NEWS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
Issue 108, March 2005

Table of Contents

  1. Watergate Papers Now Public
  2. New Library of Congress Encyclopedia Published
  3. U.S. Cracks Down on 200 Scam Operations
  4. Governing in the Dark
  5. Vanishing Information Resources from Secrecy News
  6. Cadre Grows to Rein in Message
  7. GPO to Continue Using Paper Format for 'Nonessential' Items
  8. Nation’s Presidential Libraries Struggling to Draw Visitors
  9. Recently Declassified Presidential Papers Shed Light
    on Fight to Secure Open Access to Government Documents


(1) Watergate Papers Now Public

On 4 February 2005, the University of Texas unveiled the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate Papers. The Woodward-Bernstein Collection includes thousands of pages of hand-written notes, typed memos, and transcripts culled from 75 file-drawer size boxes bought by the University for $5 million. The archive, however, will not reveal the identity of "Deep Throat" and other confidential sources until their deaths. View the description and highlights of the collection at: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/research/fa/woodstein.hp.html. Source: Bruce Craig, National Coalition for History (NCH) Washington Update, Vol. 11, no. 7; February 17, 2005.

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(2) New Library of Congress Encyclopedia Published

The Library of Congress and Bernan Press, (with the cooperation of the International Encyclopedia Society), has published a new edition of the "Encyclopedia of the Library of Congress: For Congress, the Nation and the World," edited by John Cole and Jane Aikin. The volume of essays presents a comprehensive view of the Library's historical development, collections, services, and activities. The book also includes biographies of the 13 Librarians of Congress, color photographs, and five newly compiled appendices. The encyclopedia is available from the Library of Congress Sales Shop, by phone at (888/682-3557), or it can be ordered online at: http://www.loc.gov/shop/. Source: Bruce Craig, National Coalition for History (NCH) Washington Update, Vol. 11, no. 7; February 17, 2005.

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(3) U.S. Cracks Down on 200 Scam Operations

Make big bucks at home stuffing envelopes! Or designing Web sites! Or assembling refrigerator magnets! That last come-on attracted an estimated 30,000 people, the government said Tuesday (Feb. 22), announcing a crackdown on some 200 scam operations that falsely offered lucrative work-at-home and other questionable business opportunities.

Such schemes cheated tens of thousands of people out of more than $100 million.

Worse news: They said they can't even estimate how many other such scams are out there.

In a 14-month-long crackdown on promoters of illegal business opportunity and work-at-home schemes, the Federal Trade Commission, Justice Department, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and law enforcement agencies from 14 states took civil and criminal action against more than 200 operations they said engaged in fraud and/or violated consumer protection laws, officials said at a news conference.

Such offers succeed partly because they "appeal to the optimist in all of us — be your own boss, supplement your income, pay for your child's education," said FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. The reality, she said, is that many are scams promising results that will never happen.

And victims who lose money they invested in some of the businesses are unlikely to ever get it back, said Peter D. Keisler, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's civil division.

For the full article, see USA Today, Feb. 22, 2005. Source: FTC Press Release, Feb. 22, 2005.

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(4) Governing in the Dark

Librarians are once again fighting to keep public records public.
Article by Dan Malone, Fort Worth (Texas) Weekly, Feb 23, 2005.

Wise: ‘I don’t think we’d be able to afford three-quarters of the things we’re getting.’

Uncle Sam first wanted permission to snoop on what you’ve been reading. Then he wanted to withdraw some public records from the public realm. And now, it seems, he wants to eliminate hundreds or thousands of government documents from the shelves of public libraries in North Texas and across the nation.

Judith C. Russell, the government’s superintendent of documents, has again roused the nation’s librarians with a plan to dramatically limit the number of government documents available at Federal Depository Libraries, such as those operated by the city of Fort Worth, Texas Christian University, and the University of North Texas.

Though the information being removed is supposed to eventually all be available online, North Texas librarians say Russell’s plan is going to make it difficult or impossible for some people to obtain basic government information — at least in the short term. Further, they say, at least one agency appears to be removing some information from its web site for political reasons even as other information is being held hostage by exorbitant demands for fees.

The war on terror, coupled with budget deficits, seems to have morphed into a war on information.

“This administration is trying to keep information from the U.S. citizens,’’ said Monika Antonelli, a UNT librarian who monitors attempts to restrict government information. “When I worked in government documents at UNT, the cost of the program was [about] 20 cents per taxpayer, and it was money well spent. The Depository Library program received less funding than the budget for military bands. This is not about saving money but about stifling information.’’

The latest skirmish erupted last month when Russell, at a meeting of the American Library Association in Boston, announced the federal government’s 2006 budget would include money for only “50 essential titles’’ for the nation’s 1,250 depository libraries. Hundreds of other documents that the government for years had deposited in the nation’s libraries would no longer be available except online.

The ALA and the American Association of Law Libraries said the proposal would “eliminate almost all’’ of the printed material traditionally made available to libraries. The law librarians further complained that the plan “represents a major disruption to the [Federal Depository Library Program’s] role of ensuring no-fee, permanent access to government information for the American public.’’

The Weekly wanted to ask Russell or her boss, Public Printer Bruce James, about the proposed changes. Both referred questions to Government Printing Office spokeswoman Veronica Meter, who did not respond to questions by deadline.

The so-called essential titles such as the Congressional Record, census reports, and publication on topics ranging from crime to economics would remain on the shelves. But librarians say soil surveys, navigational charts, patent and trademark information, IRS documents, administrative decisions, and many Congressional reports and hearings — even on matters of great national interest — would no longer be in print. Put the proposed rule in effect a few years back, they say, and you would no longer find any free printed government information about hearings on such topics as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the nomination of Al Gonzales as attorney general, or the failed impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.

“If we had been under this proposal, then we would not have received them on paper,’’ said Brenda Barnes, a TCU government information librarian.

A comprehensive list of printed material destined for the dustbin is not available. Since Russell made her announcement, librarians say the government has been conspicuously tight-lipped about details. “We’re trying to determine how many paper documents we’ve received in the last years that under the new proposal we would not receive in coming years,’’ Barnes explained. “We don’t know exactly their intentions yet.’’

Others are worried that shifting the responsibility for archiving government documents from public libraries to the government itself will make political editing of information too tempting. Librarian watchdogs have already noted that at least one agency, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, appears to have deleted some documents critical of the Bush administration from its web site.

“What happens when the Bush administration wants to prevent a particular policy point of view’’ from being aired? asked Arlene Weible, head of UNT’s government documents department. Shifting control of information from the libraries to the government leaves the public “with less of a check’’ against government abuses.

She also said that having many documents available only on the internet will make it more difficult for the poor to have equal access to information. “The concept of the digital divide is not being taken very seriously by the planning that’s going on for the depository libraries, ‘’ she said.

Shirley Wise, who oversees government documents for the Fort Worth Public Library, said she doubts that the government will be able to make available on the internet all the records it now provides in print, by the time the program starts. “At some point, yes [they will be available on the internet],’’ she said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be [available] by the time they cut out the major print information.”

Russell’s program would also give each depository library a $500 to $1,500 allowance to purchase print copies of documents no longer being freely distributed. But that, librarians said, won’t begin to cover the costs of the lost material. “Once that [allowance] is gone, if you want anything else, your library would have to pay for it,’’ Wise said. “I don’t think we’d be able to afford three-quarters of the things we are getting.’’

During the 2003-2004 budget year, Wise said, the Fort Worth library received more than 5,400 titles from the federal government. Over the years, it’s amassed a collection surpassing 1.2 million documents.

The nation’s librarians have played an increasingly high-profile role in the fight to protect privacy and access to information since 9/11. They’ve wrangled with former Attorney General John Ashcroft over a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act that civil libertarians feared would give federal agents easier access to libraries’ records of what books and materials their patrons have checked out. And last year, they won a fight to preserve a set of seemingly innocuous publications that the Justice Department asked Russell to have libraries destroy “by any means.’’

But the shelves of the nation’s libraries are only one front on the government war on information. Increasingly, the government is thwarting requests for public information under the Freedom of Information Act with demands for exorbitant search fees. In one recent case, People for the American Way sought records about government requests to seal records about immigrants detained after 9/11. The Justice Department initially refused the request, saying that to release information about the detainees would violate the privacy of those individuals. It later amended its response, saying it would gladly conduct a search for the records — for a fee of $372,799.

Thanks to tip from Cathy N. Hartman, Head, Digital Projects Dept., Fellow, Texas Center for Digital Knowledge, University of North Texas Libraries, GOVDOC-L, Feb. 23, 2005.

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(5) Vanishing Information Resources from Secrecy News

With almost every passing day, public access to yet another government information resource is extinguished. Like an exotic species or a nearly forgotten language that suddenly becomes extinct, its disappearance excites little attention or protest. But the cumulative effect of many such losses is bound to be significant.

The latest official resource to vanish from the public domain is the U.S. Air Force "orbital element" database. These orbital elements, which characterize the orbits of satellites in Earth orbit, have been freely available to the public through NASA for nearly twenty years. Now they won't be.

The change is noted in this February 21 announcement from Analytical Graphics, Inc. : http://www.agi.com/resources/tle/.

Related background, updated February 18, is available at : http://celestrak.com/NORAD/elements/notice.asp.

Does this mean we will no longer be able to track Santa, Rudolf, and the rest of the reindeer next December? Just kidding.

Source: Secrecy News, Vol. 2005, Issue No. 19, Feb. 22, 2005, via GOVDOC-L, Feb. 23, 2005.

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(6) Cadre Grows to Rein in Message

The ranks of federal public affairs officials swelled during the Bush administration's first term, but that hasn't meant that government information is easier to get.

The staffs that handle public relations for government agencies grew even faster than the federal work force, personnel records show, yet at the same time the White House tightened its control over messages to the news media and restricted access to public information.

"The role of public affairs officers is not to make information available to the public, as one would naively assume," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the nonpartisan Federation of American Scientists.

"Rather," he said, "it is to regulate public access to information, which is something quite different."

Source: Tom Brune, National News, Feb. 24, 2005.

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(7) GPO to Continue Using Paper Format for 'Nonessential' Items

Good news for insomniacs: The Government Printing Office appears to have backed down from a plan to stop printing bound copies of congressional hearings and other "nonessential" government publications.

GPO Superintendent of Documents Judy Russell set off a firestorm in January with comments she made at the American Library Association winter meeting, where she suggested that the GPO was planning to decrease the number of documents it routinely makes available to libraries in paper format, as part of its transition to the digital age.

The change wouldn't affect an "essential titles" list of about 50 critical documents—budget books, Congressional Records, and the like—that would still be sent to hundreds of libraries across the country that are part of the Federal Depository Library Program.

Full story: Paul Singer, National Journal, via GovExec.Com Today, Feb. 28, 2005.

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(8) Nation’s Presidential Libraries Struggling to Draw Visitors

On a recent morning at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, not a single visitor came to learn about the life of the only Iowa-born president.

Nobody was there to learn how Hoover helped feed a starving Europe during two World Wars, about his role in building the Hoover Dam or even how his wife, Lou, pioneered the Girl Scout cookie sale.

“Winter is a pretty slow time,” said director Timothy Walch, who said some days in January the museum will see only a half-dozen visitors.

Walch has the unenviable task of trying to attract visitors to a library celebrating one of the least popular presidents in history.

With Americans spending less time visiting such museums across the country, Walch and the directors of the nation’s other presidential libraries say they are marketing themselves more aggressively than ever.

For the full article, see Quad City Times Online, January 28, 2005.

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(9) Recently Declassified Presidential Papers Shed Light
on Fight to Secure Open Access to Government Documents

For those interested in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), check out this National Security Archive resource: Veto Battle 30 Years Ago Set Freedom of Information Norms. The National Security Archive provides access to previously classified information, as well as documenting the political hurdles to, and historical milestones and government references about this pivotal legislation.

Source: Sabrina I. Pacifici ‘s Be Specific, Nov. 30, 2004

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