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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

President Grants Clemency to 231 Inmates, a One-Day Record

from Whitehouse.gov blog

Today, President Obama granted clemency to 231 deserving individuals — the most individual acts of clemency granted in a single day by any president in this nation’s history. With today’s 153 commutations, the President has now commuted the sentences of 1,176 individuals, including 395 life sentences. The President also granted pardons to 78 individuals, bringing his total number of pardons to 148. Today’s acts of clemency — and the mercy the President has shown his 1,324 clemency recipients — exemplify his belief that America is a nation of second chances.

chart_121916_commutations

The 231 individuals granted clemency today have all demonstrated that they are ready to make use — or have already made use — of a second chance. While each clemency recipient’s story is unique, the common thread of rehabilitation underlies all of them. For the pardon recipient, it is the story of an individual who has led a productive and law-abiding post-conviction life, including by contributing to the community in a meaningful way. For the commutation recipient, it is the story of an individual who has made the most of his or her time in prison, by participating in educational courses, vocational training, and drug treatment. These are the stories that demonstrate the successes that can be achieved — by both individuals and society — in a nation of second chances.

New GAO Transition App Allows Users to See Changes Needed Across Federal Government

from GAOgao

To help make the upcoming presidential and congressional transitions as informed as possible, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has launched a new mobile app that provides users easy access to the watchdog agency’s priority recommendations for improving government operations.

GAO has organized its work to help President-elect Donald Trump and the next Congress tackle critical challenges facing the nation, fix agency-specific problems, and scrutinize government areas with the potential for large savings,” said Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “With our extensive experience analyzing government programs and agencies, GAO is well positioned to help bring policymakers up to speed on a wide range of pressing issues.”

Dodaro also pointed out that GAO realizes both new Presidential and Congressional personnel will have to move quickly from the campaign trail to governing. “Consequently, we’ve tried to make sure the app as directly as possible lays out quick lists of the major changes needed and allows users to navigate right to GAO’s reports for all the details.”

The app is available free of charge in the App Store® or Google Play

New Law Creates Commission on Native Children

native_american_childrenLast week President Obama signed the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act  into law.  The Commission created by this act, is tasked with the important work of undertaking a comprehensive study of Federal, State, local, and tribal programs that serve Native children, and making recommendations on how those programs could be improved.

This Commission will be housed in an office in the Department of Justice and consist of three individuals appointed by the President and eight individuals appointed by congressional leaders.

Over the past 8 years, my Administration has been committed to working closely with tribes to strengthen our nation-to-nation relationships and to forge a brighter future for all our children. During my own visits to Indian Country, I have been inspired by the talent and enthusiasm of young people who want nothing more than to make a positive difference in their communities. From the Indian Child Welfare Act to working to return control of Indian education to tribal nations, I am proud of the progress we have made over the past 8 years. I applaud the Congress, and in particular Senator Heitkamp, for the efforts that made this new law possible.

–  Barack Obama