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Newsletter of the Federal Depository Library Program

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Cumulative Table of Contents Vol. 1 - present [ PDF ] ( includes current issue )

August 15, 2003

GP 3.16/3-2:24/10
(Vol. 24, no. 10)

Fugitive Documents- On the Loose or
On the Run

Presentation by Gil Baldwin
Director, Library Programs Service, GPO

American Association of Law Libraries Conference
Seattle, WA, July 15, 2003

I want to thank Mark Bartlett for asking me to be part of your program this year. I have spent many years trying to get a handle on the fugitive documents problem, and it has generally been a source of a lot of frustration: for you, for library users who expect publications to be available, and for my staff, who try to track them down.

In the past, fugitive documents have been rounded up one by one, often at great expense of time and effort. Usually we found out about a title well after publication, so our chances of getting a copy in the program were slim. But now there may a light at the end of tunnel. The recent GPO-OMB agreement on printing has the potential to change things for the better.

Definition and Scope

First, though, it is useful to define what we mean when we are talking about fugitives. I wonder if all of us in this room share a common definition of this oft-used term? In GPO’s view, the definition of fugitive document depends upon whether you are talking about tangible products or online publications. In the tangible world, and this is the traditional view, a fugitive is defined as a U.S. Government publication that falls within the scope of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), but has not been included in the FDLP. These publications include tangible products such as ink-on-paper, microforms, tapes, films, CD-ROMs, or DVDs. Anything in which content is recorded upon a substrate. The transition to a predominantly electronic FDLP has spawned a second major category of fugitive documents, the online fugitives. Today, many agencies choose to publish online, typically via agency Web sites, without using GPO or perhaps without producing any analogous print edition. In such cases, the online publication is incorporated in the FDLP by the processes of GPO cataloging and archiving the digital object. In the absence of any notification coming from the publishing agency, GPO is obliged to rely upon time-intensive Web site "mining," input from the library community, stories in the news media, and cues from print publications to discover Web publications that would otherwise be fugitive from the FDLP.

How Fugitives Happen

Fugitive documents most commonly occur when Federal agencies print or procure the printing of their publications on their own, without going through GPO. Tangible publications in the FDLP are usually obtained through a "rider" process, in which the Superintendent of Documents adds the number of copies required for GPO’s dissemination programs to an agency’s printing requisition to GPO. By law, the cost of FDLP copies is borne by the Superintendent of Documents when the publication has been requisitioned from GPO. When an agency obtains printing other than through GPO, the agency should notify GPO as to what has been printed, supply a copy for the Cataloging and Indexing Program, and bear the cost of those copies required for the FDLP. In practice, these legal requirements are rarely met. Because GPO has always lacked enforcement authority, the ability to remedy the situation was limited.

How Many Are There?

The number of fugitive print documents has been estimated as about 50% of the universe of Federal printing, but this estimate may be conservative. A 1998 Inspector General review of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) compliance with depository requirements found that 78% of NIH's publications that qualified for depository distribution were not being provided to the Superintendent of Documents as required by law. Compliance varies among agencies and disciplines as well, as scientific and technical information has long been underrepresented in the FDLP. In January 2000, a former director of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) stated that there were as many "50,000 gray literature NTIS titles" that were fugitives from the FDLP.

The number of online fugitive publications at this time could be in the vicinity of 250,000. This is a very "iffy" number, in spite of our best efforts to get a handle on it. We know there are far more Federal Web pages than that, but a lot of what’s out there does not meet the Title 44 definition of "publication" so it is not in scope for the FDLP. Federal Web pages do not necessarily equate to online fugitives, but we do not know what the ratio is so we can develop a decent "guesstimate."

What Do We Do About Fugitives?

The key to dealing with fugitives is awareness. GPO has to know about a publication before we can acquire it for the FDLP. This seems terribly obvious, but usually it is the first point where things break down. In the print paradigm, awareness came from monitoring printing orders that came through GPO. If we did not get to see a print order, the odds were high the title went fugitive; it was "on the loose." Almost never did agencies notify us about publications being produced outside of GPO. In these cases where documents escaped our scrutiny, the only recourse was to contact the agency and beg for copies. There was no penalty to the agency, as no enforcement authority was vested in GPO. Often the best we could do was to obtain a copy to convert to microfiche.

In the electronic world, the fugitive situation still relies upon awareness. Once we know about an online publication, we classify it, catalog it, assign an item number, and in many cases download a copy into our digital archive. These acts make the publications part of the FDLP Electronic Collection. As such, GPO’s commitment to permanent public access takes over, and we are committed to keeping that title accessible in perpetuity.

The awareness factor is why our partners in the depository community are such a vital part of the fugitive publications solution. The AALL Fugitive & Electronic Documents Committee, the Electronic Documents Working Group (EDWG) that spontaneously arose from the Depository Library Council, and lots of individual documents librarians have been extremely helpful and productive in bringing fugitives to our attention. Your submissions have been helpful and constructive, and we appreciate the thought that has been put into them. We almost never see a submission that is out-of-scope for the program, and your recommendations about dissemination format are generally consistent with the guidelines that we use. When these groups got started, I was concerned that we might be swamped by submissions, and develop a backlog in processing them. But this has not happened and projects have somehow scaled themselves nicely.

Another interesting side effect happens when you call our attention to a title. Sometimes we go on to identify a whole cluster of related fugitives, and on occasion we have found an entire fugitive agency, a government publisher we did not know about. Examples of previously fugitive agencies include:

  • Defense Science Board
  • US Commission on International Religious Freedom
  • Technology Administration, Dept. of Commerce
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • National Intelligence Council, CIA
  • National Drug Intelligence Center
  • Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive

But all of this is retail trade; we’re dealing with fugitives one at a time, and perpetually behind the curve. How can we get in a proactive position, dealing with groups of publications on a wholesale basis, with a program with teeth? These seemed like insoluble questions until the "deal with OMB," more formally known as the GPO/OMB compact. [For more information on the compact, see Administrative Notes, v. 24, # 7, 6/15/03.]

OMB Compact

GPO is working on a number of pilot projects to test various services that GPO may offer in the future. Perhaps the most exciting one, and certainly the one that has received the most press, is the agreement between the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and GPO. This agreement is truly a win for all concerned. It is an innovative approach to contracting for Executive Branch printing that is completely within GPO’s statutory responsibility under Title 44.

Under the agreement, an agency may choose its own commercial printers using standard contracts issued by GPO. The publishing agency will pay GPO, and GPO will pay the printer, less a modest 3% fee to cover GPO’s contracting and administrative costs. However, the printer will not be paid until the Superintendent of Documents has received two print copies and one electronic copy.

This will give GPO an electronic copy, in a format specified by GPO, of each publication for dissemination to the public, directly and through the FDLP. It will also give us two copies of last resort so GPO can, if necessary, create a new digital copy in the future if the electronic copy can no longer be used due to changes in technology or other problems.

The agreement also preserves the right of the Superintendent of Documents to purchase from the printer, at GPO’s expense, additional copies for sale or depository distribution. And, as if that wasn’t enough, OMB will limit agency use of in-house and other Executive Branch printing capability and seek to have all appropriate publications from such facilities provided to the Superintendent of Documents as required by Title 44.

This agreement will be tested with a single agency during FY 2004, which begins this October 1. If after a year of testing it is successful, it will be extended to other agencies in FY 2005. The agency has not yet been designated, but we expect to know within the next few weeks what agency OMB has chosen for the pilot project.

The agreement should go a long way toward eliminating the fugitive document problem and bring many more titles into the FDLP. The Public Printer, Bruce James, deserves enormous credit for listening to the concerns of OMB and the Executive Branch agencies and making them an offer that addresses their concerns, stays within the legal requirements of Title 44, and improves public access to government information.

Mr. James is rightfully proud that he was able to work with OMB to address their concerns and develop a new approach for Federal printing that fits the 21st century. Had OMB published the revised FAR regulations enabling executive branch agencies to buy their printing directly, by-passing the GPO, it would have had disastrous consequences for GPO and set up a potential legal battle between the legislative and executive branches. Instead, this new agreement helps to ensure that GPO remains the focal point for Federal document printing and processing in the 21st century, and ensures compliance so that GPO can reduce the fugitive document problem.

Permanent Public Access

Electronic fugitives, once rounded up, require constant vigilance to make sure they don’t escape again. This is what permanent public access, PPA, is all about. GPO’s commitment to permanent public access to electronic resources requires that we manage and preserve the FDLP Electronic Collection for current and future public use. This responsibility dovetails with the continuity of government concerns in the post-9/11 era. GPO’s computer backup and mirror site facilities in Pueblo, CO and the Alternative Congressional Facility ensure the continued availability of this vital content and metadata.

GPO is negotiating an agreement with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), making GPO an official "archival affiliate." All of the GPO Access databases are considered the official archival copies as if they had been transferred to NARA, but GPO will continue to maintain them for permanent public access. This agreement also has the potential to reduce fugitive documents.

In the future the agreement may be expanded to make GPO Access databases the official archival copy, not just as a record of GPO’s actions, but also as the official record of the publishing agency’s actions in producing the information. If that occurs, then an agency could deposit an electronic copy with GPO once and meet not just its responsibilities to the Federal Depository Library Program, but also the requirements of the Federal Records Act and the Electronic Records Act. This would be a powerful incentive for agencies to provide electronic content to GPO for public access and preservation.

GPO has also decided to re-establish a comprehensive collection of tangible and electronic documents as a collection of last resort for the program, and to facilitate repurposing of digital content such as keeping publications from going "out-of-print."

These are examples of the kind of innovation you will continue to see from GPO, and the agreements with OMB and NARA should give you every reason to be encouraged about our ability to work together to define a bright future for the Federal Depository Library Program and other public information dissemination services of the Government Printing Office.