Our mission

Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

RIP Russ Kick, “rogue transparency activist”

It is with much shock and sadness that I learned a few days ago that Russ Kick (1969 – 2021) had passed away. Russ was a FOIA champion and government transparency activist among his many other talents. While I didn’t know him personally, I had on occasion emailed with him and worked with groups working on FOIA and records schedule issues that included him (he was dogged in tracking and pursuing records destruction requests from federal agencies!) I frequently mined his altgov2 site and the memory hole before that looking for FOIA’d government documents to save in our digital repository and catalog for wider access. Needless to say — though he probably didn’t know it — Russ had a HUGE impact on me, on government information libraries, and on FOIA and the public’s right to know about the workings of their government. Please check out Seven Stories Press and Washington Post for more official obituaries.

Molly Crabapple, comics artist and colleague of Russ Kick, put Russ’ impact on the world into unique perspective:

I first found Russ Kick when I was thirteen, through his book Outposts. For a friendless goth kid like me, Kick was the exact sort of guide I needed. Like a punk-rock Virgil, Russ’s work led countless young people like me to the exact sort of places that America tried to hide—to the dangerous, thrilling, strange, ludicrous and beautiful realms where we imagined we could belong. I was an immediate devotee; his formative bad influence helped shape my own artistic path. With his Disinformation series, Russ challenged power. He peeled the censored bars off of redacted documents, and kicked down the doors of the pompous and mendacious, to reveal their skulduggery to the world. His work was transgressive, subversive, and irreverent of piety—all qualities in short supply today. Russ Kick showed the possibilities of life. Many years later, I was lucky enough to have Russ as an editor on The Graphic Canon. Never meet your idols, they say, particularly the ones of the gonzo variety, but in Russ’s case, this would have been bad advice. He was unfailingly kind, supportive, generous and perceptive. I cannot fathom the loss of such a man, but the world is made more narrow by his absence.

Government recommendations to preserve government information not preserved by government

James and I are writing a book on preserving government information. In the course of researching the book, we find ourselves hunting down government publications that we need but that are not available from the government or from any FDLP library. Each of these documents has its own explanation for why it is missing and each explanation tells a story about the gaps in preservation of government information.

This is one of those stories. Think of this as a long footnote to a future book.

In 2002, Congress established the Interagency Committee on Government Information (ICGI). One of its charges (more…)

Integrated 2020 Redistricting Data (PL94-171) from CISER

Thanks to the Cornell Center for Social Sciences (nee CISER) for posting the Census bureau’s Integrated 2020 Redistricting Data (PL94-171).

“On August 12, 2021, the Census Bureau released the Public Law 94-171 data, also known as Redistricting Data, in four (4) parts per state. Users who want to have the complete redistricting dataset for a state in one file have to integrate these four parts of the Census Bureau files.

We’ve integrated the four parts and made them available in convenient ready-to-use formats — SAS, SPSS, STATA, and CSV. We’ve also made available SAS, STATA, and SPSS programs to read the CSV files, label the variables, and assign variables their correct type (as per the data dictionary).”

Article from Legislative Studies Quarterly analyzes CRS reports to delve into expert consultation in Congress

Thanks FirstBranchForecast for posting about this recent research and analysis about how often legislators in Congress consult expert witnesses and information. Fagan and McGee analyzed every Congressional Research Service (CRS) report at EveryCRSReport.com from 1997-2017 in order to come up with their findings.

The researchers note “Consultation between elected policymakers and experts is important to functional policymaking in a democracy…In order for elected officials to solve salient problems, they must search for subject-matter experts to define
problems and develop effective solutions.” The article of course validates what government information librarians have known for many years, that CRS reports are critical documents for legislators, students, researchers, and the public. But also that expert guidance for legislation is vital to the creation of legislation that looks to solve the country’s various problems.

*Apologies that this article is behind a paywall. If your library doesn’t have a subscription to Legislative Studies Quarterly, please do an interlibrary loan request.

Fagan, E. J., and Zachary A. McGee.
“Problem Solving and the Demand for Expert Information in Congress.”
Legislative Studies Quarterly (2020)
http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/lsq.12323

Data and replication materials available on Harvard’s Dataverse at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/PAWMSP.

The demand for expert information in Congress is the topic of a new academic article written by political scientists E.J. Fagan and Zachary McGee. They analyzed all the CRS reports at EveryCRSReport.com from 1997-2017 (thank you!) to evaluate “the extent to which legislators consult expertise in order to address salient problems.” (They used our database and not Congress’s because it is a “better database, with a comprehensive list of all reports, revision history, and metadata.”) Their findings: there’s a consistent short-term relationship between demand for expert information and issues that the public lists as the most important problem facing the country.

FirstBranchForecast

FGI comment on GPO RFC re Regional Online Selections Draft Policy

Last fall, GPO announced a new Superintendent of Documents (SOD) draft policy statement “Regional Depository Libraries Online Selections.” GPO surveyed regional depository libraries and released the results of that survey in February, 2021. They’re also asking the wider library community and interested parties for comment DUE MAY 16, 2021.

FGI has submitted a comment regarding this proposed policy change. Below is the text of our comment. In short, this policy change could negatively impact the preservation of and long-term access to the National Collection. Our suggestion was to change the policy and add a “digital deposit” requirement:

“Regional depository libraries may select “online” as a format IF AND ONLY IF regionals participate in a “digital deposit” program and agree to receive, host, and provide access to digital FDLP publications.”

We hope others will submit comments BY MAY 16, 2021!

Thank you for requesting comments from the Federal Depository Library community for this proposed major policy change for regional library collection management.

Suggested edit of draft policy:

“Regional depository libraries may select “online” as a format IF AND ONLY IF regionals participate in a “digital deposit” program and agree to receive, host, and provide access to digital FDLP publications.”

We at FGI have 2 concerns regarding this proposed policy change.

The first concern has to do with the current practice described in the background section of the proposed SOD:

“…they [regionals] no longer are receiving all new and revised tangible versions for all titles through the FDLP. Nor are regional depository libraries necessarily retaining a printed or microfacsimile version of what they receive.”

According to 44 U.S. Code § 1912, Regional libraries are required to receive and “retain at least one copy of all Government publications either in printed or microfacsimile form.” How many regional libraries are no longer following the requirements of the statute? What is GPO doing to assure that the letter and spirit of Title 44 are being followed by regional libraries? Rather than codifying this bad behavior, GPO should be doing more to help regionals fulfill the requirements of the statute and assure the long-term viability of the FDLP for all of the libraries and the wider public that rely on regionals. Any proposed SOD should seek to correct this unfortunate situation.

Our second concern has to do with the proposed policy change itself.

“Regional depository libraries may select “online” as a format, without having to make a corresponding tangible selection, for titles or series accessible through GPO’s system of online access, a trusted digital repository, or from official digital preservation steward partners.”

One of the primary functions of regional libraries is to participate in the long-term preservation of US government publications. Indeed, retention (ie., preservation) is written into 44 U.S. Code § 1912 itself. Selective libraries across the country rely heavily on this regional requirement to manage their FDLP collections.

The existing law is clear: “In addition to fulfilling the requirements for depository libraries” regional depositories must “retain at least one copy of all Government publications either in printed or microfacsimile form (except those authorized to be discarded by the Superintendent of Documents).” The only other mention in the law of the Superintendent being able to authorize discarding is for “superseded publications or those issued later in bound form which may be discarded as authorized by the Superintendent of Documents” (§ 1911).

As the Senate Report on the bill stated, “Complete document collections would thus be accessible to all the regular depositories within the State, enabling them to be more selective in the items they would request” (S. Rep. 1587, 87th Cong., 2d Sess. 1962). The legislative history is clear that the establishment of Regional Depositories was designed both to allow selectives to discard publications after five years and to ensure that all publications would be available from a Regional.

The law has not changed and this policy would contradict both the letter and intent of the law.

Although GPO continues to promulgate policies that wrongly equate “online access” with “deposit,” no change in the law allows this. We welcome online access and the efforts GPO is making to ensure preservation of digital government information, but, as GPO’s draft policy says, the policy is rooted in the past, in choices made twenty-five years ago. It would be wiser and more sustainable to base new decisions in the current and developing capabilities of FDLP libraries rather than on the past. We suggest that there is a better path that conforms to the existing law, enhances preservation, and improves access and use of digital government information. Our suggested edit looks to a future of GPO and FDLP libraries collaborating together to preserve and give access to the National Collection.

We suggest that, until Title 44 is changed, GPO should choose a simple and effective alternative that will accomplish more than GPO’s proposal.

We recommend a policy of allowing a regional depository to choose digital copies of government publications (instead of printed or microfacsimile) IF AND ONLY IF it agrees to actually receive, host, and provide access to those digital files. The SOD could do this by, for example, making regional selection and deposit format-agnostic or adding digital formats to the list of currently anachronistic “tangible” formats.

Our suggestion begins by respecting the existing law, which mandates that multiple copies of government publications be held for both preservation and access by libraries outside the government. For “access” our suggestion will allow libraries to provide digital services for specific designated communities. For preservation, it ensures against intentional or unintentional loss of access, corruption of content, or outright loss of information in the government’s care.

Our suggestion is also compatible with the work of the The Digital Deposit Working Group of the Depository Library Council (on which James is participating), which is currently working on recommendations for digital deposit based on FDLP community feedback which would directly contradict GPO’s proposed regional policy. Our proposal looks to a future of digital deposit. Indeed, ten regional libraries are already receiving and preserving all content published in govinfo.gov through the LOCKSS-USDOCS program. Our proposal provides GPO the opportunity to create a policy that will lay a solid foundation for the digital FDLP, increase participation by FDLP libraries, and enhance services for the National Collection.

It has long been established that the preservation of born-digital government information is a challenging endeavor. It also should be clear that a one-size-fits-all model of “access” without digital services is inadequate in the digital age. GPO cannot and should not go it alone. GPO needs multiple partners to participate in digital preservation and in the provision of digital services.

GPO’s proposed SOD, rather than strengthening the long-term viability of the digital FDLP, erodes its very foundation by literally erasing the critical, legislatively-required job for which regionals were created. Any library or individual can do what the draft SOD suggests (point to govinfo.gov), but FDLP libraries could do so much more. They can complement what GPO does by providing official, legislatively-mandated, redundant preservation, and by providing enhanced digital services targeted to specific OAIS designated communities.

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