Warner leads effort to gain support for bill

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee is trying to gain lawmakers’ support
for a bill that would dramatically change how agencies publish government documents,
whether on paper or electronically.


The committee earlier this month postponed a markup of the Wendell H. Ford Government
Publications Reform Act, S 2288, to build consensus for the proposal, lawmakers said.


“It’s not easy to turn back 130 years of practices,” said committee
Chairman Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), referring to the last time the nation’s government
publishing law was changed.


On Sept. 10, the committee released a 10-page document detailing changes in the bill it
hopes will smooth opposition. A committee staff member said most of the changes are not
substantive.


The bill would give the renamed Government Publications Office broad authority to
guarantee that information is accessible regardless of the format in which it is
published. The bill would give GPO an enforcement mechanism for collecting materials that
are not published by GPO. It would let GPO charge agencies the cost of publishing
documents that are not usually accessible.


Opponents argue the bill would centralize printing in GPO just as the government is
trying to decentralize such efforts and is moving toward competition to improve such
services. Opponents of the bill include the National Archives and Records Administration,
Defense Automated Printing Service, Coalition for Government Procurement and Information
Technology Association of America.


ITAA president Harris Miller, in a letter to Warner, said the bill could have a
“chilling effect on the government’s use of electronic resources to streamline
its operations.” Agencies could stop using electronic means altogether, rather than
use the “unwieldy notification and reporting requirements” contained in the
bill, he said.


Supporters, however, argued that the bill would make it easy for agencies to meet the
requirements, said Eric Peterson, staff director of the Joint Committee on Printing.


Furthermore, Peterson said, the bill would not weaken the IT Management Reform Act.
“Clinger-Cohen is not pertinent to this,” he said.


Observers suggest powerful backers will push the bill through the Senate. It was
introduced by Warner, the rules committee chairman, and bears the name of Ford (D-Ky.),
its senior minority member who will retire this year.


Although the bill has strong support in the Senate, it faces staunch opposition in the
House.

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