Panel: Overhaul data dissemination

A presidential advisory commission is proposing sweeping changes to how

the government maintains and disseminates public documents in the era of

the Internet.

In a draft report and accompanying draft legislation, the National Commission

on Libraries and Information Science recommended the formation of an independent

agency in the executive branch to provide policy leadership, oversight and

accountability for public information dissemination.

The new agency, dubbed the Public Information Resources Administration,

would also serve as the focal point for establishing government information

as a strategic national asset. Certain functions of the Government Printing

Office and the Commerce Department's National Technical Information Service

would be rolled into the new agency.

Other actions the commission is proposing in its draft documents include:

* Creating two other new offices to help the judicial and legislative

branches manage their public information responsibilities.

* Revamping the Federal Depository Library Program.

* Establishing a federal Webmaster position.

* Building a single electronic public information resources database

to complement agency Web site postings.

The commission also recommended changing the NTIS business model to

give the agency a new annual $5 million appropriation to cover its "public

good" activities. These activities include collecting or acquiring reports;

indexing, abstracting and cataloging those reports; and loading and maintaining

the searchable NTIS database on a Web site for free public access.

Commerce last summer announced plans to close NTIS in part because its

core function of selling government information is no longer needed as agencies

increasingly offer documents for free on their Web sites.

The changes, according to the commission, will help create a cohesive

approach to making government information available to the public and will

reduce redundant and overlapping efforts across government. They will also

provide a way to ensure that documents agencies post on the Web are maintained

for permanent public access.

The commission expects to release a draft final copy of the report for

public comment after Thanksgiving. The final report, which was initiated

at the request of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.),

is due to Congress on Dec. 15.

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