AALL Government Relations Office: Special Program: A Sea Change in Access...

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Prepared remarks of
Bruce McConnell
before the
American Association of Law Libraries

July 23, 1997

I am pleased to appear before you this afternoon to discuss the Administration's views on how we can more effectively manage the Government's printing and information dissemination activities, and our approach to the reform of Title 44. I am particularly pleased with the spirit of cooperation which the library community, the Congress, and other parties are taking are bring to this effort.

For four years now, we have made very little progress. Only now is it becoming clear to all parties that there are real Constitutional issues, and real issues about the most cost-effective ways to disseminate government information. Meanwhile, we are seeing the technology crash ahead.

So you can imagine my pleasure, and indeed relief, when the new Staff Director of the Joint Committee on Printing, Eric Peterson, came to OMB and said "let*,s solve this in our lifetime." Our response was to note, as former OMB Director Alice Rivlin testified in 1994, and as Sally Katzen testified in 1995 and again in 1996, that three problems must be addressed if we are to have a successful transition:

  • the Constitutional issues described by the Justice Department
    must be resolved;

  • the Government Printing Office must be put on a firmer and
    more businesslike footing; and,

  • mechanisms must be developed to preserve and enhance
    the role of the Depository Library Program.

Mr. Peterson assured us that everything was on the table, and that we could dispense with preconceived notions.

Accordingly, the Administration is committed to working with the Congress to comprehensively reform the printing and related provisions of Title 44 to assure that Congress' mandate for an informed citizenry is met in the face of advancing technology. I believe we are making progress.

First, I firmly believe that the long-standing separation of powers issue can be resolved.

Second, I think there is receptivity to permitting the Executive branch to determine its own printing policies, under statutory principles. This would provide greater flexibility to make the transition carefully, humanely, and cost-effectively to a more electronic way of doing business. Perhaps more importantly, this approach would lead to Executive branch printing policy that is developed in close cooperation with the customer agencies. By having the Executive branch, in effect, "own" the policy, I believe that many of the problems expressed regarding "compliance" with the present defective scheme will be alleviated. We also believe that increased flexibility will, by the force of competition, reduce the costs and improve the timeliness and quality of producing government documents. Such improvement is an absolute must in today's budget environment. On this point, we intend to rely even more than we do today on the commercial printing industry to meet government requirements, and to assure that industry continues to have convenient, centralized access to information about government printing opportunities.

The third area is the need to preserve and enhance public access to government information. Accordingly, the core functions of the Superintendent of Documents -- cataloguing, managing the sales program, and supporting the Depository Library Program -- should be retained. In addition, a system of strong but practical checks and balances need to be in place to assure that any new printing regime in fact enhances public access through the Depository Libraries. The agency buy-in I mentioned earlier is a key part of that system. But we also recognize that incentives, and disincentives, will need to be built in so that the system operates organically to assure public access, without requiring detailed "policing" by the Congress or OMB.

Beyond revamping the current arrangements for information on paper, we must deal with information dissemination in the electronic era. In essence we must assure that the electronic bookshelves of the 21st Century are continuously restocked. We must do this in a way that recognizes and enables the migration towards an even more electronic government and a more electronic Depository Library Program, solves the *&fugitive*8 document problem, and does so in a manner consistent with the Freedom of Information Act and the Copyright Act. On the one hand, simply stating that all government information of potential informative value to the public must be accessible through the library program is too simplistic. On the other hand, it would not be appropriate for legislation to spell out with specificity what particular technologies and standards are to be used to achieve the general goal.

Accordingly, we look to the future of information dissemination and the depository libraries as one which relies in substantial part on distributed network-based information dissemination -- for example by using the Internet and the World-Wide Web which is experiencing such explosive growth and is in part the very source of our dilemma -- in lieu of physically handling and housing great volumes of paper publications. Our challenge is to construct a strong program that meets the needs of the libraries and American public, ensures permanent access, has an adequate coordinating and oversight mechanism, and at the same time capitalizes on advanced search capabilities, data warehousing, distributed networks, and decentralized dissemination from agencies.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we believe the result may look similar to the government*,s new information technology model itself -- centralized policy oversight with distributed management, acquisition, implementation, and operations. We have been using this model to implement the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996 (ITMRA). The ITMRA replaced a thirty year system of centralized policy and operational micro-management with a system empowering agencies to manage their own IT investments, while at the same time holding them accountable. The result has been an enthusiastic embrace of these new duties and responsibilities and an unprecedented level of cooperation among agencies, and between the agencies and OMB.

Central among its provisions, the ITMRA established agency Chief Information Officers -- who are accountable directly to their agency heads -- as the responsible focal points for information resources management. This includes compliance with the public information dissemination requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act and A-130. Accordingly, it may be appropriate to link the requirements regarding printing and information dissemination to the other information resources management responsibilities of the Chief Information Officer.

Turning to specifics, as you know we have been engaged in a series of quiet discussions with staff of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. While many details remain unresolved, the broad outlines of an approach are emerging. I understand that Eric Peterson, the JCP Staff Director shared our general approach with some of you yesterday, and I want to take the opportunity today to do the same. As Eric mentioned, this is only a preliminary approach, and one that we are very much interested in putting on the table for discussion. Title 44 should be amended soon, but such an undertaking should not be done in haste. Accordingly such discussion and consultation is very important.

There are perhaps six key features to the emerging solution that are worth mentioning:

  1. The GPO will continue to operate in the Legislative Branch handling the production and procurement of Congressional printing, and available to Executive and Judicial Branch agencies as an optional source of printing.

  2. The Superintendent of Documents will continue to be a Legislative Branch employee, responsible for the Depository Library Program and for the cataloguing and sales programs.

  3. Executive branch agencies will be permitted increased choice in how they acquire printing services. They may choose to buy from or through GPO as they do today, they may procure through one of a handful of Executive branch "Executive agents," or directly from private sector printers. We will limit the scope of agency "in-house" printing, and all procurement opportunities will be posted through a centralized system for the benefit of both the SupDocs and the private sector printing industry.

  4. Through the use of procurement regulations, agencies will be required to notify the Superintendent of Documents prior to the production of information products that are likely to be of interest to the public, so that the Superintendent may "ride" the production order for the Depository Libraries.

  5. Failure by agencies to make timely notification to the Superintendent of Documents will be prevented and, if necessary, corrected, by a variety of safeguards, including a requirement that the agencies provide the copies of the fugitive documents to the SupDocs at their own expense.

  6. On the electronic side, provision will be made for long-term access to electronic documents.

I am confident that these discussions are producing a balanced approach. It is our intent to circulate widely a draft bill that would codify these arrangements in August, with a goal of introducing consensus legislation early in September.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to our panel discussion.