Remembering Peter Weiss

Former OMB official had a deep commitment to public service

The information policy community lost an international force and a guardian of open access last week when Peter Weiss passed away unexpectedly. He was 54.

Weiss was the principal author of Office of Management and Budget Circular A-130, the protocol that governs how federal agencies use information.

Weiss' most recent career accomplishment came to fruition last winter. As a policy analyst at the National Weather Service (NWS), he outlined the scope of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's policy on providing unrestricted, open-format weather data to the public.

The policy, adopted in December 2004, reversed the long-standing practice of offering weather information in proprietary formats to a limited number of companies for resale.

Former and current colleagues characterized Weiss as a passionate, sharp man with a deep commitment to public service.

Bruce McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at OMB, had been a friend since Weiss joined OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in 1991.

"His area of specialty was disseminating government information at [the lowest] cost ... not trying to turn it into a fundraising effort," McConnell said.

"He controlled the typewriter" on A-130, McConnell said, adding that the move to NWS in 2000 allowed Weiss to champion information access globally. His devotion to freely available weather information saved lives, McConnell said.

Global consciousness played a role in Weiss' personal life, as well. His family often vacationed in Bali. After the tsunami hit Southeast Asia, he traveled to Sri Lanka to aid in tsunami relief efforts.

McConnell said Weiss was a beekeeper for a period during his 20s in upstate New York and was a fabulous gardener in his Tacoma Park, Md., backyard.

As an expert in information policy and law, Weiss advised governments worldwide on the economics of government information policy. For example, he flew to Russia and China to discuss open access with officials in those countries.

At OMB, Weiss had an assertiveness rarely seen in the reserved agency, his former supervisor recalls.

Rob Veeder, since retired, hired Weiss to work in OIRA's information technology branch. "At the time, we were encouraging agencies to provide information to the public, outside the context of the Freedom of Information Act," he said. "Peter was a pusher."

Weiss' most recent boss said Weiss had not lost any of that initial energy.

"He was an enthusiastic and effective advocate for open and unrestricted access to government information — not just for NOAA, but for the world," said Edward Johnson, director of strategic planning and policy at NWS.

Johnson had hired Weiss to define far-reaching policy because of his international renown.

"It's a great personal loss for me, but I think it's a loss to the world," he said. "I wish he was back."

Weiss' contribution to information dissemination also influenced federal librarians, who shared his concern about open access to government data.

Judy Russell, Government Printing Office's superintendent of documents, said Weiss was instrumental in advancing public access to government information.

"I had the opportunity to work together with Peter on a project that was near and dear to both of us — public access to government information," she wrote in an e-mail message. "Peter's support was key in including language in OMB Circular A-130 that called for agencies to provide copies of publications they produced to the Federal Depository Library Program, and it encouraged them to extend the policy to print and electronic documents. His expertise in the field will be missed. My thoughts are with his family and friends."

Before serving at OIRA, Weiss was deputy associate administrator for procurement law at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, where he analyzed topics affecting the procurement process. From 1985 to 1990, Weiss was the assistant chief counsel for procurement and regulatory policy at the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy.

Weiss held a bachelor's degree from Columbia University and a law degree from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law. He grew up in Queens and Long Island, N.Y.

He is survived by his wife, Laura Steinberg; daughter, Allison; and son, Robin.

In memory of Weiss

Peter Weiss' family suggests that donations in his memory be made to the International Buddhist Center, 2600 Elmont St., Silver Spring, MD 20902.

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