For my government information course this summer, I researched how the current budget crisis may affect (and in some ways already has affected) government printing. In particular, I was surprised by reports of three major government publishing projects that could be severely affected by imminent slashed budgets.
The one getting the most attention is the Census Bureau’s termination of the Statistical Compendia Branch, the office responsible for publishing the Statistical Abstract of the United States, an FDLP essential title. (http://www.godort.ala.org/news/2011/04/help-save-the-statistical-abstract/) This is perhaps most disturbing because of the variety of disciplines and organizations it will affect. Not only is this publication essential to librarians, but it is also a critical resource for various businesses, researchers, and other government agencies. Arguably, the cancellation of this publication will not mean the end of the data traditionally compiled within it. In fact, it being such a popular title, private vendors like ProQuest would probably love to scoop it up. However, in terms of access to government information, privatization would severely limit the number of libraries able to provide access, as vendor subscriptions are often so pricy.
Another government publishing effort in jeopardy is the e-Government Fund, which looks to receive a significant cut to their proposed budget this year. (http://fcw.com/articles/2011/03/23/egovernment-fund-would–be-cut-to-2m-under-current-bills-in-congress-watchdog-warns.aspx) This fund supports the production and development of the Open Government sites created through the Open Government Initiative. These sites, such as Data.gov, provide public access to data and publications compiled by several agencies and departments, rather than requiring users to fish around on individual agencies’ sites to assemble it. While a slashed budget will not necessarily mean that these sites will be shut down, it does mean that progress on these sites will be much slower than anticipated, and new sites in the works will be halted.
Finally, and most disturbing to me, is H.R. 2551, the House’s Legislative Appropriations Bill that would drastically reduce the budget of the GPO, providing no funding for FDsys, the only free database offering access to official government publications. Worse, a report that accompanies this bill suggests that there is no future for the GPO at all, and the committee requests a study of the possibility of allowing the House and Senate to each select their own printers, moving executive branch printing to the GSA, moving the Superintendent of Documents to the Library of Congress, and privatizing the remainder of the GPO’s responsibilities! (Discussion of GPO begins on page 25) The beauty of the GPO has been its ability to standardize government printing, rendering government publications much more reliable and accurate. To now distribute these efforts across several mediums will not only affect access, but may also undo the standardization that has made government publishing such a powerful force over the years.
Time will tell what the true affect of the budget crisis will be for government printing, but, with the need for budget cuts to come from somewhere, and with (it would seem) only the library community up in arms to protect it, the future of government printing certainly looks bleak.