Giving public data its due
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Dec 10, 2000
Stakeholders both praised and criticized a presidential commission's proposal
to overhaul the way government maintains information and disseminates it
to the public.
The National Commission on Libraries and Information Science heard public
comment last week on a draft report and related draft legislation. NCLIS
hopes the legislation will ensure public information stays permanently
accessible in the Information Age.
Although the Internet has hel-p-ed make government information widely
available, access to that information is a long way from being convenient
and cost effective to everyone, according to NCLIS.
As a result, the commission has proposed to overhaul the data dissemination
process. The proposed changes, discussed in detail for the first time publicly
at the Dec. 4 forum, would create an independent organization called the
Public Information Resources Administration that would oversee how agencies
disseminate public information.
PIRA also would 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 PIRA, as would FirstGov.gov.
Other proposed actions:
* Create two offices to help the judicial and legislative branches manage
their public information responsibilities.
* Revamp the Federal Depository Library Program.
* Establish a federal Webmaster.
* Build a single electronic public information resources database.
* Foster cooperation between PIRA and the National Archives and Records
Administration to enable agencies to provide one copy of a document for
permanent records and public access.
"Every day in this Electronic Age, we are losing essential government
information that is irreplaceable," said Nancy Kranich, president
of the American Library Association.
Others agreed. "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 indexing
their information to help the agencies, such as GPO and NTIS, that disseminate
documents, she said.
Many disagree on how to enact such changes. Benjamin Cooper, senior
vice president for the Printing Industries of America, which represents
printing and graphic organizations, said dividing GPO's responsibilities
among three main agencies would be 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 none of the expert panels NCLIS turned to for advice recommended the
establishment of a new agency.
"My view is that that recommendation is politically naive and foolish,"
he said, adding that he thinks the proposed changes will be a hard sell
F. Woody Horton, a consultant with NCLIS, said the proposed changes
represent bold thinking. "Nobody pays attention to little ideas. But you
get them to sit up and take notice...with something like this."
The commission's final report, initiated at the request
of Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), is due
in Congress Dec. 15. Horton hopes various congressional committees will
hold hearings next year and give the proposal a chance.
"We know [some] people think this is refining bibliographic controls
or bringing up an electronic granddaddy depository of GPO and NTIS materials,
but it goes beyond that," Horton said. "There is a lot that can be done
to diffuse government information to the public."