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Librarians as Change Agents: How You Can Help Influence Public Policy in the 110th Congress

By Mary Alice Baish, Published on July 27, 2007
November Elections Bring Important Changes in Congressional Leadership

The November mid-term elections brought a sea change to the balance of power in Washington. While it was expected that the Democrats would take over leadership of the House of Representatives, their victory in the Senate had been far from certain going into the elections. Exit polls clearly demonstrated that corruption and scandal influenced voters, as did the need for greater transparency and accountability in government.

In-coming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid both signaled shortly after the elections that among their top goals would be ethics reform and greater openness and transparency to regain the public's trust. It's important to note as well that with their narrow majorities, Democrats will have to work on a bipartisan basis to move their legislative agenda forward or they will face continued congressional gridlock. And with the 2008 presidential election looming, they need to prove to the American people their commitment to real change in the political process.

With both Congress and the White House controlled by Republicans during the past few years, congressional oversight has been sorely lacking. You can expect to see early oversight hearings on such hot button issues as global warming, the Iraq war and the war on terrorism. In addition, we hope for oversight hearings on some of our information policy issues, including the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year to close many of their libraries.

To be effective, lobbyists must work in a bipartisan manner to effect change. Our broad range of policy and legislative issues are not tied to any political party. While the 109th Congress was ruled more by acrimony than a spirit of collegiality and bipartisanship, the library community in fact worked very well with members of both parties on such important issues as freedom of information and access to government sponsored research. With that said, however, the leadership changes in both the House and the Senate bode very well for many of the issues that the national library associations and our allied organizations have supported during the past few years. Although not all the committee assignments are finalized and the rosters are incomplete as I write this in mid-December, here's a view from inside the beltway on some very significant leadership changes in the House and Senate that will impact our legislative agenda.

Meet the New U.S. Senate Committee Leaders

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is the incoming Chairwoman of the Environment & Public Works Committee. Sen. Boxer has been outspoken against the closure last year of many of the EPA libraries. Last fall, she led a group of senators in a joint letter to senior members of the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting that the committee direct the EPA to restore and maintain public access to its library collections. Boxer is very likely to pursue oversight hearings early in the 110th Congress on the EPA library issues and global warming. http://boxer.senate.gov/

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) holds the record for casting the most votes of any senator in the history of the Republic, having voted more than 17,500 in his Senate career! He is the very powerful incoming Chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, a committee he has been a member of since he first was elected to the Senate in 1959. Byrd has been a strong supporter of the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the Library of Congress (LC) in the past. http://byrd.senate.gov/

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) is the new Senate Majority Whip and a long-time champion of libraries. During the battle over the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act during the 109th Congress, Durbin was one of a small bipartisan contingent of senators who successfully threatened a filibuster unless several changes were made to protect civil liberties. In addition, Durbin has been the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee's Legislative Branch Subcommittee that sets annual funding levels for GPO and LC. As a result of his new leadership position as Majority Whip, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will chair that important subcommittee in the 110th Congress. Durbin also serves on the Judiciary Committee that has oversight, among other things, of intellectual property and freedom of information issues. Last year, the Chicago Association of Law Libraries presented Sen. Durbin with their 2005 Legislator of the Year Award in recognition of his support for libraries on the USA Patriot Act. http://durbin.senate.gov/

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) is the incoming Chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee, the authorizing committee for GPO and LC. She will also likely chair the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress. Sen. Feinstein has not been highly engaged in GPO and LC issues so she'll need to hear from the California library community as the new Congress gets under way. Like Durbin, Sen. Feinstein is a very powerful member as she also serves on the Judiciary Committee, the Appropriations Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence. While she is strong on defense and border security issues, we can also expect her strong support in combating identity theft and protecting personal privacy. http://feinstein.senate.gov/

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) is the new Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. In 2006, Sen. Inouye introduced a bill to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to ensure that tribal libraries that receive assistance under the Library Services and Technology Act are eligible for E-rate assistance. Sen. Inouye was a strong champion for net neutrality last year, bucking then-Chairman Ted Stevens who strongly opposed including a provision on net neutrality in his telecommunications reform bill. http://byrd.senate.gov/

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is the incoming Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a group that is sometimes referred to as the "cyber senators." Leahy is a strong champion of libraries, including the Library of Congress, and has worked hard on our behalf to protect privacy rights and freedom of speech on the Internet. During the past few Congresses, he has co-sponsored with fellow Judiciary member Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) several important freedom of information reform bills and the OPEN Government Act. This should come as no surprise since Leahy was the author of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996. Leahy has also signaled that oversight of the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice, improving access to government information, and protecting the public's right to privacy will be among his top priorities during the 110th Congress. He has also promised to introduce the Orphan Works Act in early 2007 and to work with the House toward its enactment. http://leahy.senate.gov/

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) is the new Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Formerly the Democratic senator of Connecticut, Lieberman lost the Democratic nomination to represent Connecticut in the Senate in the 110th Congress. However, he then ran as an independent candidate and was reelected. Lieberman promises to represent Connecticut as a Democrat and therefore retains his leadership position on the committee. He strongly supports access to government information and was the sponsor of the E-Government Act of 2002 and the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006. http://lieberman.senate.gov/

Meet the New U.S. House of Representatives Committee Leaders

Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI-14) is the second-longest serving current member of the House. He is the incoming Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that has oversight over intellectual property issues. Directly below Conyers in seniority is Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA-28) who will take over as Chair of the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. With his close ties to Hollywood, Berman has been on the side of strong controls over digital content rather than supporting efforts endorsed by the library community to promote fair use in the digital environment. http://www.house.gov/conyers/

Rep. John David Dingell, Jr. (D-MI-15) holds the record as the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. As the new Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Dingell-like his counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Inouye-will prove to be a strong champion of net neutrality. His committee will also have primary jurisdiction over legislation introduced in the 108th and 109th Congresses by Rep. Rich Boucher (D-VA-9), the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act. http://www.house.gov/dingell/

Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN-06) is the new Chairman of the House Committee on Science that has oversight of all non-military research and development. During the 109th Congress, Gordon worked with then House Government Ranking Member Henry Waxman to introduce legislation that would ensure Federal scientists can carry out their responsibilities free from political interference. The Science Committee has also been active in oversight of Federal agencies regarding scientific integrity issues. The closure of the EPA libraries is another issue that falls under the Science Committee's jurisdiction and we may well see an early oversight hearing on EPA issues. http://gordon.house.gov/

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD-5), like Sen. Durbin, is a long-time champion of libraries. He was elected to be the new Majority Leader in the 110th Congress. Coming from the DC suburbs of Maryland, he is a good friend of labor and government employees, and he's also been a consistently effective supporter of both GPO and LC. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Hoyer has been very helpful to us in the past in securing adequate funding for both agencies. He is highly regarded for his ability to work well in a bipartisan manner. http://hoyer.house.gov/

Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald(D-CA-37), former Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee, was named its new Chairwoman by Speaker Pelosi in mid-December. House Administration is a very important committee for libraries as it has oversight over both GPO and LC. During the 110th Congress, the committee also provides leadership for the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP). It is very likely that Chairwoman Millender-McDonald will also chair the JCP. http://millender-mcdonald.house.gov/

Rep. David Obey (D-WI-7) is the new Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He has a long-term familiarity with the programs and funding for GPO and LC. I contacted his staff immediately after the November elections to encourage Obey to reinstate the Legislative Branch Subcommittee which had been eliminated by the Republican majority several years ago. Reconstituting the subcommittee will go a long way toward helping us gain new and stronger House champions for GPO and LC in the coming years. http://obey.house.gov/

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA-30) is the Chair of the Committee on Government Reform, where he previously served as the Ranking Member. Waxman is a champion of information access issues and has spoken out in strong support for openness and transparency in government. Sponsor of the Restore Open Government Act of 2005 which he will likely reintroduce early in the 110th Congress, Waxman has strongly condemned the Administration's penchant for secrecy. Last fall, he joined with House colleagues in requesting a GAO report on the closures of many EPA libraries. Waxman is also a member of the House Science Committee which dovetails nicely with his Government Reform hat and his concerns about scientific integrity in Federal research and policymaking. If you're interested in updates on these issues, even non-constituents can subscribe to his e-newsletter from his web site at http://www.house.gov/waxman/.

Key Library Issues for the 110th Congress

Now that we have a snapshot of important leadership changes for the 110th Congress, let's take a look at some of the key issues of concern to the library community. First, the bad news. The FY 2007 appropriations process was a disaster for most agencies. Congress recessed for the November mid-term elections having gotten only two of the FY 2007 appropriations bills to the White House-not surprisingly, they are the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007and the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2007. FY 2007 funding bills for the Government Printing Office, the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration passed the House but only got out of committee in the Senate. They never reached the Senate floor or a conference committee to negotiate differences between the two bills.

To keep the government operational, Congress passed a first Continuing Resolution (CR) through November 17, 2006 that was then extended during the lame-duck session through February 15, 2007. The problem with the CR is that funding is distributed based on the lowest total among the FY 2006 appropriations, the Senate approved FY 2007 levels, or the House approved FY 2007 levels. This is dire news for many agencies and has resulted in cuts to services and operations due to the budget shortages. Since the FY 2008 appropriations cycle begins in February, the new Appropriations Committee Chairmen, Sen. Byrd and Rep. Obey, have agreed not to revisit the FY 2007 bills but to focus instead on preparing the budgets for FY 2008. So unless a supplemental is passed when the new CR expires in February, further cuts and even furloughs are likely to occur in many agencies.

In the case of the Government Printing Office, this means that their request for a one-time supplement of $10 Million in FY 2007 for their important digital projects, including $2 million for the productions and distribution of the print 2006 U.S. Code as mandated by law, will not be funded even though it is included in both the House and Senate versions of their FY 2007 appropriations bill. It seems obvious that some sort of supplemental bill will have to be enacted in February but equally obvious is that agencies will be fighting for their fair share. Certainly the library community will do its best to secure GPO's supplemental funding or further programmatic cuts will occur for the FDLP.

Now for some good news. While it's always much easier to kill a bill than to get one enacted, the library community and our allies actually gained momentum on several important pieces of legislation during the waning days of the 109th Congress. You can check for updates on THOMAS (http://thomas.loc.gov/) on the following list of important bills that we hope to see move quickly through the legislative process this year.

The Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA-9) and former Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA-4) co-sponsored the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (DMCRA) in the 108th and 109th Congresses. In spring 2004, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection held an important hearing during which both members testified in support of the bill. They noted that while that they supported the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (P.L. 105-304), it was very clear to them that the DMCA had eroded user rights. Their bill would restore the historic balance in U.S. copyright law by reaffirming fair use. Under the DMCRA, it would not be a violation of Section 1201 of the DMCA to circumvent a technological measure in connection with gaining access to or using a digital work if the circumvention does not result in an infringement of the copyright in the work. The library community strongly supports the DMCRA because it reaffirms fair use in a networked environment; resolves key concerns regarding hardware and software that permit significant non-infringing uses; and allows researchers to engage in the scientific research of technological protection measures. We expect Rep. Boucher to introduce a slightly revised DMCRA early in new Congress.

The Federal Research Public Access Act

The Federal Research Public Access Act was introduced on May 2, 2006 by Senators John Corny (R-TX) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT). The bill requires that agencies with federally funded research budgets of more than $100 million enact policies to ensure that articles are made available online within six months of publication. It also requires that every researcher using agency funds submit an electronic copy of the final manuscript to the agency that provided the funding after the work has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The agency is responsible for providing free public access to the information and ensuring that the manuscript is preserved in a stable, digital repository. The bill was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs now chaired by Sen. Lieberman, so we hope to see quick progress in moving it forward in 2007.

Net Neutrality

The basic premise of net neutrality is that it ensures that all Internet traffic is treated equally. Every company, business, or individual who owns and runs a web site has to pay a premium to telecom companies for use of their hard lines that connect web sites to users. Net neutrality has ensured that the premium is the same for everyone. Despite the best efforts of net neutrality proponents, including AALL, the Senate Commerce Committee's telecommunications bill, the Communications, Consumer's Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, failed to include a provision for net neutrality. The telecom giants have spent millions to block net neutrality legislation because they can reap enormous financial benefits by creating a two-tiered internet consisting of a "fast lane" and "slow lane." This would create a two-tiered system and a segregated Internet in which telecom companies, through the use of premiums, could indirectly control access to web sites. Without a guarantee of net neutrality, libraries may not be able to provide the same volume of information online as most do now due to the cost of accessing the fastest connections. Fortunately, both Sen. Inouye and Rep. Dingell, the new chairmen of the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction, are both strong proponents of net neutrality.

The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government (OPEN) Act

Introduced early in the 109th Congress by Senators Cornyn (R-TX) and Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX-21) in the House, the OPEN Government Act would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by clarifying the response time to requests and establishing reliable methods for checking the status of pending requests. Specifically, the legislation clarifies that the 20 day time limit for agencies to respond to FOIA requests would begin on the day that the agency originally receives the request. It also requires each agency to establish a telephone line or Internet service as a method to allow for a request status check. Last but not least, it sets up oversight and reporting requirements for denials of FOIA requests. Last fall, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its version of the OPEN Government Act and put the bill on the Legislative Calendar for a floor vote. The House took a small step toward passing its version of the bill in late September when the Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability approved the bill. Chairman Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee has already signaled his intent to move this bill forward quickly.

The Orphan Works Act

AALL has participated for several years with the other national library associations in efforts by the U.S. Copyright Office to address the orphan works problem. Orphan works are those for which the copyright owner is difficult or impossible to find when a library or museum seeks permission for copyrighted works. The bill was introduced last May and was quickly approved by the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. This important legislation constitutes a very positive step forward in solving many orphan works concerns raised by libraries, museums, and others in the cultural community. On September 27, 2006, the bill was consolidated into the larger, more contentious Copyright Modernization Act of 2006, making it much more difficult to pass than a stand alone bill. As a result, that bill failed to be reported out of committee in the House but we expect to see it reintroduced in both the House and the Senate early this year. The good news on orphan works is that Chairman Leahy has listed it among his top priorities for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Restore Open Government Act The new Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-30-CA), has been the most outspoken member of Congress in his criticism of the Administration's penchant for secrecy and its lack of accountability to Congress and the public. In the waning days of the 108th Congress, he introduced the Restore Open Government Act to reverses the Bush executive order on presidential records; revoke the Card and Ashcroft memos on FOIA; make it clear that there is a presumption of disclosure over secrecy in all FOIA requests; and ensure openness when the president obtains advice through special committees, such as Vice-President Cheney's Energy Policy Task Force. Waxman reintroduced his bill early in the 109th Congress even though, under Republican control of the committee, chances were slim to none that it would move. In his new position as committee chairman, we can expect to see early action on this important piece of legislation. How YouCan Advocate for Libraries!

With both House and Senate Democrats now in control of Congress and the resulting substantive leadership committee changes, whether or not you've been active in support of the library community's legislative agenda in the past, now is the time to take action. In order to become a successful advocate for our legislative agenda, you must start to build positive long-term relationships with your senators and representatives. All politics is local, and it's important that you, as individuals and members of state library groups, get to know your members and begin to build that important relationship.

Ms. Kennie Gill, former Democratic Staff Director and Chief Counsel for the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and a champion of the GPO and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), joined AALL at our annual meeting last summer for our Legislative Advocacy Leadership Training. This is an annual conference event, free to AALL members, to update them on federal and state issues important to law libraries. Ms. Gill has been a long-time good friend of AALL and received a Presidential Certificate of Appreciation in 2005 for her championship of the FDLP. According to Ms. Gill,

"What makes AALL unique among the library associations is the priority that the organization makes to empowering its members through advocacy training. Being an effective advocate really is as simple as getting your name on a staff member's rolodex so that any time an information issue arises in Congress, the staff member turns to you as a dependable resource."

As she points out, the most effective way to influence your representatives is to build a long-term relationship with their staff. Here are ten quick tips to help you get on that staff rolodex.

One, begin by learning everything you can about your representatives-their party, how long they've been in office, what committee(s) they're on, their political philosophy and their core legislative issues. Check out their official web sites at http://www.senate.gov/ and http://www.house.gov/

Two, engage their district or state office staff-a face-to-face connection is very important so go the extra mile and make a personal visit if at all possible. If that first contact seems intimidating, take along a friend or two.

Three, thoroughly understand the issue you're presenting and figure out how to fit it into their policy agenda. You'll find lots of information on issues from the national and state library associations.

Four, try to anticipate any objections they might have and address them up front. Also, don't be worried if they ask a question you can't answer on the spot-just promise to get back to them-but don't forget to do so!

Five, be confident-remember that on information policy and technology issues, you are the expert. Your representatives and their staff may or may not understand much about technology or how a certain issue might impact libraries.

Six, keep your message simple-how would a particular bill affect your patrons? How would it affect you, as a constituent?

Seven, personalize your message as much as you can by telling a compelling story.

Eight, be very clear on what specific action you're asking for-do you need a cosponsor for a bill, or an important committee or floor vote? Make sure they understand exactly what it is you're asking them to do.

Nine, if it's a face-to-face meeting, always leave behind a one-pager detailing your issue and highlighting your key points, along with your business card so you can be contacted -and added to that rolodex! Letters, emails and faxes are also effective, although avoid sending snail mail to DC because of the anthrax situation and long delays in mail delivery to the Hill.

And ten, always follow-up with a brief thank you that reminds them of your key points. If you do get their support for your issue, don't forget to say thanks; if you don't, let them know you're disappointed but add that you look forward to their support on library issues in the future. Good manners are very important!

Last but not least, there are many ways for you to follow our legislative activities. I write regular columns for AALL's monthly Spectrum and make available on our web site our monthly AALL Washington E-Bulletin (http://www.aallnet.org/aallwash/). Other library associations provide regular updates and alerts as well. In addition, here's a list of some of the coalitions in which AALL actively participates that are vital to our legislative success. Check them out as they'll provide you with a wealth of information on a broad scope of issues that are important to libraries.

Good luck, and please feel free to drop me a note to let me know of your success in helping us advocate for our legislative issues during the 110th Congress!

AALL's Fellow Travelers

American Library Association

http://www.ala.org/ala/issues/issuesadvocacy.htm

Alliance for Taxpayer Access

http://www.taxpayeraccess.org

Center for Democracy and Technology

http://www.cdt.org

Electronic Frontier Foundation

http://www.eff.org

Electronic Privacy Information Center

http://www.epic.org

Federation of American Scientists

http://www.fas.org/

Freedom Forum

http://www.freedomforum.org

OMB Watch

http://www.ombwatch.org

OpenTheGovernment.org

http://www.openthegovernment.org

Public Knowledge

http://www.publicknowledge.org

This article was originally published in Searcher, Vol. 15 No. 3 - March 2007, a publication of Information Today, Inc. 143 Old Marlton Pike, Medford, NJ 08055-8750. Phone: 609-654-6266 All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.