NEWS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
JUNE 2001

Table of Contents

  1. E-Government Legislation Introduced by Sens. Lieberman & Burns
  2. White House Web Site Blasted For Too Much White Space
  3. Digital Preservation: Paradox & Promise
  4. GPO Continues the Move to Electronic Dissemination
  5. FirstGov in Slow Lane on Information Highway
  6. Role of the Government in a Digital Age


E-Government Legislation Introduced by Sens. Lieberman & Burns

"The E-Government Act of 2001," S. 803, was introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Conrad Burns (R-MT) on May 1st. The legislation is co-sponsored by Jeff Bingaman, (D-NM), Peter Fitzgerald, (R-IL), Thomas Daschle, (D-SD), John McCain, (R-AZ), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Richard Durbin, (D-IL), Tim Johnson, (D-SD), John Kerry, (MA), Patrick Leahy, (D-VT), and Carl Levin, (D-MI).

Among the bill's key provisions are:

The bill also addresses: Court web sites, privacy, security, agencies' Web sites, an online staff directory, the study of disparities in access to the Internet, and accessibility standards are also addressed in S. 803.

Of particular interest to the library community is the provision related to preserving government information and making it accessible and usable for the public. S. 803 makes a number of proposals that address lifecycle management issues of Federal government electronic information, including long term permanent public access. The proposed legislation also articulates the need for Federal government agencies and departments to work more collaboratively as e-government information and actual transactions come online.

Sens. Lieberman and Burns held a press conference on May 1st to announce the e-government bill's introduction. Both Senators emphasized that this bill is a "work in progress" and that further discussions are underway to improve and change the bill. ALA and other library organizations have indicated their willingness to participate in ongoing discussions about S. 803 as it moves forward. The library community is very supportive of the life- cycle approach to government information in the bill and will participate in the debate on numerous aspects of the legislation, especially permanent public access.

ALA President Nancy Kranich spoke at the May 1st press conference which also happened to be ALA's 27th National Library Legislative Day. Referencing the approximately 650 library advocates lobbying for library issues on Capitol Hill that day, Kranich said: "I am pleased to be here. . . to share our mutual interest in and commitment to the issues surrounding the development of e- government services. The issues related to access to government information are critical to us. We are particularly pleased that Senator Lieberman is incorporating into his e-government initiative life cycle information management issues, including the collection, organization and preservation of online government information. Librarians stand ready to work with [all stakeholders] to ensure that every American can participate in e- government and that no one is left behind in the digital age."

The full text of the current draft of S. 803 is available at: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=107_cong_bills&docid=f:s803is.txt.pdf.

Sen. Lieberman's statement at the May 1st press conference is available at: http://www.senate.gov/~lieberman/press/01/05/2001501810.html.

The text of ALA President Nancy Kranich's statement is at: http://www.ala.org/washoff/kranichegovt.pdf.

Source: ALAWON, Volume 10, Number 34, May 7, 2001

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White House Web Site Blasted For Too Much White Space

The rumblings began among frustrated researchers. Why, they wondered, is the White House Web site so lame? Why is it so hard to find a particular speech, statement or press briefing? Why couldn't www.whitehouse.gov be more like it was under former president Bill Clinton? The answer, according to White House officials and outside observers, is that it's still early. The Bush administration took over the White House Jan. 20 and had to flip the switch on a brand-new Web site shorn of material....

The full text of the article is available via Lexis Nexis Academic Universe. See Ben White, "White House Web Site Blasted For Too Much White Space", Washington Post, April 30, 2001; Section A, Page A15.

Source: Barbie Selby, GOVDOC-L, May 10, 2001.

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Digital Preservation: Paradox & Promise

"Suppose one morning the world discovered that, with no advance notice, tens of thousands of pages of popular content had mysteriously disappeared from the web site of a major federal agency. The outcry would be immediate an loud. Senators would demand hearings. Pundits would proclaim depravity. Editorialists would decry the decline of public values.

Yet that is exactly what happened on January 20, 2001, Inaugeration Day in the United States. When George Bush took over the Presidency, he also took possession of the White House web site, www.whitehouse.gov. All of the previous content of that site, and its companion searchable document archive, www.pub.whitehouse.gov, were completely wiped clean, replaced with a skeleton site for the new administration. The result was a massive example of "link rot" in one of the most popular sites on the web. AltaVista reported 170,000 links to the site -- many of them "deep links" (i.e., deep within the hierarchy of a web site) -- that were suddenly broken. It is impossible to know how many thousands or millions of personal bookmarks were similarly trashed."...

For the complete article, see Richard Wiggins, "Digital Preservation: Paradox & Promise, Library Journal NetConnect, Spring 2001, at http:/www.liblraryjournal.com/digital_persevation.asp.

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GPO Continues the Move to Electronic Dissemination

The Government Printing Office has been issuing an increasing number of federal documents in electronic format over the last several years. The transition from print to electronic format will only accelerate due to reduced appropriations for GPO and a new policy on distribution for the Federal Depository Program. This means that the country's 1330 depository libraries will receive federal government publications solely in online electronic format unless:
  • There is no online electronic version available from the publishing agency.
  • The online version is incomplete.
  • The online version is not recognized as official by the publishing agency.
  • The online version is unreliable, e.g., the content is replace or overwritten without notice.
  • The tangible product is of significant reference value to most types of federal depository libraries.
  • The online version poses a significant barrier to access, e.g., the product is very difficult to use, thus impeding access to data or content.
  • The tangible product is intended to serve a special needs population, e.g., publications in braille or large print.
  • There is a legal requirement to distribute the product in tangible format.
  • The costs associated with disseminating electronically exceed those for the tangible product, a situation that may arise with certain CD-ROM software licensing or fee-based online services.

    Source: Missouri State Library Newsline, April 2001.

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    FirstGov in Slow Lane on Information Highway

    You may want to check out an article by Karen Robb appearing in Federal Times (ISSN 0014-9233), 05/14/2001, Vol. 37 Issue 15, p3, 2p.

    Among it's interesting quotes, "Designed to help the public find information on any agency Web site by subject matter, the governmentwide Web portal had 256,000 unique visitors in February and dropped below 200,000 visitors in March, according to Jupiter Media Metrix in New York. A unique visitor is defined as a person who visits a Web site more than once within a specified period of time."

    My comments:
    For comparison, GPO Access had 7.2 MILLION hits in March, and the NTIS FedWorld site had 3 MILLION hits in March.

    Back to article:
    In response, GAO had this to say, "The General Services Administration, which runs FirstGov, downplayed the significance of the Web site's low visitor count. "FirstGov only launched in September," said Deborah Diaz, GSA's deputy associate administrator. "We are just beginning our marketing efforts."

    Diaz said FirstGov keeps "very careful user statistics," but she declined to reveal those figures."

    My comments:
    FirstGov, NCLIS, GAO, I agree with all the recent posters who have complained that all the money and effort going into wheel reinvention should be plowed back into the one agency with a 150 year track record of providing public access to government information -- The Government Printing Office. I don't expect it to stay the same, but it's past time that the government improves on what works, rather than inventing endless new things that don't.

    Source: Daniel Cornwall, Government Publications/Technical Services Librarian, Alaska State Library, PO Box 110571, Juneau, AK 99811-0571; Telephone: (907) 465-2927; Fax: (907) 465-2665; E-Mail: dan_cornwall@eed.state.ak.us, GovDoc-L, May 31, 2001.

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    Role of the Government in a Digital Age

    The Red Tape Editor regularly provides links to news items that reflect the opinions of most federal documents librarians. Following is a report financed by private business which comes up with an alternative viewpoint. Just for fun.

    The Role of the Government in a Digital Age -- http://www.ccianet.org/digitalgovstudy/main.htm -- released in October 2000, was commissioned by the Computer & Communications Industry Association as an independent analysis of the appropriate role for government in an information economy. According to the report, "outdated government rules and guidelines have provided an ambiguous environment in which some federal agencies develop highly beneficial Internet initiatives, while others create ventures that encroach dangerously on businesses already served by private enterprise."

    Source: Bill Sleeman, Bibliographic Control/Government Documents Librarian, Thurgood Marshall Law Library, The University of Maryland School of Law, via GOVDOC-L, March 28, 2001.

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