Critics say EPA closed libraries too soon

By closing regional and research libraries before their digitization was complete, the Environmental Protection Agency may have lost irreplaceable documents, members of Congress and scientists said.

Although lawmakers supported putting the libraries’ content online, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released in February that the plan was plagued with managerial problems, a lack of outreach and no cost/benefit analysis. GAO also said EPA rushed its closings, cutting off access to valuable documents before it completed the online libraries.

Because of this, GAO has recommended a moratorium on further changes to the libraries to ensure oversight and justify EPA’s decisions and actions.

“The EPA ignored their own careful plans and abruptly closed libraries, limited access to the public and EPA employees, and just threw away documents that may be irreplaceable,” said Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) at a March 13 hearing by the House Science and Technology Committee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee. “The most generous possible explanation is that EPA managers were stunningly incompetent.”

Scientists also disapproved. Francesca Grifo, director of the Scientific Integrity Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, worried that many documents — particularly older studies — would remain inaccessible. “Thousands of EPA documents are currently stranded in digitization limbo for the indefinite future,” she said.

Molly O-Neill, EPA’s assistant administrator for environmental information and chief information officer, pointed out several steps that the agency has taken to improve the situation, including hiring a new program manager.

Miller, along with three other committee members, wrote EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on Nov. 30, 2006, asking him to submit a written plan for migrating the libraries online. A month earlier, members of the Senate attempted to push EPA into reopening the libraries completely.

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