3.1146 USA news: access to government e-info (126)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Wed, 7 Mar 90 20:01:35 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1146. Wednesday, 7 Mar 1990.

Date: Wed, 7 Mar 90 10:47:05 EST
Subject: Access to Electronic Government Information, Part I

Part I, 104 lines

From->Ivy Anderson <ANDERSON@brandeis.bitnet>
Subject->Access to Electronic Government Information

A recent PACS-L posting alerted us to impending legislation which
would limit public access to electronic government information, but I
thought PACS-L subscribers might be interested in this more detailed
report being circulated by GODORT. Interestingly, this was forwarded to
me by a member of our computer science faculty, who received it from
a colleague at Digital Equipment's Cambridge Research Lab.

Ivy Anderson
Brandeis University Libraries
Government Documents Round Table/American Library Association

DATE: January 31, 1990

FROM: GODORT Executive Committee

TO: National Action Alert Network Contacts, Librarians, and
Library Users

On January 23, 1990, Rep. Jim Bates, and others, introduced a
bill, HR 3849, To amend title 44, United States Code, to reform
the public information functions of the Public Printer and the
Superintendent of Documents. If passed into law unaltered, this
legislation could very well firmly establish a formal structure
for the imposition of user fees for access to public information
existing only online with the federal government. It would also
limit the Depository Library Program to distributing government
information in electronic format only on compact discs or computer
tape, and ultimately prevent the Government Printing Office from
becoming the type of electronic publisher it will need to be for
it to be viable in the next decade and into the 21st Century.
HR 3849, as introduced by the Committee on House
Administration, will do this in three ways:

1. By legislating that agreements for disseminating electronic
services must describe terms for users and libraries to share the
cost of disseminating online electronic information, the bill
establishes, for the first time in the 100 year history of the
Depository Library Program, that users of government information
may be required to pay directly for access to the information
their taxes paid to accumulate. The bill proposes adding to 44
USC, section 1902 (b), which states in part that access to
information services MAY be made available to depository libraries
subject to specific agreements between the Superintendent of
Documents, head of the GPO, and the government agency issuing the
the service. The agreements must "describe the terms and
conditions of access...such as contributions from service

2. By changing the definition of "government publication" the bill
will effectively exclude electronic information services, such as
bulletin boards and other online data, from being considered
government publications. New language amending section 1901 of
title 44 will define "publication" as any "...tangible format,
medium, or substrate..." and effectively exclude electronic
"services" from being considered as government information which
falls into the category of that which should be disseminated
freely as part of an agency's informational mission. CD-ROMs and
computer tapes would be covered under this definition, but any
database requiring telecommunications access would not!

3. By changing the definition of "printing" the bill would
restrict the publishing of the Government Printing Office to only
printed materials, that is paper and microform. In addition,
government agencies would not be required to cooperate with the
GPO in developing and distributing electronic products, as they
would be with "printed" materials. With the language that HR 3849
would amend in sections 501 and 502 of title 44, "printing" to be
done at the GPO would be strictly of the 19th Century variety, and
procurement of information products would be again limited to a
"tangible format, medium, or substrate." An additional new
section, 1723, would also limit GPO distribution and sales to the
"tangible" definition!

This bill could destroy the only available avenue of "no-fee"
access to all electronic forms of government information, and
restrict the Depository Library Program from providing access to
the ever increasing number of electronic databases being used by
the government to replace printed materials. These amendments to
the current law will stifle a program that, as originally intended
by Congress, has provided EQUITABLE access to government
information for ALL citizens in an environment unencumbered by
political or economic motive. Depository libraries already bear a
large share of the cost of disseminating government information to
the public. Government fees for the use of public data online
could mean that many libraries will not be able to afford to
disseminate vital information to the citizens of many
congressional districts.
Other legislation pending before Congress (S 1724 & HR 3695)
would require agencies to consider the availability of an
electronic information product or service in the private sector
before development could proceed. If passed within that overall
legislative context, as more and more information is available
only electronically, and as increasing amounts of it are available
only from private publishers, this bill will shift more and more
costs to users and libraries, and mean less and less access to
government information.
(Continued in Part II)
Robert Philip Weber, Ph.D. | Phone: (617) 495-3744
Senior Consultant | Fax: (617) 495-0750
Academic and Planning Services |
Division |
Office For Information Technology| Internet: weber@popvax.harvard.edu
Harvard University | Bitnet: Weber@Harvarda
50 Church Street |
Cambridge MA 02138 |