Freedom of Information
EPA Releases New Tool with Information about Water Pollution Across the U.S.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the release of a new tool that provides the public with important information about pollutants that are released into local waterways. Developed under President Obama’s transparency initiative, the Discharge Monitoring Report (DMR) Pollutant Loading Tool brings together millions of records and allows for easy searching and mapping of water pollution by local area, watershed, company, industry sector, and pollutant. Americans can use this new tool to protect their health and the health of their communities.”
Agencies are Likely to Miss 2013 Declassification Deadline
“More than two years ago, President Obama set a December 31, 2013 deadline for completing the declassification processing of a backlog of more than 400 million pages of classified historical records that were over 25 years old. But judging from the limited progress to date, it now seems highly unlikely that the President’s directive will be fulfilled. As of December 2011, following two years of operation, the National Declassification Center had completed the processing of only 26.6 million pages of the 400 million page backlog, according to the latest NDC semi-annual report. If the Center increased productivity by a factor of ten, that would still be insufficient to achieve its goal. The looming failure to comply with an explicit presidential order is a sign of the growing autonomy of the secrecy system, which to a surprising extent is literally out of control.”
With Chopra Gone, Is Open Government in Jeopardy?
“With U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra’s resignation last week and the departure of former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra last year, the federal brain trust behind the Obama administration’s Open Government Directive has officially left the building. Is the movement they championed far behind? At least one expert believes the writing is on the wall for open government, unless new ways can be found to use big data more effectively within the federal government’s operational structure.”
“Declassification-As-Usual” Mindset Responsible for the National Declassification Center’s Languid Pace
“On December 29, 2009, President Obama created the National Declassification Center (NDC) and instructed it to review the entire 400 million page backlog of historic documents at the National Archives (NARA) for declassification by December 31, 2013. Three years later, a mere 22.6 million pages (5.8 percent of the backlog) has been made available to researchers. Despite the president’s instruction for a new type of declassification process at the NDC, the continued “declassification-as-usual” mindset is responsible for the Center’s languid pace.”
House to live-stream committee proceedings
“The House is now offering live video streaming of committee proceedings online through the Library of Congress. The Committee on House Administration announced on Thursday that the live webcasts would be available at http://thomas.loc.gov/video/house-committee. The Library of Congress also will archive previous committee proceedings, which the panel said would create the first “one-stop shop for House committee video content.””
Bulk Data at the House Legislative Data Conference
“The morning’s last panel featured the leaders of the offices responsible for most legislative data processes — like the Office of Law Revision Counsel, the Law Library of Congress, and the Government Printing Office. We saw valuable new projects — mobile sites, web redesigns, and incremental improvements in data publication. All worthy efforts showing the legislative support bureaucracy adapting to new expectations for online information. In cultivating these projects, though, these offices are also choosing to ignore another responsibility: their role in providing the data about Congress that enables third party web publishers (like Sunlight) to do their jobs. The officials were asked (by a number of us from Sunlight) why they still haven’t begun publishing bulk legislative data, and their answers were telling: it’s not a priority, they’re more concerned about accuracy.”
“The government launched its massive data set trove Data.gov in 2009 with a clear mission: to put information the government was gathering anyway into the hands of private sector and nonprofit Web and mobile app developers. Once that data was out, the White House imagined, developers would set about turning it into useful products—optimizing Census Bureau statistics for marketers; Commerce Department data for exporters; and Housing and Urban Development Department information for building contractors, mortgage brokers and insurance adjusters. When necessary, the government also would be able to prime the pump with agency-sponsored code-a-thons and app development competitions sponsored through Challenge.gov, a White House initiative that paid out $38 million to prize-winning developers during its first year, which ended in September. But turning government data into private sector products has proved more complicated in practice. Some agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, are posting new data sets regularly and rapidly in machine-readable form, but other agencies have shown little interest in devoting dwindling resources to making data more accessible. Agency data publication schedules also are often too slow for the go-go world of mobile apps.”
FCC Pushes E-Textbooks on U.S. Schools Facing Budget Crunch
“A Federal Communications Commission effort to bring digital textbooks to U.S. students faces resistance from schools with limited budgets for buying devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPad tablet computer. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced plans yesterday to get all U.S. students from kindergarten through the 12th grade using electronic titles within five years. The initiative, which doesn’t involve any additional U.S. government funding, is meant to speed adoption of e-textbooks. The U.S. spends $7 billion a year on textbooks, and digital versions are the exception, rather than the rule, Genachowski said.”
Public Access to Scholarly Publications: Public Comment
“On November 3, 2011, OSTP released a Request for Information (RFI) soliciting public input on long-term preservation of, and public access to, the results of federally funded research, including peer-reviewed scholarly publications as required in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. Below are the public comments received by OSTP during the comment period. You can read the RFI on public access to scholarly publications here. Comments on the questions in the RFI were accepted through January 12, 2012.”
Elsevier’s Publishing Model Might be About to Go Up in Smoke
“Academic publishing is a very good game indeed if you can manage to get into it. As the publisher the work is created at the expense of others, for free to you. There are no advances, no royalties, to pay. The editing, the checking, the decisions about whether to publish, these are all also done for free to you. And the market, that’s every college libarary in the world and they’re very price insensitive indeed. Back when physical, paper, copies of the journals were an essential part of any scientists’ life the cost structure could, perhaps, be justified. It is expensive to typeset, proofread, complex texts and then print them in numbers of hundreds or perhaps low thousands. However, now that everything is moving/has moved online then the amounts charged for access to the journals seems less defensible. More like the exploitation of a monopoly position in fact. . . However, there’s something happening that might change this, for Reed Elsevier shareholders, quite delightful position. That is, a revolt of the academics who provide both the papers and the readership.”
See also The Chronicle of Higher Education article: Elsevier Publishing Boycott Gathers Steam Among Academics
European Commission Proposes Stronger Data Privacy Legislation
“After weeks of suspense and rumors, last Wednesday the European Commission finally introduced long-awaited legislation to update the 1995 Data Protection Directive, the primary instrument governing personal privacy in Europe. These changes had been widely anticipated by the privacy community, and were spurred in large part by two distinct motivations: (1) the desire to provide users stronger rights over their personal information, and (2) a wish to harmonize divergent privacy laws across all the European Union.”
Power of books celebrated by UN chief as new library opens in Ethiopian capital
“Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon celebrated the benefits that books can bring to young people as he opened a library at an Ethiopian primary school that has been established under an innovative United Nations scheme. At a ceremony yesterday in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Mr. Ban took part in the hand over of a “Thank You Small Library (TYSL),” which will now be used by the roughly 1,200 pupils attending Keykokeb primary school. At least 110 separate libraries have been created in 15 countries – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa – since 2007, when the so-called TYSL initiative began.”
With GOV.UK, British government redefines the online government platform
“The British Government has launched a beta of its GOV.UK platform, testing a single domain for that could be used throughout government. The new single government domain will eventually replace Directgov, the UK government portal which launched back in 2004. GOV.UK is aimed squarely as delivering faster digital services to citizens through a much improved user interface at decreased cost. Unfortunately, far too often .gov websites cost millions and don’t deliver as needed. GOV.UK is open source, mobile-friendly, platform agnostic, uses HTML5, scalable, hosted in the cloud and open for feedback. Those criteria collectively embody the default for how government should approach their online efforts in the 21st century.”
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The Intersect Alert is a newsletter of the Government Relations Committee, San Francisco Bay Region Chapter, Special Libraries Association.