November 20, 2017

New Report From CRS: “Government Printing, Publications, and Digital Information Management: Issues and Challenges”

Government Printing, Publications, and Digital Information Management: Issues and Challenges was released earlier this week by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and made available to the public by EveryCRS.com.

From the Summary:

In the past half-century, in government and beyond, information creation, distribution, retention, and preservation activities have transitioned from a tangible, paper-based process to digital processes managed through computerized information technologies. Information is created as a digital object which then may be rendered as a text, image, or video file. Those files are then distributed through a myriad of outlets ranging from particular software application and websites to social media platforms. The material may be produced in tangible, printed form, but typically remains in digital formats.

The Government Publishing Office (GPO) is a legislative branch agency that serves all three branches of the national government as a centralized resource for gathering, cataloging, producing, providing, authenticating, and preserving published information. The agency is overseen by the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP) which in 1895 was charged with overseeing and regulating U.S. government printing. GPO operates on the basis of a number of statutory authorities first granted in the 19th and 20th centuries that presume the existence of government information in an ink-on-paper format, because no other format existed when those authorities were enacted. GPO’s activities include the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), which provides permanent public access to published federal government information, and which last received legislative consideration in 1962.

In light of the governance and technological changes of the past four decades, a relevant question for Congress might arise: To what extent can decades-old authorities and work patterns meet the challenges of digital government information? For example, the widespread availability of government information in digital form has led some to question whether paper versions of some publications might be eliminated in favor of digital versions, but others note that paper versions are still required for a variety of reasons. Another area of concern focuses on questions about the capacity of current information dissemination authorities to enable the provision of digital government information in an effective and efficient manner. With regard to information retention, the emergence of a predominantly digital FDLP may raise questions about the capacity of GPO to manage the program given its existing statutory authorities.

These questions are further complicated by the lack of a stable, robust set of digital information resources and management practices like those that were in place when Congress last considered current government information policies. The 1895 printing act was arguably an expression of the state of the art standard of printing technology and provided a foundation which supported government information distribution for more than a century. By contrast, in the fourth or fifth decade of transitioning from the tangible written word to ubiquitous digital creation and distribution, the way ahead is not as clear, due in part to a lack of widely understood and accepted standards for managing digital information.

This report examines three areas related to the production, distribution, retention and management of government information in a primarily digital environment. These areas include

the Joint Committee on Printing;

the Federal Depository Library Program; and

government information management in the future.

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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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