Info overhaul gathers comment

National Commission on Libraries and Information Science

A presidential advisory commission heard public comments this week on its

proposal to overhaul the way government maintains and disseminates information

to the public.

The U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science's draft

report was discussed publicly in detail for the first time at a Dec. 4 forum.

NCLIS' proposed changes would create an independent organization called

the Public Information Resources Administration (PIRA) that would have oversight

for how agencies disseminate public information.

PIRA 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

(NTIS) would be rolled into the new agency, as would FirstGov, the government's

Internet portal.

Although there appears to be general consensus on the need to ensure permanent

access to public information, many disagree on how to enact such changes.

"We believe that the [report's] findings and conclusions are pretty much

on target," said Susan Tarr, executive director of the Federal Library and

Information Center Committee, which provides guidance to federal libraries.

Agencies should take more responsibility for not only providing information

to the public but also indexing to help agencies that disseminate the documents,

she said.

However, Benjamin Cooper, senior vice president for the Printing Industries

of America, said NCLIS' proposal to take GPO's responsibilities and divide

them among three main agencies is inefficient. "There is no guarantee that

simply moving the function to another branch of government would necessarily

improve the process," he said.

J. Timothy Sprehe, president of Sprehe Information Management Associates,

said the idea of creating a new central agency creates more bureaucracy.

What's more, none of the four advisory panels convened by NCLIS suggested

it, he said.

"The expert panels did not recommend the establishment of a new federal

agency, and my view is that that recommendation is politically naive and

foolish," he said, adding that the proposed changes will be a hard sell

in Congress.

The commission's final report, which was initiated at the request of Sens.

John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), is due to Congress

Dec. 15.

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