Congressional Pictorial Directory Available for 115th Congress

The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) has made available the Congressional Pictorial Directory: 115th Congress on GPO’s govinfo website. GPO employees designed and produced the Pictorial Directory, which features a color photograph of each member of the House of Representatives and Senate.  It also details each member’s length of service, political party affiliation, and congressional district. The Pictorial Directory also contains pictures of the President, Vice President, and House and Senate officers and officials.  In addition to the digital version, the print edition is available on GPO’s online bookstore.

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Official Presidential Documents: Selected Sources

presidential seal

The first State of the Union address by President Donald J. Trump is already available online and will be available from other sources in the coming days.  For our current president, there are a wealth of resources that give you access to his activities, speeches, political remarks, etc. in blogs, Internet posts, newspaper and magazine articles, etc. Listed below are some of the Presidential resources that give you access to official Presidential documents of the United States government.

  • The official powers of the President of the United States are set forth in Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, and more “mundane” things such as compensation, traveling expenses, “assistance to the President for unanticipated needs,” “furniture for the Executive Residence at the White House,” etc. are delineated in title 3 of the United States Code.
  • The official website of the White House contains information on the activities of the President and the First Lady, issues and legislation important to the President, and information about the White House itself.
  • The National Archives is the guardian of all official Presidential Records. With the administration of Presidential Ronald Reagan, all presidential papers automatically become government property, and the National Archives receives everything from the White House on the last day of an administration.  (Before Reagan, the President’s papers were a “deed of gift” because the President had discretion to turn them over to the government, or not.)  Included at the Archives website are links to all presidential libraries.
  • The Federal Depository Library Program has produced the following LibGuide: Presidential Documents: Overview, which covers presidential documents, presidential libraries and museums, and presidential history.
  • Hein Online has a U.S. Presidential Library with compilations of presidential messages, speeches, papers, etc.
  • The Presidential Documents section of the Federal Register contains executive orders and proclamations of the President, which are codified once a year and published in Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents (2009 to 2018) and Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (1965 to 2009) are available in Hein Online, which also contain Presidential proclamations and executive orders.
  • The BLS Library contains the various collections of the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States.  These volumes can be located in the SARA online catalog by searching the name of the President you are interested in.  For example, the record for the collection of the papers of President Barack Obama can be found here.

FDLPI recently attended the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) Conference in Arlington, Virginia, October 16 – 18, 2017.  This annual conference brings together federal depository librarians throughout the country, and allows them to meet with and hear from the Depository Library Council (DLC), the Superintendent of Documents, and the staff of the Government Publishing Office (GPO).  These entities supervise and offer guidance to the libraries in the federal depository program.

Brooklyn Law School Library is one of over a thousand federal depository libraries located throughout the United States in academic, government and public libraries.  The mission of the Federal Depository Library Program is to provide free, ready, and permanent public access to federal government information, now and for future generations.  The BLS Library became a federal depository in 1974, and as such we receive government documents in print, digital and microfiche formats.  Among the titles that we receive from the GPO, the distributor for the FDLP, are the United States Code, United States Reports, the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register, and the Congressional Record.

There were over 40 programs held during the three day conference.  Some of the topics covered were: Disaster Preparedness and the Response in the FDLP – Hurricanes Harvey & Irma; to SuDoc or Not: Organizing Your Documents Collection to Meet Your Patrons’ Needs; When Women Didn’t Count: Gaps in Federal Statistics; the U.S. Courts: Our Library Program, PACER, and Opinions n FDsys; and the New U.S. Government Online Bookstore.

Some of the other interesting programs I attended were:

  • Title 44 Reform:  GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks has charged the DLC with making recommendations for changes to Chapter 19, Title 44, of the U.S. Code, including requiring legislative, executive, and judicial branch agencies to deposit authenticated electronic publications with the GPO; remove the requirement that a depository library hold at least 10,000 books because it is no longer a metric for success or sustainability; permit regional depositories to share their collections and services across state lines, so long as the Senators in all the involved states agree; and authorize the GPO to digitize previously printed historical materials disseminated to the public; etc.
  • Law Librarian of Congress Jane Sanchez gave an overview of the various collections of the Law Library of Congress and stated that they have a mandate to serve all three branches of government; the Law Library of Congress has nearly three million volumes and that half of the collection is foreign and international material. She has started working on a project with the Superintendent of Documents to digitize the U.S. Supreme Court Records & Briefs and the Serial Set (a historical collection of government documents which includes Congressional reports, documents & prints, among other material).
  • Meg Phillips, External Affairs Liaison, at the National Archives and Records Administration, gave an overview of the holdings of the National Archives, including a brief history of presidential libraries and presidential records, and described the congressional records and court records held by NARA.
  • Robert Berry, BLS alumnus of the class of 1999, and now Manager of the Patent & Trademark Resource Center Program in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) spoke, along with Librarian Tiffany Mair, about the work of the 87 libraries in their system.  He also presented historical information and illustrations of the three types of patents available from the USPTO: utility, design, and plant patents.

Congress.gov: An Overview

congress.gov Congress.gov is the official website for United States federal legislative information, having replaced the former website, Thomas.gov, which was retired July 5, 2016.

The Congress.gov website is a very robust site with many features not formerly found in Thomas. At the top of the Congress.gov homepage is a search box, which by default allows you to search for current legislation — the 115th Congress.  Click on the drop-down and you can search across all legislation.  If your search is too broad, in addition to adding additional terms to narrow your search, you can also choose filters which are to the left on the web page.  You can filter by Congress, source, such as the Congressional Record or committee reports, status of legislation, subject, committee, sponsor, even political party.

All current members of Congress, with their contact information, committee assignments, biographical information, and links to their websites are listed.  From a Congressional member’s page there are links to their remarks in the Congressional Record.

If Congress is in session when you log-on, you can view live proceedings from both the House and the Senate.  Video archives of previous sessions for both the Senate and the House are available.

You can obtain the full text of bills and public laws, and there is a link to the United States Code.  For bills, there is a tracker which allows you to see the progress of a bill from its introduction through all subsequent action.

Most of the work of Congress is done in committees, and a list of all committees, along with their members, is available.  Hearing schedules, and some hearing videos are also available.  Committee reports are available back to 1995.

The Congressional Record, in PDF, is also available back to 1995, with optical character recognition, so that it is searchable.

Nine videos detailing the legislative process from a bill’s introduction to action by the President are available, as well as a link to U.S. Founding Documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Finally, from a member’s page you can set-up an email alert so that you can follow their legislative activity or you can set-up an email alert to track a specific bill.  For either type of alert, all you need to do is create an account with an email address and a password of your choosing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Regulatory Accountability Act: Proposed Legislation

Federal administrative agencies, which comprise the executive branch of the United States government, are required to conform to the procedures for their administration set out in the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, which has been called the “constitution of rule making.”

The law requires agencies to issue proposed regulations, solicit comments, and publish final regulations.

All proposed and final regulations are published in the Federal Register, which is published daily and is available in the BLS Library in print, and online by the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System, and in Hein Online, Lexis and Westlaw.

Federal Register

After the final regulations are published in the Federal Register, they are codified in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Code of Federal Regulations

The print CFR is updated once a year in four separate installments, and new or amended regulations are published daily in the Federal register.  The CFR is also available in print in the BLS Library, and online by the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System, and in Hein Online, Lexis and Westlaw.

For an extensive discussion of the organization and history of U.S. administrative agencies and federal regulation, see the Federal Regulatory Directory.

According to recent news accounts, in 1946 the Federal Register comprised approximately 15,000 pages; in 2015 it comprised over 81,000 pages.

Many legislators, organizations, and citizens think this is over-regulation, which impacts our economy through excessive regulation of businesses, both large and small.

In order to reduce the number of regulations promulgated by administrative agencies in the future, a bill has been introduced in Congress to reform the federal regulatory process and cut red tape in federal programs.  This bill is called the Regulatory Accountability Act and was introduced in and passed by the House of Representatives, and is now awaiting action by the Senate.

The Regulatory Accountability Act would amend current law, with the following objectives:

  • Provide for earlier public participation on major rules and require federal agencies to disclose information they rely upon, making the process more transparent
  • Codify the duty to analyze the costs and benefits of new regulations
  • Codify many of the requirements now imposed by executive orders
  • Allow federal agency to hold hearings on the most significant regulations
  • Provide for judicial review of agency compliance for major regulations

 

 

The Sixties: the Digitized Version of the Congressional Record Recently Released

Congressional Record

The Congressional Record is the official record of the debates and proceedings of the United States Congress.  It is issued daily when Congress is in session, and is published by the United States Government Printing Office (GPO).  The GPO has partnered with the Library of Congress to release the digital version of the bound Congressional Record for the sixties, from 1961 to 1970 on GPO’s website:  www.govinfo.gov

This release covers debates and proceedings of the 87th through 91st Congresses, and covers historical topics such as:

  • The Administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson
  • The Vietnam War
  • The Civil Rights Era
  • The Space Program and Moon Landing
  • Legislation of the Great Society and the War on Poverty, including
    • Medicare & Medicaid
    • Civil Rights Act of 1964
    • Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Congressional Record is also available on the www.gpo.gov.fdsys website from 1994 to 2017

The Congressional Record is available on microfiche, in bound volumes, in paper and online from a variety of sources, including the following:

  • The BLS Library receives daily paper issues as a U.S. Government Depository Library.  These issues are shelved in the Documents Reference Collection in the cellar. Call number:  DREF KF 35 .U578
  • Bound volumes are also shelved in the Documents Reference Collection in the cellar.  This collection covers 1873 (43rd Congress) to 2011 (112th Congress).  Call number: DREF KF 35 .U578
  • The Congressional Record in microfiche is located in the cellar microfiche collection covering 1873 (43rd Congress) to 2012.  Call number:  KF 35 .U577
  • HeinOnline has the daily edition of the Congressional Record:   1980-2017 (Volumes 126-163) and the bound volume edition:  1873 (43rd Congress to 2011 (112th Congress).
  • Finally, both Lexis and Westlaw have the Congressional Record online from 1985 to date.

For assistance with research in the Congressional Record, please feel free to consult a reference librarian.

 

Preserving Access to Government Scientific Data under the Trump Administration

MFSThe inaugural March for Science was organized to coincide with Earth Day on April 22, 2017.  Tens of thousands of people rallied in Washington, DC and over 600 other locations across the globe. The organizers were motivated by what they saw as the Trump administration’s hostility to science on a variety of issues. These ranged from Trump’s own statements denying climate change, to the anti-science posture of officials appointed to key federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Energy Department, to proposed funding cutbacks at the National Institutes of Health.

From the time Trump was elected president, scientists and their allies have had serious concerns about how this would affect the federal government’s policies on science. One of their deepest fears is losing access to the vast amount of scientific data maintained by the federal government and made available to the public. The Obama presidency was committed to open data.  Under the Obama administration, “increasing access to scientific data and research findings generated by Federal agencies or resulting from Federally funded research” was viewed as a policy priority.  This policy has been reversed since Trump took office.

For example, Victoria Herrmann, an Arctic researcher, reported that the U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic, Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and reports about progress, disappeared from government websites the day after Trump’s inauguration. She stated that the months that followed have been “transformed into a slow, incessant march of deleting datasets, webpages and policies about the Arctic.” Other reports indicate that while outright deletion remains relatively uncommon, the new administration is making data harder to find, and will soon be cutting funding to the point where collecting data becomes difficult for federal agencies.

In response to these concerns, scientists, programmers, librarians, academics, and others have gathered in locations across North America at “data rescue” events organized by groups such as Data Refuge and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI).  EDGIThese gatherings are essentially hackathons during which participants endeavor to download, save, and archive scientific data maintained by the government.  Event organizers face continuing technical and logistical challenges, including: developing broadly-applicable tools that can be used to extract data from a variety of government websites, confirming the integrity of the data, securing sufficient long-term storage, documenting the chain of custody, and developing procedures to facilitate future public access. 

Amidst the ongoing data rescue efforts, it was widely reported that in the event of a government shutdown, on April 28, 2017 the EPA would take down their Open Data portal that provides data on climate change, pollution, and public health. The EPA subsequently responded that the portal would not be updated, but would not go dark in the event of a shutdown. This episode nonetheless raised an important question: can federal government agencies like the EPA simply delete data or deny public access to the data they maintain?

On this issue, federal agencies are constrained by statutory and administrative regulations. The Paperwork Reduction Act states that government agencies must “provide adequate notice when initiating, substantially modifying, or terminating significant information dissemination products.” 44 U.S.C. § 3506(d)(3).  The Federal Records Act (FRA) further limits how federal agencies can dispose of data. The FRA broadly defines records to include “all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, Nara-Logofunctions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the United States Government or because of the informational value of data in them.”  44 U.S.C. § 3301(a)(1)(A). The statute requires permanent records, i.e. those of continuing value, to be preserved and deposited in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA has provided administrative guidance on how scientific, environmental, and technical data can be appraised and preserved. Notably, on December 22, 2016, NARA sent all federal agencies a memorandum on preservation of federal records that stated: “In many cases, websites contain databases or datasets. We remind agencies that such data, or the systems in which they reside, must be scheduled as Federal records.”

It is still an open question as to whether these laws have any teeth. Patrice McDermott, the author of Who Needs to Know? The State of Public Access to Federal Government Information (2007), recently stated that while the Federal Records Act makes it an offense to knowingly and arbitrarily destroy government records, “No one — NO ONE, period! – has ever been prosecuted for doing it.”  Moreover, in Kissinger v. Reporters Committee, 445 U.S. 136 (1980), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Federal Records Act was created to benefit the federal government and its agencies, ruling that the statute contains neither an express nor an implied private right of action.  

The battle over science policy and scientific data also rages on in the political arena. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has introduced H.R. 1232: “Save America’s Science Act” to require Federal agencies to maintain and preserve their data assets — even as other proposed bills make their way through Congress which purport to promote transparency in scientific research but would gut the efforts of the EPA if passed, according to critics.  

Data rescue events continue to be organized across the country, and it remains to be seen how effective they will be in scaling up the extraction and archiving of data.  These efforts have, at the very least, brought visibility to the importance of ensuring public access to the treasure trove of scientific data maintained by the federal government.