly agencies respond to these requests. There are documented cases where agencies have not yet responded to FOIA requests made over ten years ago. Sen. Cornyn chaired a March 15th hearing of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, entitled: "Openness in Government and Freedom of Information: Examining the OPEN Government Act of 2005." This was the first time since 1992 that the Senate has held an oversight hearing to examine agency compliance with FOIA. Senators Cornyn and Leahy hope to move the less contentious Faster FOIA Act quickly through Congress so that they have an early victory to create momentum for the OPEN Government Act.

Both senators have a longstanding commitment to public access. Sen. Cornyn, former Texas attorney general and member of the Texas Supreme Court before his election to Congress in 1992, has long been recognized as helping Texas develop one of the strongest and most robust freedom of information laws in the country. In fact, Cornyn received the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas' 2001 James Madison Award for his efforts to promote open government. As he said in his opening comments at this week's hearing, "it's long past time to bring a little of our Texas sunshine to Washington." For his part, Sen. Leahy was the principal author of the 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments (P.L. 104-231) which updated FOIA for the Internet Age. That bill was the last significant FOIA legislation passed by Congress. AALL strongly supports these bills, and I've promised both Senators' staff that law librarians would help get additional cosponsors. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to cosponsor these important bills to strengthen FOIA. Thank you!

Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
Edward B. Williams Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-1417
202/662-9200 * FAX:202/662-9202

copyright © 2005, American Association of Law Libraries