Federal Advocacy: The Year in Review

December 17, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

The 113th Congress has come to a close, marking the end of a historically unproductive and largely dysfunctional term. While political and economic factors created new advocacy challenges in 2014, AALL members rose to the occasion and helped to achieve real progress on several of the Association’s Public Policy Positions. Here’s a roundup of action on our priorities in the past year—including several lame duck developments.

GPO Gets a New Name

The recently passed “CRomnibus” spending bill for Fiscal Year 2015 (H.R. 83) included slight increases in funding for the Government Printing Office and the Library of Congress, as well as one particularly noteworthy policy change: it re-names the Government Printing Office as the Government Publishing Office. Throughout the year, AALL members worked in support of the Government Publishing Office Act of 2014 (S. 1947) to provide GPO with a name that more accurately reflects the agency’s role as the “official, digital, secure” source of federal government information in the digital age. S. 1947 was reported by the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration but never received floor time. Instead, the bill text— which also changes the titles of the public printer and deputy public printer to “director” and “deputy director” and replaces gender-specific terms with gender-neutral ones— was rolled into the spending bill and passed into law.

FOIA Reform Phased Out

Though both the House and Senate cleared their respective bills to improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2014, the FOIA Improvement Act (S. 2520) will not become law this year. After clearing a challenge from outgoing Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), the Senate bill moved to the House last Monday. Despite what appeared to be solid approval in the House, leaders in that chamber failed to put the measure on the calendar before their members adjourned for the year. The bill would have established a “presumption of openness” with government information, codifying President Obama’s 2009 directive to federal agencies. Congress is likely to revisit the issue next year.

Updates to Presidential and Federal Records Acts Enacted

This year, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 1233, the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014. This set of amendments is the first statutory change to the Federal Records Act since it was passed in 1950 and implements the important modernization of the definition of a federal record to include electronic records. It also makes several updates to the Presidential Records Act to improve access. Among several key provisions, the new law codifies the procedures by which former and incumbent presidents review presidential records for constitutional privileges and establishes a reasonable standard for release of records.

Elimination of Indexes Avoided

When the House passed the Federal Register Modernization Act (H.R. 4195) in July, AALL advocates stepped up their advocacy efforts to defend the statutory requirement to print the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations and produce indexes for these resources, which would have been eliminated by the bill. Sharing anecdotes about the usefulness of these texts and their indexes in print helped the Government Relations Office to engage with Senate staff about our concerns. The bill died in the Senate.

Privacy Safeguards on Back Burner

Efforts to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and reform the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance practices were both stalled in 2014 amid contentious party divisions. The Senate blocked consideration of the USA FREEDOM Act  (S. 2685) in December, despite support from the White House, Director of National Intelligence, Senators from both parties, tech companies, and a wide coalition of organizations for the bill to curb domestic surveillance practices. Critics of the legislation said they preferred to use the June 2015 reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act to enact reforms. A similarly popular bill, the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 1852) to update ECPA, gained 272 co-sponsors this year but was never awarded floor time because one federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, worked to keep the bill from coming to fruition. While AALL is disappointed that both efforts fizzled out, we look forward to the renewed opportunity to advance important privacy protections for individuals and library patrons in the new Congress.

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Congress Approves FY 2015 Spending Bill

December 15, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

The House and Senate have approved the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (H.R. 83), a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund most of the federal government through Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The so-called “CRomnibus” – a combination Continuing Resolution (CR) and omnibus – authorizes all discretionary spending through September 30 with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security. Funding for that agency will expire on February 27, when Republicans will attempt to roll back President Obama’s recent Executive Order on immigration policy.

The total spending level in H.R. 83 honors last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, and also makes a number of important changes to federal law.  Legislative branch spending in H.R. 83 includes a slight increase from FY 2014, allocating $4.3 billion to agencies. Under the bill, the Government Printing Office will be re-named the Government Publishing Office “to acknowledge that the information needs of Congress, Federal agencies, and the public have evolved beyond print.” AALL has worked in support of legislation to change the agency’s name, S. 1947, throughout the year. The provision will also change the titles of the public printer and deputy public printer to “director” and “deputy director,” respectively, while replacing certain gender-specific terms in current law such as “he” and “his” with gender-neutral ones. GPO will receive FY 2014 levels for Congressional Printing and Binding (renamed “Congressional Publishing”) and Salaries and Expenses (renamed “Public Information Programs of the Superintendent of Documents”). The Revolving Fund level will increase from $8,064,000 in FY 2014 to $8,757,000. The Library of Congress will also see an increase of $11 million over 2014 levels, receiving $591 million total from the package.

AALL is pleased with the change to GPO’s name and the slight increases in funding for GPO and LC. However, we are disappointed that Congress has opted to push through a spending bill that was largely crafted in secret, and once again left lawmakers with limited time to sort through the 1,603 page bill. The president is expected to sign the bill early this week.


Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments Become Law

December 3, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

Just before Thanksgiving, President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 1233, the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014. This set of amendments is the first statutory change to the Federal Records Act (FRA) since it was passed in 1950 and implements the important modernization of the definition of a federal record to include electronic records. It also makes several updates to the Presidential Records Act (PRA) to improve access.

H.R. 1233 complements ongoing efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Office of Management and Budget to implement President Obama’s 2011 Memorandum on Managing Government Records. Among several key provisions, the new law codifies the procedures by which former and incumbent presidents review presidential records for constitutional privileges and establishes a reasonable standard for release of records. Formerly, this process was controlled by an Executive Order and subject to change under different administrations. The current president and affected former president will have 60 business days to review records the Archives declares an intention to make public, and that period can be extended only once, by 30 business days. Under an executive order issued by President Obama in 2009 and a previous order by President George W. Bush, there was effectively no time limit on such reviews.

H.R. 1233 also increases the transparency of the process by requiring the Archives to make public notices of planned openings of presidential records at the same time they are sent to the White House and a former president’s representative. The Archivist of the United States is now authorized to make the final determination as to what constitutes a federal record.

AALL has worked in support of changes to the FRA and PRA that would restore the balance between a president’s ability to withhold certain records for a limited time period and the public’s right to access them for many years. We are pleased to see these important updates codified.


December Washington E-Bulletin

December 1, 2014

The December issue of the Washington E-Bulletin is available now on AALLNET.

IN THIS ISSUE
Vol. 2014, Issue 12

A LOOK AHEAD

ACT NOW

AALL IN THE STATES

ROUNDUP AND REVIEW


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