Senate bill would give GPO new name, power over govt. data

Some call the
bill a
step backward for procurement reform.

The Senate Rules Committee is considering a bill that would make the
Government Printing Office responsible for ensuring public access to government data, even
Web postings.

But the administration, which opposes the bill, contends it would be a step backward
for procurement reform and would give GPO too much power over government information.

The bill—S 2288, the Wendell H. Ford Government Publications Reform Act of
1998—would rename GPO as the Government Publications Office.

The bill would direct GPO to guarantee access to government data in any form, from
paper to digital. The bill, sponsored by Rules Committee chairman Sen. John Warner
(R-Va.), would let GPO collect materials it does not publish but which are slated for
distribution through the depository library program.

The government set up the depository library program as a way to ensure broad access to
unclassified government information. The program distributes government publications to
1,400 public libraries around the country.

The Office of Management and Budget is fighting the bill. OMB said the bill would
eliminate competition between GPO and other government printing organizations, such as the
Defense Automated Printing Services and the National Technical Information Service.

“We are concerned that S 2288 moves counter to the direction being taken by the
private sector as well as the rest of the federal government in information management
practices,” Donald Arbuckle, acting administrator of OMB’s Office of Information
and Regulatory Affairs, said in written testimony.

Senate Rules refused to let Arbuckle testify at a recent hearing on the bill because he
did not submit his testimony 24 hours in advance, a committee staff member said.

Arbuckle said that agencies need freedom to shop for the best deal in printing services
and other document services. “Reducing over-centralization would permit the agencies
to procure printing like any other goods or service,” he said.

The Coalition for Government Procurement in Washington also opposes the bill. “The
bill gives GPO broad power,” executive director Larry Allen said in a letter to the
committee. It would “enforce the centralization of publication and dissemination
operations into a government-unique bureaucracy. It’s almost from the Brooks Act
era,” he said.

But backers of the bill argue that public information is getting lost in the growing
tide of digital documents.

“The trends toward decentralization, privatization and commercialization of
government information and the increased use of electronic technologies to produce and
disseminate information have led to large amounts of government information eluding the
primary systems of public access,” said Robert L. Oakley, library director of the
Georgetown University Law Center. “The result is increased fugitive information and
reduced public access.”

The bill would make it easier to monitor and track an estimated 4,300 government Web
sites because it would require agencies to notify the public of changes to online
documents, Oakley said.

“We must also develop mechanisms to ensure the authority and integrity of
information available on agency Web sites,” Oakley said. “Users must be assured
that the information they locate is, in fact, official. We were pleased that S 2288
includes a provision to establish certifying criteria for online government publications
to ensure that they are official versions.”    


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