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Re-Branding of Government Printing Office (GPO), Long Overdue

May 7th, 2014 by

The Government Printing Office (GPO) opened its doors the day that Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th President of the United States. It was created by Congress in June 1860 and began operations on in March 1861. For the past 152 years, the GPO has played a critical role in keeping the nation informed by publishing essential congressional titles and a myriad of publications from the executive & judicial branch of government.

But the demand for federal print products has declined by half over the past twenty years, while the demand for information that government creates has only increased. At present nearly 97 percent of federal documents are now created electronically.

GPO leaders have made great progress in “rebooting” the agency for the digital age by moving from a print-centric to a content -centric focus.

For several years,GPO worked on developing the state-of-the-art search interface, FdSys, that succeeded the long-standing GPO Access front end. GPO has also developed software to assure the authenticity of the digital information it provides.

The new GPO mantra is “Official, Digital, Secure”.

GPO has also moved into the expanding field of producing secure credentials and passports for the government.

The division of GPO most traditionally related to public access to government information, the Federal Depository Library Program ( FDLP), has also been fundamentally affected by technological change.(p.39)  With information available on the open web, participation in the program, will now mean accepting responsibility for expert assistance for locating and utilizing online government information.

While GPO has been moving in a new direction, it’s legacy name, Government Printing Office, still harkens back to a previous era that is disappearing fast. Moving into the future requires a re-branding of the GPO to truly reflect and facilitate its emerging new identity.

The new Public Printer DavitaVance-Cooks calls “Government Printing Office ” a misnomer. “I personally believe we should be called Government Publishing Office,”  Now Congress is officially moving to rename the agency.

On Jan 22, 2014, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Saxby Chambliss introduced legislation to change the U.S. Government Printing Office’s (GPO) name to the Government Publishing Office. April 15, 2014, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration has moved it  forward for full Senate for consideration.

The time for officially recognizing the growing digital nature of the GPO, is long overdue. Hopefully, soon it will be known as the “Government Publishing Office”.

Indiana Legislature Passes Public Access Bill

March 26th, 2012 by

The 2012 lndiana legislative session is now completed. The Republican majority in the legislature mainly focused on their hot agenda items, including successfully passing Right to Work legislation. However, they did pass a bill to improve access to information by putting some teeth into requests for access to public records.

HB1003 Public Access Issues attempts to assure access by the public to meetings conducted electronically, and also assesses a fine to public officials who deny requests for access to public records. Citizens will not be denied access to these records if:

  • They have contacted the state public access counselor
  • The public access counselor has issued an advisory opinion that instructs the agency to allow access to the public record.

This issue has been before the legislature in various forms for several years without passage. This is the first time that personal penalties will be imposed for breaking the law. Hopefully, this will strengthen open records and open meeting laws already on the books.

“Regulation.gov” Improves Reviewing & Commenting On Proposed Federal Regs

February 29th, 2012 by

Rulemaking is the policy-making process for Executive and Independent agencies of the Federal government. Agencies use this process to develop and issue new regulations.

The recently redesigned ” regulations.gov ” website has made changes that facilitate the ability of any member of the public to comment on federal government regulations proposed by executive agencies. These changes are in furtherance of  the mandates contained in  presidential executive orders .

Executive Order 12866, “Regulatory Planning and Review,” issued by President Clinton on September 30, 1993,  instructs   “…each agency should afford the public a meaningful opportunity to comment on any proposed regulation, which in most cases should include a comment period of not less than 60 days.”

Executive Order 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review , issued on January 18, 2011 by  President Obama,  directs agencies   “To promote that open exchange, each agency, consistent with Executive Order 12866 and other applicable legal requirements, shall endeavor to provide the public with an opportunity to participate in the regulatory process. To the extent feasible and permitted by law, each agency shall afford the public a meaningful opportunity to comment through the Internet on any proposed regulation, with a comment period that should generally be at least 60 days ”

To further these requirements the new site attempts to :

• Enhance the ability of the public to submit and review comments on all supporting scientific and technical documents of the rulemaking docket

• Increase public participation in the regulatory process with easier navigation, improved search and social media links to share regulatory information with others

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It includes features to help users understand the regulatory process, under the “Learn Tab”. Easy access to searching by keyword and finding regulations with comments due soon and newly posted regulations are provided under the “Search Tab” . This tab also has  Improved layout of  search results, filters and  a document spotlight.  The New “‘Browse Tab”, features regulations grouped in 10 industry-related Categories and also provides for Browsing by hundreds of topics.

Integrated social media tools like “Regulations.gov Facebook” and a  revitalized Twitter page will help educate users and  allow the public to offer input on Regulations.gov features.

Sunshine In Litigation Act Of 2011

October 26th, 2011 by

When citizens think of the issue of openness in government, they usually thinks of the Executive Branch and FOIA requests to access information. But the functioning of the Judicial Branch also creates significant but often unacknowledged instances of lack of transparency that can significantly affect public health & safety.

One such area is court-approved secrecy in the form of protective orders and sealed documents as the outcome of federal civil cases, frequently in product liability cases. Plaintiffs  have sued for injuries sustained due to such issues as medical drugs and devices, defective car parts or dangerous cribs and playground equipment. Very frequently they have had to acquiesce to defendant company demands for secrecy, to ensure that they would be individually compensated. Few plaintiff’s attorney are willing to risk challenging this demand for secrecy as it might jeopardize their client’s chances for a settlement.

Judges with heavy caseloads are concerned with achieving speedy and concrete resolutions to the cases. And so may all to often accede to the demands for secrecy.

While consumers may have reported their injuries to a government agency. Almost all the information that results from their court case becomes inaccessible after a settlement. This is information that  could be reported to alert other consumers of the hazards associated with a particular product.

This situation in our court system has been “under the radar” mostly due to the extremely restrictive confidentiality agreements that may only have the court docket showing that the action was dismissed by agreement between the parties. These practices virtually cloak the conduct of cases filed against product manufacturers, hiding the evidence of patterns of injuries that do not get disclosed to government or to the public.

“Under current law, there are no limitations on settlement agreements, reached privately or filed with the court, regarding the restriction of public health or safety information. As with protective orders, judges are free to consider public health and safety when reviewing other orders that restrict access to information, including settlement agreements, but no such consideration is required. ”

An attempt by Congress to ameliorate this legal but obviously socially costly process, has taken the form of a bill S.623, “The Sunshine In Litigation Act Of 2011″, reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee this past August. According to the report (Senate Report 112-045), the bill “…will not displace current practices under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or common law. Instead, it merely requires an additional step–consideration of public health and safety–before issuing protective orders, orders sealing court records, or settlement agreements in cases pleading facts relevant to public health and safety. ”

It is hoped that if this bill becomes law, it will put a brake on the too easily granted confidentiality in these civil cases and bring to light issues that have for too long been effectively hidden from government agencies and the public.

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Addendum :

The federal courts themselves are addressing the issue of  the too easily granted sealing of records in federal civil cases, as evidenced by their own new guidance on the practice :

From “The Third Branch”, September 2011

Judicial Conference Approves Standards & Procedures for Sealing Civil Cases

“At its September meeting, the Judicial Conference adopted a national policy that encourages federal courts to limit those instances in which they seal entire civil case files. The policy emphasizes that “an entire civil case file should only be sealed when . . . sealing . . . is required by statute or rule or justified by a showing of extraordinary circumstances and the absence of narrower feasible and effective alternatives, such as sealing discrete documents or redacting information, so that sealing an entire case file is a last resort.”

Any order sealing an entire civil case should contain findings justifying the sealing, and the seal should be lifted when the reason for sealing has ended, the policy says. The Conference also endorsed modifying the Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files system to include a mechanism “that would remind judges to review cases under seal annually.”

The wording of the guidance from the Judicial Conference, actually seems broader and more detailed than what the Sunshine In Litigation Act of 2011 proposes. Perhaps the Judiciary can require procedures that the legislature can only suggest to another branch of government. It may be beneficial to have both the judicial guidance and the possible requirements of legislation, to help change practices that have severely impaired the transparency of part of our judicail system.

Assault on printing of federal documents continues in Washington

April 28th, 2011 by

The Washington Post reported on April 25 that the Obama administration has told federal agencies to cancel their print subscriptions to Federal Register.  Though this one incident does not directly affect the availability of this title to libraries, it is part of a larger drift in Washington toward the view that the continued production of what the depository library community has defined as essential print titles has become an unsustainable drag on the federal budget, and falls right in line with calls earlier this month to eliminate the printing of the Congressional Record.

The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) drew up its list of essential print titles because these titles “contain critical information about the U.S. Government or are important reference publications for libraries and the public, and their availability for selection in paper format has been deemed essential for the purposes of the FDLP.” 

If the print versions of these titles are still important to our libraries and our users, we need to be explaining why.  Libraries were caught unprepared when Statistical Abstract and other Census Bureau titles on this list came under attack earlier this year.  We need to be proactive to stave off attacks on the other titles on this list, or be better prepared when they come.

You might want to let the White House know that the printed publication of a core list of essential titles is still a critical function of an open government.  You can provide your comments to the White House at 202-456-1111.

Indiana Legislature to Broadcast all Meetings Online

November 17th, 2010 by

Do you wish you were able to see the Indiana Legislature at work “in person” but unable to take the time to go to Indianapolis?  The Indiana legislature is getting organized for the 2011 session which starts Jan. 5th.  Those who want to closely follow the legislative process for a particular bill will be able to view live online broadcasts of any committee meetings or sessions related to their issue. 

In an Associated Press article in the Chicago Tribune, the new House Speaker Brian Bosma was quoted as saying that cameras and microphones have been installed in all Statehouse meeting rooms, and the intention is to broadcast all meetings and sessions.  Although certain meetings have been broadcast online in the past, this is the first time for across the board broadcasts.

Links to the meeting broadcasts and committee schedules are available at the Indiana General Assembly website .

Indiana Intoduces Transparency Website

September 1st, 2010 by

Indiana state auditor Tim Berry announced a one-stop portal for Indiana government financial information. The website www.transparency.in.gov will provide Hoosiers with 24/7 access to information about how Indiana is utilizing its resources.  His press release yesterday outlined the information currently available, as well as plans to expand coverage in the future. Berry said since the legislature has failed to act on transparency legislation the past two sessions, his office as well as the offices of budget and technology have taken the initiative to provide this on their own.

More Transparency in Chicago Government?

May 17th, 2010 by

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced last week that additional information about government operations and city employees is now available online as part of the city’s Transparency Initiatives.  The city’s website provides access to:

Mayor Daley’s initiative was criticized by journalists who claim that making the FOIA request log available but not the city’s responses to the requests merely allows fellow journalists and people inside the administration to see what others are investigating.   Mayor Daley’s full announcement is available on his You Tube channel.