EPA Reports: What We’ve Learned So Far

June 26, 2008

As we’ve posted here before, EPA has spent the last several months conducting listening sessions, online “Jam Sessions,” and online comment periods as part of their National Dialogue on Access to Environmental Information. The agency recently released a web page called “What We’ve Learned So Far,” which provides summaries of the various outreach efforts.

Many of the findings will not be surprising to law librarians. For example, EPA reports, “Commenters noted that even in this age of technology and Internet access, there is still a valuable and important role that libraries and communities play for providing access to information.” In addition, “Librarians pointed out the importance of the EPA libraries and the need to reopen the closed libraries.”

Also of note is the summary of listening sessions with educators, researchers, librarians, and students. EPA notes, “The critical role of research librarians was mentioned and acknowledged broadly by the group, with some participants going so far as to argue that all data or records released by EPA should include contact information for a person – or steward – who can answer technical questions or provide other informed assistance.”

These summaries provide insight into EPA’s outreach efforts and the information needs of five of EPA’s major audience groups: government officials; news media; environmental and community groups; industry; and educators, students, researchers and librarians. EPA will continue to collect comments via their discussion board and email through the end of June. Thank you to all of those who participated. If you haven’t yet submitted comments, be sure to do so in the next few days.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

AALL Testifies on GPO Funding at House Legislative Branch Appropriations Hearing

May 12, 2008

On May 7, Acting Washington Affairs Representative Mary Alice Baish testified before the House Committee on Appropriations’ Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch in support of the FY 2009 Appropriations Request of the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). Mary Alice’s testimony, endorsed by the American Library Association and the Special Libraries Association, strongly supports GPO’s Salaries & Expenses ($43.42 M), which funds the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), and Congressional Printing and Binding ($97.92 M), which funds the print publication of bills, hearings, reports and other congressional materials.

Mary Alice’s testimony [written testimony; oral testimony] urges the Subcommittee to agree to GPO’s $21.2 million request for the Federal Digital System (FDsys), GPO’s new digital system to manage Government information online. FDsys would replace the clunky, obsolete technology of GPO Access. We believe FDsys is essential to GPO’s future because it will ensure that the Federal government’s electronic information will be permanently available, authenticated and versioned, and accessible through the Internet.

Mary Alice’s testimony also highlights GPO’s progress in several areas due to the new functionalities available through FDsys. GPO has asserted itself as the source of trusted government information by adding digital signatures to certain electronic documents on GPO Access, thus ensuring the documents’ authenticity. This year, GPO launched an online collection of authenticated Public and Private Laws of the 110th Congress. In February, GPO digitally signed the 2009 Budget of the United States Government and published it in print after the Office of Management and Budget announced that it would only publish the budget online.

In addition, GPO is continuing its progress in automated web harvesting through FDsys to discover and capture online publications from agency web sites, building on its 2006 pilot project with the Environmental Protection Agency. These web harvests increase public access to web-based agency information and ensure its preservation.

Mary Alice reminded Subcommittee members that managing the life cycle of online information is expensive and requires dedicated resources. “It’s a myth to think that utilizing the Web to provide public access to reliable government information doesn’t carry a hefty price tag,” she told the Subcommittee. She ended her oral testimony by asking the Subcommittee members to fully support GPO’s FY 2009 funding request. “This year, I ask that you champion FDsys and, at the same time, support GPO’s other funding needs that are crucial to a robust information dissemination program,” she said. “The FDLP is your program, and we are counting on your help to keep it relevant in the 21st Century.”

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

EPA Seeks Comments: Help Improve Access to Environmental Information

April 14, 2008

What kinds of information do you look for from EPA and how do you use that information? What words do you use when you search for environmental information? How would you like to receive the information you need? Those are some of the questions EPA is asking as part of their National Dialogue on Access to Environmental Information, a new project that will help EPA develop a strategy to improve access to their diverse body of environmental information. Through June, EPA is inviting comments on their public discussion board or via email.

On its website for the new project, EPA says:

“One of our best options is to work with you and others who help us accomplish our mission: protecting human health and the environment. That much is clear from our work with other agencies, organizations and individual people.

What’s less clear is the best way to organize and make available what we have. We also want to give you access to our raw data so you can use it in ways we’ll never think of. That’s why we’re asking you to help.”

This is a great opportunity for law librarians and users of EPA materials to make sure the agency knows what kinds of environmental information you need today and in the future. We are pleased with EPA’s outreach efforts, especially after several years of discussions with the agency about the troubling shutdown of three of their regional libraries and their Headquarters and Chemical Libraries in Washington, D.C., and the recent news that the closed EPA libraries will reopen by September 2008 [see the National Library Network Report to Congress].

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

Summary of This Week’s Hearings

March 14, 2008

This week, the House held many hearings on issues of interest to AALL. Mary Alice Baish and I attended hearings on network neutrality, orphan works, and EPA library closures. Here are our summaries of those hearings.

Hearing on Network Neutrality

On Tuesday, March 11, the House Judiciary Committee Antitrust Task Force held its hearing on network neutrality. The hearing brought together an interesting set of bedfellows, including Michele Combs, Vice President of Communications Christian Coalition of America and Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who argued that net neutrality is a free speech issue. Damian Kulash, Lead Vocalist and Guitarist of the band OK Go and Susan P. Crawford, Visiting Associate Professor of Law at Yale Law School also testified in support of net neutrality. Christopher S. Yoo, Professor of Law and Communication and Director of the Center for Technology, Innovation, and Competition at University of Pennsylvania Law School, argued against mandating network neutrality, and Rick Carnes, President of the Songwriters Guild of America testified that internet regulation would harm the fight against internet piracy. Testimony is available on the Committee website.

While members of OK Go were up on the Hill, they sat down to talk with Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA-7), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, about why net neutrality is important to them and why they support Chairman Markey’s recently introduced net neutrality bill (H.R. 5353). OK Go has relied heavily on the internet, especially YouTube, to popularize their music videos, and one of their videos, “Here it Goes Again,” won a Grammy in 2007. “This video certainly would not have gotten out if it weren’t for Net Neutrality,” Kulash said.

Hearing on Orphan Works

On Thursday, March 13, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property held an important hearing on “Promoting the Use of Orphan Works: Balancing the Interests of Copyright Owners and Users.” The term orphan works refers to the large volume of works that are likely still protected by copyright although their owners cannot be located after a reasonable effort. This is not a new issue for us. Following a 2005 investigation on orphan works by the U.S. Copyright Office, they published a report and recommendations that led to the introduction of the Orphan Works Act of 2006 (H.R. 5439). AALL strongly supported H.R. 5439 and many of you helped get cosponsors by responding to our action alert. Unfortunately, that bill did not move because of concerns raised by textile manufacturers and photographers.

Both groups were represented by witnesses at yesterday’s hearing who raised their continued concerns with the 2006 bill. Speaking on our side in support of the need for orphan works legislation were Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters; Karen Coe, Associate Legal Counsel for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Allan Adler, Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs for the Association of American Publishers. Testimony of all witnesses is available on the Committee website. It was clear from the hearing that the Subcommittee wants to move forward on a new bill while at the same time responding to concerns from the photographers and textile manufacturers. Stay tuned for next steps and, hopefully, the introduction of a new orphan works bill shortly.

Hearing on EPA’s Library Closures

Also on Thursday, the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing titled, “EPA Library Closures: Better Access for a Broader Audience?.” The hearing was a lively one, and Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to talk to stakeholders and the public before closing the libraries and its continued failure to engage stakeholders on its plan to reopen the libraries, as authorized by the FY 2008 appropriations omnibus bill. EPA began closing regional libraries and its Headquarters library in 2006.

Witnesses included John Stephenson (GAO), Charles Orzehoskie (American Federation of Government Employees), Francesca Grifo (Union of Concerned Scientists), Jim Rettig (President–Elect of the American Library Association), and Molly O’Neill (Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information (OEI) and Chief Information Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency). Witness statements are available on the Committee website. AALL signed on to ALA’s statement.

The FY 2008 appropriations omnibus bill gave a $1 million order to the EPA to restore its library services across the country. The order included a direction to EPA to produce “a report on actions it will take to restore publicly available libraries to provide environmental information and data” to the Appropriations Committee by March 26. The report will include an explanation of EPA’s plan and progress for reopening the libraries.

AALL has been involved in this issue since February 2006, and we are pleased that at long last, the GAO report, “EPA Needs to Ensure That Best Practices and Procedures Are Followed When Making Further Changes to Its Library Network” has been released. We applaud its findings.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


House Hearing to Address EPA Library Closures

March 12, 2008

Adding another to the list of important hearings this week, tomorrow (Thursday, March 13), the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight will hold a hearing titled, “EPA Library Closures: Better Access for a Broader Audience?.” The hearing will be held at 9:30 a.m. in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office Building. A live webcast will be available.

The Hearing Charter is posted on the committee website. It provides some background on the EPA library closures and outlines five key questions to be addressed during the hearing. These questions are:

1. Did EPA Have a Plan for Maintaining Continuity of Library Services When the Plan Was Implemented in 2006?
2. Did EPA Realize Budget Savings Through Implementation of Their Plan?
3. Has EPA’s Effort to Digitize Library Holdings Resulted in Greater Access to Library Collections?
4. Did Implementation of EPA’s Plan Ensure Continuity of Library Services to EPA Employees and the Public or Improve Library Services?
5. What Is The Path Forward?

The witnesses at the hearing will be:

Mr. John Stephenson
Director Natural Resources and Environment
Government Accountability Office

Mr. Charles Orzehoskie
American Federation of Government Employees, Council 238

Dr. Francesca Grifo
Senior Scientist and Director of the Scientific Integrity Program
Union of Concerned Scientists

Mr. Jim Rettig
American Library Association

Ms. Molly O’Neill
Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information (OEI) and Chief Information Officer
Environmental Protection Agency

The closures of EPA libraries started in 2006 without any public announcement or congressional approval. AALL strongly opposed the closures and we are pleased that the Subcommittee is devoting a hearing to this issue tomorrow.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

EPA Guilty of Bad Faith in Shutting Agency Libraries

February 29, 2008

Via Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER):

“A federal arbitrator has found the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guilty of unfair labor practices and acting in bad faith in its national series of library closures…EPA is ordered to bargain with affected public employee unions before making any further changes in its library network.”

The ruling by Federal Labor Relations Board Arbitrator George Edward Larney is in response to grievances filed on behalf of all affected agency employees by the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, based in Seattle.

Last December, AALL celebrated when Congress included money in the FY 2008 appropriations omnibus bill directing EPA to restore its library services across the country. This ruling is another significant instance of support for EPA libraries and their employees.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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