August Edition of the Washington E-Bulletin

August 29, 2008

As the end of the 110th Congress quickly approaches, find out which bills we’re tracking and why we need you to take action now to help the Law Library of Congress. Plus, learn about recent chapter news and read summaries of some newly released reports. All this and more in the August Edition of the Washington E-Bulletin!

Here is the Table of Contents from the August Edition:

TAKE ACTION NOW

-Support Still Needed for the Charles H.W. Meehan Law Library Improvement and Modernization Act (H.R. 6589)

UPDATES FROM THE HILL AND THE WASHINGTON OFFICE

-AALL Continues to Track Hot 110th Congress Items
-Library of Congress and Others Partner to Preserve Federal Agency Web Sites

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: CHAPTER NEWS

-Chapters Show Support for Law Library of Congress

FREE TIME WELL SPENT: Further Reading for the Information Policy Junkie

-Reporters Committee Releases White Paper on Access to Military Dockets
-How Will the Candidates Treat Executive Power?
-Pew Research Center Survey: How We Consume News
-NRC Report Concludes Public Outreach Improves Decision Making


New Report Says Public Outreach Improves Decision Making

August 25, 2008

A new report by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, offers more reasons for agencies to seek public participation in their decision making processes. The new report, “Public Participation in Environmental Assessment and Decision Making,” concludes that public participation, when done correctly, improves the quality of federal agencies’ decisions about the environment. Importantly, the report notes that, “Well-managed public involvement also increases the legitimacy of decisions in the eyes of those affected by them, which makes it more likely that the decisions will be implemented effectively.”

The report was sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture. See the press release here.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


Partners Join Together to Preserve Government Web Sites

August 19, 2008

Last week, the Library of Congress announced a collaborative project with the California Digital Library, the University of North Texas Libraries, the Internet Archive, and the U.S. Government Printing Office to provide permanent public access to and preserve public government web sites at the end of President Bush’s term in January 2009. According to the announcement, “This harvest is intended to document federal agencies’ online archive during the transition of government and to enhance the existing collections of the five partner institutions.” This exciting project will provide the American public with an important record of what the government looked like at this time.

While AALL is extremely pleased with this new collaboration and applauds these partner institutions, we continue to be disappointed that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will not conduct its own web harvests of federal agency web sites at the end of this presidential administration. As we wrote in the April Edition of the Washington E-Bulletin, NARA released a memorandum to agencies in March indicating that it would not harvest these web sites as it had done in the past, pointing to agencies’ responsibility to preserve their electronic records under the Federal Records Act. However, as we noted at the time, the preservation of records is not the same as a capture of agency web sites, since the latter provides the public with an image and understanding of the government during a specific period of time.

In April, AALL signed on to a letter to Allen Weinstein, the Archivist of the United States, urging him to rescind the decision and continue NARA’s web harvesting program. Unfortunately, NARA’s decision stands, making the new collaboration between the Library of Congress, the California Digital Library, the University of North Texas Libraries, the Internet Archive, and the U.S. Government Printing Office essential to providing permanent public access to and preserving the federal government’s digital information. We thank all of the partners for their strong commitment to digital preservation.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


EPA Settles Dispute with Union over Closed Libraries

August 18, 2008

On Monday, August 11, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) announced an agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238 to re-open the five closed EPA libraries with adequate librarian services and research facilities. The Memorandum of Agreement states that EPA will:

  • Provide adequate space and resources to accommodate in-person interactions between library staff and patron(s)
  • Establish and maintain an on-site collection of materials developed and tailored to meet local/regional needs
  • Retain one or more experienced, professional librarians with a Masters in Library Science (MLS) degree to provide on-site support to EPA staff and the public via phone, email, or in person, and library support staff as needed to support the mission of the Library

The agreement addresses some of the concerns that AALL, the Medical Library Association (MLA), and the Special Libraries Association (SLA) highlighted in a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN-6), Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI-15), and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA-30), Chairmen of the committees with jurisdiction over EPA. In that letter, we thanked the Chairmen for their opposition to the EPA library closures and expressed our continued concern over EPA’s published plan to reopen the agency’s closed libraries.

The letter outlines three major concerns stemming from EPA’s National Library Network Report to Congress: first, that EPA should further define the scope of the libraries’ required core collections; second, that EPA should lay out the requirements for hiring knowledgeable professional staff; and third, that EPA must work with the relevant unions and other stakeholders to ensure adequate space for the libraries. We asked the four committee chairmen to urge EPA to clarify its plans on these three items. Questions about the scope of the libraries’ required core collections and professional staff qualifications still remain, and the Washington Affairs Office will continue to closely follow these issues and keep you updated with the latest news.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


Congress is Atwitter over Twitter, and More

August 12, 2008

As members of Congress explore new technologies like YouTube and Twitter, it’s worth noting some of the interesting consequences this is having on the public’s ability to have access to Congress and the legislative process.

According to Conor Kenny, managing editor of Congresspedia, 33 members of Congress are currently using Twitter, a popular social networking and microblogging service. Twitter allows users to write 140-character posts, intended to answer the question “What are you doing?”. Posts by members of Congress range from live updates from the House floor to more formal posts intended to function as news items. Recently, Rep. John Culberson’s ( R-TX-7 ) used Twitter and the video sharing site Qik to report, from the House floor, the Republicans protest of the House’s failure to hold a vote on energy legislation before the start of the Congressional recess.

Congress is currently reconsidering the restrictions placed on Internet usage by members of Congress. A proposal by Rep. Michael E. Capuano ( D-MA-8 ) offers new guidelines for the Franking Commission to restrict member’s use of commercial web sites like YouTube and Twitter unless certain conditions are met. Rep. Capuano’s guidelines include that, “official content should not be posted on a website or page where it may appear with commercial or political information.” House Minority Leader John Boehner ( R-OH-8 ) released a memo criticizing Rep. Capuano’s proposal as an “attack on free speech.”

These latest developments in the use of technology by members of Congress raise many important questions, including the value of non-traditional communications mechanisms, the need for Congress to be more open about its proceedings so that members of the public can have better access to the legislative process, and the importance of balancing innovation with standards to protect the abuse of taxpayer money. This debate will likely continue to play out as new technologies advance and Congress explores how to effectively use them. We’ll keep an eye on how this unfolds.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


New Bill Would Prevent Presidents from Making Secret Changes to Executive Orders

August 8, 2008

A bill introduced in the Senate last week would prevent the President from secretly modifying or revoking a published executive order. The bill, S. 3405, the “Executive Order Integrity Act of 2008,” is sponsored by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). As reported by Secrecy News, the bill comes in response to an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion, revealed last year by Sen. Whitehouse, who, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was granted access to OLC secret opinions.

Sen. Whitehouse found that, according to one secret opinion, “There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new Executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous Executive order. Rather than violate an Executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.”

To prevent a President from changing an Executive Order in secret, S. 3405 would require that notice be placed in the Federal Register within 30 days if a President revokes, modifies, waives, or suspends a published Executive Order or similar directive.

Steven Aftergood, author of Secrecy News, testified last April at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government,” on the various categories of secret law, including FISA Court Opinions, OLC opinions, and secret Presidential Directives. More information about the hearing, including testimony of all witnesses, is available on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s web site here.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


Take Action Now! Support Funding for the Law Library of Congress

August 5, 2008

As Congress heads home for August recess, please consider contacting your House Representative with an urgent request to co-sponsor H.R. 6589, the Charles H.W. Meehan Law Library Improvement and Modernization Act. This bill, which AALL and the American Bar Association have been working toward for years, will authorize a one-time, additional $3.5 million for the Law Library of Congress and its own separate line item in the Federal budget beginning in FY 2010. It will also establish the Charles H.W. Meehan Law Library Support Program, which will allow outside funding to be raised and provided to the Law Library for new enhanced services, such as interlibrary loan and electronic document delivery.

Please see our Action Alert, which includes background information and a sample message. In order to move this bill through the House, we need additional co-sponsors. The August recess is the perfect time to call your Representative’s district office or set up a meeting with his or her staff. It is especially important to contact members of the Committee on House Administration to thank them for their support and members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch to ask that they co-sponsor H.R. 6589.

A strong Law Library of Congress is important to every law librarian and legal researcher. We need your help to ensure that our nation’s Law Library of Congress becomes the first-rate law library that legal researchers, members of the public, and Congress deserve. Please take action now!

For more information on this and other information policy issues we’re following, please see the July Edition of the Washington E-bulletin, our monthly publication offering the latest policy news, updates from the Washington Affairs Office and AALL chapters, and further reading for “the information policy junkie.”

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


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