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FOIA Facts: Information is not Free

By Scott A. Hodes, Published on August 6, 2011

The spending reductions mandated by the recent Debt Ceiling bill will have tremendous impacts on citizen's accessing government information on a number of fronts. While most in Congress will tell you they are in favor of various access laws, paying for them is another matter.

Even before the Debt Ceiling bill passed on August 2, 2011, the House of Representatives was busy reducing appropriations to the division of the Government Printing Office that funds the Federal Deposit Library Program. This reduction will likely result in the end of the Federal Digital System, which allows for the access of certain publications over the internet. Additionally, the Center for Public Integrity reports that millions of pages of federal court records are being destroyed as a cost savings.

Finally, agency budgets are sure to be slashed as part of FY12 budgets. Those portions of agencies that are responsible for responding to FOIA requests and maintaining and posting documents in online reading rooms are surely likely areas to be cut – even though their budgets, in most cases, are already trimmed down to the bone.

Thus, the future for access professionals in the government is one of less and less resources – even as certain of those responsible for appropriating to them in Congress call them on the carpet for their backlogs and lack of on-line resources. It is not a pretty picture. Hopefully, agencies will figure out creative ways to keep requests moving and keep electronic reading rooms stocked. The bottom line is that it takes sizeable expenditures to make sure government information is accessible to its citizenry. While the worth of the this material can not be measured in dollars, the failure for it to be made available is in the loss of liberty and democracy for a well informed citizenry. And that loss is not in the American spirit and should be prevented at all costs.