Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, July 28, 2008

More on the GAO and Public.Resource.Org

Open Access to Compiled Federal Legislative Histories: Coming Soon?, Legal Sources Subject to Open, June 27, 2008.

In recent posts, we’ve spoken highly of Carl Malamud’s efforts to provide public access to government produced legal information.  That trend continues here.  The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) produces compiled legislative histories for laws passed by Congress.  The GAO has a current contract with Thomson West, whereby the publisher scans the thousands of pages produced and sells access to the information afterwards with the goal of turning a profit .  The GAO can access the documents for internal use only, but that free access does not appear to extend to Congress or other governing bodies.

Not long ago, the GAO provided Mr. Malamud digitized copies of  a number of histories from the 67th & 68th Congress, as well as from  a representative sample of histories from well-known legislation passed since then.  These  useful and interesting  documents have been uploaded to for public viewing.  In an another forward thinking move, Malamud proposed that, after the materials had been given to Thomson West to produce their commercial project, the same documents be used to develop an open access version at no cost to the GAO, other than the original person-hours required to produce the documents.  The proposal included a similar arrangement where an outside entity, in this case the highly respected  Internet Archive,  scan the documents  and that the GAO would be provided a digital copy of the scanned material that would be accessible to students, legal professions, and the public at large.

As my Advanced Legal Research class is learning as we speak, finding federal legislative histories can be  a difficult row to hoe and a badge of honor for law clerks, first year attorneys, or others new to the legal profession.  Having open access to compilations produced by experienced, knowledgeable GAO staff may not make the research easy, but it would be a tremendous leg up.  We’ll be watching these developments with keen interest and keeping our fingers crossed.