Government Information in Peril | American Libraries Magazine

By Bernadine Abbott Hoduski

Fri, 07/29/2011 – 13:16

Librarians need to work now to preserve the GPO Federal Digital System.

Wake up, librarians! No-fee public access to government information is in danger, because on July 22 the U. S. House of Representatives voted 252–159 to drastically cut the Government Printing Office (GPO) appropriations for 2012 and eliminate funding for the GPO Federal Digital System (FDsys). FDsys was created by GPO in 1994 to fulfill the requirement of the 1993 GPO Access Act to provide online electronic government information at no charge to the American people. The cuts are part of H.R. 2551, which provides legislative branch appropriations for 2012.

We are also in danger of losing GPO, the agency charged by Congress for the past 150 years to protect the public’s access to government information, just to save a few bucks. Dismembering or privatizing GPO, as the House proposes, will not save the government any money, but it will damage public access to government information. The bill directs the Government Accountability Office to “review the feasibility of Executive Branch printing being performed by the General Services Administration, the transfer of the Superintendent of Documents program to the Library of Congress, and the privatization of the GPO” (“Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill, 2012,” House Report 112–148, July 15). Former Rep. Charlie Rose (D-N.C.), who convinced Congress in 1993 to vote for the GPO Access Act, had asked Congressional Joint Committee on Printing (JCP) staff, including myself, to draft a bill transferring Superintendent of Documents to LC but did not pursue the measure because he realized that the role of a library is very different from the role of a publisher, printer, and distributor.

The House-passed bill cuts funding for the Superintendent of Documents program from nearly $40 million to less than $34 million, making it very difficult for GPO to support the Federal Depository Library Program; the acquisition, cataloging, and dissemination of government documents; the LC International Exchange Program; and mandated distribution of publications to the three branches of government.

Congress is about to break its promise that if libraries and the public give up paper, they will still have permanent no-fee access to electronic government information. The House proposes that GPO fund FDsys by renting GPO’s unused space in its big red brick building to federal agencies. There is no guarantee that even if GPO is able to find renters by October 1 that it will collect enough money to keep FDsys in operation and allow the inclusion of new publications. Members of Congress may think they can turn to LC’s THOMAS database for legislative information, but they probably do not realize that much of THOMAS’s content is provided by GPO.   
    
GPO is the only federal agency required by law to provide publishing and dissemination services to all three branches of government, which makes it possible for GPO to fulfill Title 44 U.S. Code, “Distribution and Sale of Public Documents,” Sec. 1710–11, and “Depository Library Program,” Sec. 1903, which require GPO to identify, catalog, and disseminate government publications to the American people.  Without a centralized source for publishing services, we are in danger of losing access to more and more government documents.

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