The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) recently released their congressionally mandated report, Rebooting the Government Printing Office: Keeping America Informed in the Digital Age. NAPA’s five-member panel spent ten months conducting an audit of the Government Printing Office (GPO). The panel’s lengthy 166 page report does present some interesting, and at times, troubling thoughts.
On one hand the panel definitely grasps the difficult position that GPO is in considering that, with 97% percent of today’s federal documents are born digital, the GPO has had to make many changes over the past two decades. With the advent of GPO Access and later the Federal Digital System (FDsys), GPO has made strides in continuing to be America’s go to place for authentic government information. However, finances have become a problem. The change of providing access to materials that were primarily available in print to what is now primarily digital information comes at an increased cost.
The report contains 15 recommendations that “are designed to position the federal government for the digital age, strengthen GPO’s business model, and continue to build the GPO of the future.” The recommendations, among other things, suggest that GPO expand its services and the report points out the value of GPO’s relationship with depository libraries and the need for appropriated funds to catalog, digitize, and preserve government documents.
While much of the report is reasonable and responds to the needs of libraries, the public, and GPO itself, the section in Finding III-5, Government Information Dissemination and Access, is cause for concern. This section describes the history of FDsys and the costs associated with ensuring that it is continually up-to-date, future proof and, a usable resource for the public. It also gives some ideas on how GPO might ensure funding for FDsys in the future. One of these ideas is that “now might be the time to revisit charging the public for access to FDsys content.” NAPA recognizes that FDsys would still be available free of charge via depository libraries, however considering that the public has already paid for this material via their tax dollars, the government should not ask for them to pay a second time.
The report states that “free access of government information is an important tenet of a democracy.” They include a ‘however’ after that statement. The American public deserves access to the documents of their federal government without an additional cost. The American Library Association supports and will continue to advocate for funding for the GPO to provide access to government works at no additional cost to the public.