Report to Congress Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995
III. Government Information and Services: Information Dissemination Activities and Trends
In his recent report Access America: Reengineering Through Information Technology, Vice President Gore restated the Administration's goal of using information technology to "make it easier for users of information, including citizens, scientists, resource managers, and private industry" to find the specific Government information they need. The goal is to utilize information technology to create a Government that works better and costs less.
Since the report contained in the 1996, Information Resources Management Plan was published, significant progress has been made in providing thematically based, crosscutting information of particular interest available through a single World Wide Web (WWW) site that is internally searchable. This combination of information linkages and robust internal search capabilities provides a form of "one stop shopping" that is further enhancing the ability of the Internet to support userfriendly and increasingly useful access to Government information. Web browsers and the popular search services can easily identify sources of information on particular topics. However, all too often the search provides a long string of relevant web sites that need to be accessed and evaluated separately. Federal agencies are learning that, by combining wideranging but related collections of information on a single web site having its own internal search engine, a "one stop shopping" environment can be created.
The following are some examples of the steps now being taken to improve the Government's dissemination of information and to use information technology to improve service delivery to the public:
FedStats -- One Stop Shopping for Federal Statistics. Over 70 agencies of the Federal government provide statistics of interest to the public. Until recently it was difficult for the general public, and even frequent data users such as social science researchers, to know about and to access the extensive amount of statistical information produced by the decentralized U.S. Federal statistical system. The purpose of FedStats (http://www.fedstats.gov) is to provide data users with easy access via an initial point of entry to the wide array of Federal statistics of interest to the public without their having to know in advance which agencies produce the data they are seeking or how the Federal statistical system is organized. FedStats builds on the excellent WWW sites that individual agencies have developed for disseminating Federal statistics and advances many of the statistical agencies' goals for improved customer service and efficiency in the statistical arena. In addition to a robust search engine, FedStats provides multiple avenues to access data and information including: Subjects A to Z, fast facts, a site map, listings by agency and by program, regional statistics, subject matter experts, press releases, policy developments, and links to nonFederal data sources. As FedStats matures, the benefits to the public and to the agencies themselves from the reduced time and effort needed to locate data will be incalculable.
Improving access to environmental information. There are already Federal programs and activities aimed at making environmental information more broadly accessible for different applications and audiences. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency's home page (http://www.epa.gov) was recently reorganized to make environmental information more accessible to a variety of users. Since September 1996, there has been an explosion in its use, increasing from three to five million hits per day. Also, EPA's online Envirofacts database allows users to obtain and combine data from up to six different databases. The Department of Housing and Urban Development's homepage (http://www.hud.gov) has extensive information on lead hazard controls. Not only can parents find basic information on lead paint hazards, but State and local governments and community development groups are downloading the information and redisseminating it to their constituents. Recognizing the need to bring together different sources of environmental information, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under the sponsorship of the Administration's Interagency Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, is developing a prototype National Environmental Data Index (www.nedi.gov) that will provide a sort of "yellow pages" to environmental data and the search tools to link the information available on a designated subject to the databases that contain the information. The coverage of the prototype will be expanded over time.
Providing practical assistance to the business community. With over 60 Federal agencies with a mission to assist or regulate business, finding what is needed can be a daunting and time consuming task. Additionally, without userfriendly interfaces to integrate the information into a context that can be easily understood, the sheer volume of raw information available to the business community on the Internet leaves many users feeling overwhelmed. The Administration has taken the first step in addressing this problem by developing the U.S. Business Advisor, a onestop electronic link to Government for business (http://www.business.gov). The Advisor provides an easy way for business people to get answers to frequently asked questions; find "how to" information; search through Federal information; browse Government documents; and view businessrelated news items from Federal agencies. All are searchable with an internal search engine.
Integrating a body of regulatory information. The Air Force is sponsoring a prototype one stop shopping web site for people who need procurement, regulatory and related information both inside and outside the Government (http://farsite.hill.af.mil). The Farsite combines the Federal Acquisition Regulations with the regulatory supplements of other major agencies, including the Department of Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, as well as the procurement guidance of the various military services. The Farsite's advanced search engine allows users to search the entire FAR and related documents from just one web page. The page also allows oneclick searches of manuals, administrator guides and policy letters, and allows searches to be crafted to cover the entire range of data or to be limited to particular databases. This provides users, including legal practitioners, with easy entry into a growing body of regulatory information, saving time and money by replacing time consuming and expensive paperbased searches.
Improving public access to intelligence community information. The Central Intelligence Agency's web site (http://www.cia.gov/) was designed for both the academic user and the general public. It contains the CIA's primary publications, The World Factbook, The Factbook on Intelligence, and The Handbook of International Economic Statistics. The site enhances and keeps up to date its print publications with a number of features. For example, the list of Chiefs of State and Cabinet Members of foreign countries is updated monthly and indexed by country. The site also includes audio and video clips and photographs to discuss the history of the CIA, to tour CIA headquarters, and to view an Exhibit Center which includes images and text about such items as the Enigma encoding machine. The site includes an internal search engine for publication and public affairs information. It allows users to control the search query by selecting features and provides assistance by giving helpful tips on formulating searches.
These and other examples of using recent advances in web and related search technology to make increasing amounts of electronic information more manageable and reflects an unprecedented level of attention to the development of information dissemination practices that both integrate the vast information holdings of the Government and at the same time make them more accessible and useful to the public.
IV. Agency Compliance with the Information Policy Provisions of OMB Circular No. A130
Section 9(a)(10) of OMB Circular No. A130, Management of Government Information Resources (61 F.R. 6428, February 20, 1996), provides that the head of each agency shall:
(10) Direct the senior official appointed pursuant to 44 U.S.C. 3506(b) to monitor agency compliance with the policies, procedures, and guidance in this Circular. Acting as an ombudsman, the senior official shall consider alleged instances of agency failure to comply with this Circular and recommend or take corrective action as appropriate. The senior official shall report annually, not later than February 1st of each year, to the Director those instances of alleged failure to comply with this Circular and their resolution.
Agencies were asked to report on (1) each instance in which a failure to comply was alleged, (2) the nature of the alleged violation, and (3) the disposition of the complaint. Agencies that received no complaints were asked to so state.
With one exception, the reporting agencies reported no allegations of violations of the information policy provisions of Circular A130 had been received.
The single exception was reported by the Department of Defense (DoD). A coalition of law librarians and public interest groups requested access to electronic versions of historical Supreme Court opinions dating from 19371974, maintained in DoD's Federal Legal Information Through Electronics (FLITE) database. DoD denied access to the database under the Freedom of Information Act. OMB resolved this issue by obtaining this material for its use and subsequently providing them for electronic public dissemination through the National Technical Information Service, the GPO Access system, and Villanova University's legal information service.