Internet and the US Govt.
smith-una at yale.edu
Mon Mar 1 15:44:13 EST 1993
Attached below is a document by James Love describing the GPO Access
bill. This bill has important implications about the future nature
of the Internet, as a largely public, at-cost resource or as a publicly-
funded, very expensive infrastructure that largely supports commercial
Among other things, the GPO Access bill would require the GPO (U.S.
Government Printing Office) to provide public online access to the
Federal Register. This issue has come up in bionet.general earlier
this year, with the distribution by Steve Modena of a "news release"
announcing the availability of the Federal Register via the Internet.
This announcement, which was not written by Steve, failed to mention
the commercial, for-profit nature of the service. The GPO Access
bill further requires that users be charged "incremental cost" rates,
and that this information *not* be sold at a profit.
--------------------------------- cut here -------------------------------
Taxpayer Assets Project
Information Policy Note
February 28, 1993
UPDATE ON WINDO/GATEWAY LEGISLATION
From: James Love <love at essential.org>
Re: GPO Access (Proposed legislation to replace GPO
Note: the WINDO/GATEWAY bills from last Congress (HR
2772; S. 2813) would have provided one-stop-shopping
online access to federal databases and information
systems through the Government Printing Office (GPO),
priced at the incremental cost of dissemination for use
in homes and offices, and free to 1,400 federal
Both the House and Senate are soon expected to introduce
legislation that would replace the GPO WINDO/GATEWAY bills that
were considered in the last Congress. According to Congressional
staff members, the bill will be called "GPO Access." The new
name (which may change again) was only one of many substantive
and symbolic changes to the legislation.
Since the bill is still undergoing revisions, may be possible (in
the next day or so) to provide comments to members of Congress
before the legislation is introduced.
The most important changes to the legislation concern the scope
and ambition of the program. While we had expected Congressional
democrats to ask for an even broader public access bill than were
represented by the WINDO (hr 2772) and Gateway (S. 2813) bills,
the opposite has happened. Despite the fact that the legislation
is no longer facing the threat of a Bush veto or an end of
session filibuster (which killed the bills last year), key
supporters have decided to opt for a decidedly scaled down bill,
based upon last year's HR 5983, which was largely written by the
House republican minority (with considerable input from the
commercial data vendors, through the Information Industry
The politics of the bill are complex and surprising. The
decision to go with the scaled down version of the bill was
cemented early this year when representatives of the Washington
Office of the American Library Association (including ALA
lobbyist Tom Sussman) meet with Senator Ford and Representative
Rose's staff to express their support for a strategy based upon
last year's HR 5983, the republican minority's version of the
bill that passed the House (but died in the Senate) at the end of
last year's session. ALA's actions, which were taken without
consultation with other citizen groups supporting the
WINDO/GATEWAY legislation, immediately set a low standard for the
scope of this year's bill.
We were totally surprised by ALA's actions, as were many other
groups, since ALA had been a vigorous and effective proponent of
the original WINDO/GATEWAY bills. ALA representatives are
privately telling people that while they still hope for broader
access legislation, they are backing the "compromise bill," which
was publicly backed (but privately opposed) last year by IIA, as
necessary, to avoid a more lengthy fight over the legislation.
If the negotiations with the House and Senate republicans hold
up, the new bill will be backed by ranking Republicans on the
Senate Rules and House Administration Committees, and passed by
Congress on fast track consent calendars.
We only obtained a draft of the legislation last week, and it is
still a "work in progress." All changes must be approved by key
Republican members of Senate Rules and House Administration.
Gone from the WINDO/GATEWAY versions of the bill were any funding
(S. 2813 would have provided $13 million over two years) to
implement the legislation, and any findings which set out the
Congressional intent regarding the need to provide citizens with
broad access to most federal information systems. Also missing
are any references to making the online system available through
the Internet or the NREN.
WHAT THE GPO ACCESS BILL WILL DO (subject to further
1. Require the Government Printing Office (GPO) to provide
public online access to:
- the Federal Register
- the Congressional Record
- an electronic directory of Federal public information
- other appropriate publications distributed by the
Superintendent of Documents, and
- information under the control of other federal
departments or agencies, when requested by the
department or agency.
2. Most users will pay user fees equal to the "incremental cost
of dissemination of the information." This is a very
important feature that was included in the WINDO/GATEWAY
legislation. At present many federal agencies, including
the National Technical Information Services (NTIS), make
profits on electronic information products and services.
Given the current federal government fiscal crisis, this
strong limit on online prices is very welcome.
3. The 1,400 member federal Depository Library Program will
have free access to the system, just as they presently have
free access to thousands of federal publications in paper
and microfiche formats. Issues to be resolved later are who
will pay for Depository Library Program telecommunications
costs, and whether or not GPO will use the online system to
replace information products now provided in paper or
WHAT THE GPO ACCESS BILL DOESN'T DO
- Provide any start-up or operational funding
- Require GPO to provide online access through the Internet
- The Gateway/WINDO bills would have given GPO broad authority
to publish federal information online, but the new bill
would restrict such authority to documents published by the
Superintendent of Documents (A small subset of federal
information stored electronically), or situations where the
agency itself asked GPO to disseminate information stored in
electronic formats. This change gives agencies more
discretion in deciding whether or not to allow GPO to
provide online access to their databases, including those
cases where agencies want to maintain control over databases
for financial reasons (to make profits).
- Language that would have explicitly allowed GPO to reimburse
agencies for their costs in providing public access was
eliminated in the new bill. This is a potentially important
issue, since many federal agencies will not work with GPO to
provide public access to their own information systems,
unless they are reimbursed for costs that they incur.
- S. 2813 and HR 2772 would have required GPO to publish an
annual report on the operation of the Gateway/WINDO and
accept and consider *annual* comments from users on a wide
range of issues. The new bill only makes a general
requirement that GPO "consult" with users and data vendors.
The annual notice requirement that was eliminated was
designed to give citizens more say in how the service
evolves, by creating a dynamic public record of citizen
views on topics such as the product line, prices, standards
and the quality of the service. Given the poor record of
many federal agencies in dealing with rapidly changing
technologies and addressing user concerns, this is an
- The WINDO/GATEWAY bills would have required GPO to address
standards issues, in order to simplify public access. The
new bill doesn't raise the issue of standards.
OTHER POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Supporters of a quick passage of the scaled down GPO Access
legislation are concerned about a number of budget, turf and
organizational issues. Examples are:
- Congress is considering
More information about the Bioforum