The National Academy of Public Administration recently released the results of its 10 month independent operational review of the Government Printing Office (GPO), which was mandated by the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 112-74). A panel of 5 Academy fellows reviewed past reports; interviewed stakeholders in Congress, the printing industry and the library community (including me and AALL’s Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) Task Force chair Sally Holterhoff); and conducted an online survey of FDLP libraries. Ultimately, the Panel made 15 recommendations that are “designed to position the federal government for the digital age, strengthen GPO’s business model, and continue to build the GPO of the future.”
AALL supports several of the recommendations, including that Congress should establish a collaborative interagency process to develop and implement a government-wide strategy for managing the lifecycle of digital government information (Recommendation 1); that GPO should work with depository libraries and other library groups to develop a comprehensive plan for preserving the print collection of government documents (Recommendation 3); and that GPO should continue to work with the depository library community to develop a strategic plan for the FDLP (Recommendation 5). We were also pleased to see the Panel’s repeated acknowledgment of the public’s need for permanent public access to authentic government information in tangible and electronic formats.
However, we are very concerned about Recommendation 4, which states that “GPO and Congress should explore alternative funding models for the Federal Digital System in order to ensure a stable and sufficient funding source.” Funding models include reimbursement for services; fees for end users; dedicated appropriations; and/or an automatic charge to agencies, depending on size, to encourage agencies to take advantage of GPO’s existing infrastructure and cover the cost of the services being provided by GPO. By far, the suggestion to charge the end user (the public) to access FDsys content receives the longest explanation and causes the most concern. Charging for FDsys violates AALL policy that digital government information disseminated via government websites must be available at no cost. Implementing user fees for FDsys content would be a giant step backward in GPO’s efforts to promote democracy and “Keep America Informed.” As the report itself states, “free access of government information is an important tenet of a democracy.” We agree, and strongly oppose any effort to charge the public for digital content created by the federal government.
Overall, the NAPA report supports GPO’s ongoing transition to “reboot” itself for the digital age and commends the agency for its progress in meeting the needs of 21st century government information users. AALL will continue to work with GPO, members of Congress, and our allies to ensure GPO has the support it needs to “produce, protect, preserve, and distribute documents of our democracy.”