House Dems urge GAO to assess EPA library cuts

Notification of Closure of the EPA Headquarters Library

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House Democratic leaders are requesting that the Government Accountability Office examine plans to shutter parts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s library system, citing concerns that thousands of documents may be removed.

In a letter dated Sept. 19 to GAO Comptroller David Walker, ranking Democratic Reps. Bart Gordon (Tenn.) of the House Science Committee, Henry Waxman (Calif.) of the Government Reform Committee and John Dingell (Mich.) of the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote, “Due to inadequate planning and lack of funding for digitizing documents, access to many documents will be temporarily or permanently lost."

The Bush administration’s plan, which is part of its fiscal 2007 budget proposal, aims to save $2 million by cutting more than 30 percent of the EPA libraries’ funds. The plan would shut down an unknown number of libraries and reduce hours at others.

"It appears that EPA plans to shut libraries first and digitize documents later,” the lawmakers stated. “It is unclear from the budget proposal of the plan what funds will be allocated to ensuring that paper and microfiche documents will be digitized and made available electronically.”

A Sept. 20 notice in the Federal Register states that the EPA Headquarters Library will close its doors Oct. 1.

The library “will become one of three EPA repositories for paper copies of EPA documents, reports and publications,” the Federal Register states.

The lawmakers’ letter, dated before the notice, questions whether the administration’s plan will actually produce any cost savings.

“The plan may result in a net cost to the agency if costs for retrieval of information are shifted to individual program offices or if additional funds are required to maintain availability of documents through intra- or Internet access,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that many of the documents are not in digital form.

The soon-to-close Headquarters Library contains 380,000 documents on microfiche, 5,500 hard copy EPA documents and more than 16,000 books and technical reports produced by other government agencies, according to officials at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The EPA Library Network consists of 28 libraries nationwide. EPA scientists, regulators and attorneys require the libraries to gather the information needed to conduct environmental assessments, develop regulations and enforce environmental laws.

The lawmakers are asking that GAO look at the plan for restructuring the library system, its justification and its implementation.

In anticipation of Congress’ approval of the EPA’s 2007 appropriations, the agency has identified three libraries to close, begun dispersing collections and reduced services.

“The plan aims to continue to provide access to documents electronically but does not discuss the number of documents that would need to be digitized, the time frame or the amount and source of funding that would be necessary to carry this out,” the lawmakers wrote.

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