Letters to the editor

Permanent Access

Your recent article, "Saving it for the future" [FCW, April 9], highlighted one of the most important issues confronting government information in electronic formats today: how to ensure that future generations will be able to access and use this information.

For the past year and a half, the Government Printing Office has been convening high-level meetings involving congressional and executive branch officials to develop long-term strategies to provide permanent public access to federal information made available via the Internet.

Thousands of federal Web sites make millions of government documents available to the public. Yet documents frequently disappear from the Web just as fast as they appear. They may have been updated or revised, or they may have become outdated or simply removed. Regardless of the reason, the result is the same: an electronic document that is no longer available.

Speaking at the first meeting of the Permanent Public Access (PPA) Working Group in September 1999, Public Printer Michael DiMario said there is "a pressing need to examine permanent public access to government information in this time when computer systems encounter problems with viruses, overloaded servers and other challenges. The public must be assured that government information will be available, electronically, on a long-term basis."

GPO's interest in the initiative reflects its longstanding experience in providing such access through its Federal Depository Library Program. A permanent public access policy also governs the operation of GPO Access, GPO's Internet information service (www.gpo.gov/gpo access).

Meetings of the PPA Work-ing Group have already resulted in several tangible outcomes. GPO established a Web site dedicated to the issue of permanent public access (www.gpo.gov/ppa). A partnership was formed between GPO and the National Library of Medicine to provide permanent access to online versions of the Index Medicus, Medical Subject Headings and the library's Audiovisuals Catalog. A GPO partnership with the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science was formed to cover all significant publications on the NCLIS Web site.

For more information on GPO's permanent public access initiative, contact Sandy Morton-Schwalb in GPO's Library Programs Service at (202) 512-1114 or smorton-schwalb@gpo.gov.

Andrew Sherman
Director, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs,
Government Printing Office

Inside Story

Tim Sprehe's columns in FCW are usually a delight to read, but his March 26 column, "NCLIS' wasted motions" — about which I happen to know the inside story — is filled with inaccuracies.

I served as chairman of one of the four panels established by the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science to study the problems of the National Technical Information Service and the broader issues of disseminating government information. Tim served — very ably — as one of the members of my panel.

In his column, Tim writes that "to arrive at its screwy conclusions" NCLIS ignored the findings of its panels in writing its report to Congress and the White House. He wrote that nothing like the Public Information Resources Administration was recommended by any of the panels and that all of the panels objected to PIRA's appearance in NCLIS' final report. All of that is inaccurate, at least with respect to the work of the panel on which Tim and I both served.

Our panel discussed the concept of a PIRA-like agency — with Tim vigorously opposed. Because the panel was nearly evenly divided on the concept, no specific recommendation for a PIRA-like agency found its way into our report to NCLIS, although one of our recommendations did urge NCLIS to study the concept further. Tim was a contributor to the wording of that particular recommendation and signed off on the overall panel report. That the NCLIS final report chose to recommend a reorganization and consolidation of government information activities could hardly be a surprise.

Nearly all of the other recommendations of our panel and the other three NCLIS panels found their way into the comprehensive NCLIS final report. A reading of the individual panel reports and of the final NCLIS report makes it clear that NCLIS has not "ignored their findings." Tim's disagreement with the major thrust of the NCLIS report — to establish a new central agency to improve government information dissemination — is very clear, but let's be fair and accurate.

Peter Urbach
Retired publishing industry executive and former deputy director, National Technical Information Service

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