EPA has problems digitizing documents, GAO says

Digitization moves forward without plan or inventory

The Environmental Protection Agency is digitizing its library holdings without having a strategic plan, complete inventory or funding mechanism in place, the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

Without those elements in place, it's difficult to ensure success for the digitization effort, GAO auditors cautioned in the report, which was issued Nov. 1.

“Given the current economic environment, without a completed strategic plan, including a detailed strategy for acquiring, deploying, and managing funding, EPA may find itself hard-pressed to ensure that the network can meet its users’ needs,” they wrote.


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The agency created the library network in 1971 to make environmental research information available to the public. In 2006, as part of a consolidation, EPA closed five of its 26 libraries and began digitizing some materials for online research. However, the closures generated protests, and the agency put a temporary hold on the reorganization. It has since reopened the closed libraries, although some have reduced hours, the report states. The agency also hired a national library program manager and established some procedures for the libraries, which GAO said led to some improvements in services.

Meanwhile, a 2008 draft strategic plan for the libraries, including the digitization strategy, has gaps and is “largely a placeholder list,” GAO said.

Although the draft plan emphasizes a central role for electronic resources, there is no timeline or funding strategy for completing an inventory of holdings or digitizing those holdings, the report states.

Furthermore, auditors said, a three-phase digitization of library holdings is proceeding without an inventory. Phase 1 was completed in January 2007, producing 15,260 documents. Phase 2 is scheduled for completion in December and is expected to produce another 10,000 electronic documents. Planning has begun for phase 3.

However, because there is no inventory, it is impossible to accurately estimate costs and schedules for the digitization, GAO auditors said.

They recommended that EPA:

  • Complete the strategic plan, with goals and timelines.
  • Complete an inventory of library holdings to determine what needs to be digitized.
  • Proceed with digitization for documents with assistance agreements in place.
  • For future assistance agreements, ensure that digitization can proceed without prior permission from the copyright holder. If that is not possible, EPA should digitize for authorized use only.
  • Ensure proper data analysis protocols for surveys of user needs.

EPA officials agreed with the recommendations.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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