Monday, November 8, 2010

Government Secrecy

I'll admit to a couple of surprises in this weeks readings. In's Secrecy Report Card I found myself astounded by the sheer volume of classified material and the amount of material being declassifed. I am aware that the Federal Government produces massive amounts of information in the form of studies, reports, memos, policy directives, collected intellignce and on and on. I am also well aware that a certain amount of this information (too much?) is sensitive, classified or "Top Secret." It was seeing the numbers in charts that really hit me, 31,443,552 pages declassified in 2008. That's a huge number, nearly 79,000 books worth, assuming an average of 400 pages per book.

The Jacobs, Jacobs and Yeo article was also eye opening as I'd never given thought to the GPO and Federal Depository Libraries before. I agree with the authors' assertion that the creation of a monolithic digital clearinghouse of governmental information managed by the GPO, may actually run counter to the goals of providing access, ease of navigation and preservation. The redundancies that the FDLP provides, are vital to the maintenance of, organization and free access to governmental information. I also agree that libraries are the ideal third party for storage, preservation and access. These functions match our profession's values and developed skills perfectly. Libraries also have a long history in developing a public trust for providing reliable and authentic information, as well as, protecting patron privacy. Unfortunately, as the Althaus and Leetaru article demonstrates, our government does not always deserve such trust as it relates to these issues.

I found myself thinking about some of these issues in the context of our recent election and current fiscal state. In the face of yawning deficits and sky rocketing national debt, the impulse to look for cost savings spending reductions is a natural one. And the slash and burn proposals that seem to so be in vogue these days, i.e. 5% across the board budget cuts, pay cuts for government bureaucrats, wholesale elimination of federal agencies, may all sound like sexy solutions (at least to small government types), but these approaches have 2nd and 3rd order consequences beyond just reducing government spending.

For example, what would the effects be of a 5% cut in the GPO's overall budget and how would that impact their ability to publish and distribute governmental information or transition to new technologies? What of free access? Would budget cuts hasten the development of a pay model at the GPO? What would the effects be of the resultant inequality of access? In what ways would budget cuts effect various governmental agencies ability to review documents for declassification, process FOIA requests and perform other functions related to governmental transparency?

I think we all agree that information is vital to democracy and these are areas where policy and advocacy become of great importance for information professionals. Librarians and other stakeholders, such as, historians, journalists, good government groups and others need to network and have their experts speak up on policies that effect the public's right to information produced by and about their government.

1 comment:

  1. I also agree with the GPO article’s assumption that a government one-stop-shop of providing controlled information would be counter to their goal of providing easy access to said information. There is just too much knowledge – requests would instantly become bottlenecked within the system designed to distribute their use. So, libraries – taxed paid, pre-established institutions – seem the logical alterative. However, we currently do not have the funds to process such requests. We do not have moneys to fund the vans which transport non-secret books to and from library to library.

    However, I believe that libraries should provide this information. And besides, it would be nice to be a part of the “Homeland Security” Budget…everyone else is, apparently…