Librarians as Change Agents:
How You Can Help Influence Public Policy in the 110th Congress
by Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries
The November 2006 midterm elections brought a sea change to the balance of power in Washington. While it was expected that the Democrats would take over leadership of the House of Representatives, their victory in the Senate had been far from certain. Exit polls clearly demonstrated that corruption and scandal influenced voters, as did the need for greater government transparency and accountability.
Incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both signaled shortly after the elections that ethics reform and greater openness and transparency were issues at the top of their priorities lists. They wanted to regain the public’s trust. One should note, however, that the Democrats’ narrow majorities mean they will have to work on a bipartisan basis to move their legislative agenda forward or face continued congressional gridlock. And with the 2008 presidential election looming, they need to prove to the American people their commitment to real change in the political process.
With both Congress and the White House controlled by one party during the past few years, congressional oversight has been sorely lacking. You can expect to see early oversight hearings on such hot-button issues as global warming, the war in Iraq, and the war on terrorism. In addition, we hope for oversight hearings on some of our information policy issues.
To be effective, lobbyists must work in a bipartisan manner to effect change. As information professionals, our broad range of policy and legislative issues are not tied to any political party. While the 109th Congress was ruled more by acrimony than a spirit of collegiality and bipartisanship, the library community in fact worked very well with members of both parties on such important issues as freedom of information and access to government-sponsored research. Nonetheless, leadership changes in both the House and the Senate bode very well for many of the issues that the national library associations and allied organizations have supported during the past few years. Although not all the committee assignments are finalized and the rosters remain incomplete as I write this in late December, here’s a view from inside the “beltway” on some very significant leadership changes in the House and Senate that could impact our legislative agenda.
Meet the New U.S. Senate Committee Leaders
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. [http://boxer.senate.gov], is the incoming chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Sen. Boxer spoke out against the closure last year of many EPA libraries. Last fall, she led a group of senators in a joint letter to senior members of the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting that the committee direct the EPA to restore and maintain public access to its library collections. Boxer will very likely pursue oversight hearings early in the 110th Congress on the EPA library issues and global warming.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. [http://byrd.senate.gov], holds the record for casting the most votes of any senator in the history of the Republic, having voted more than 17,500 times in his Senate career! He is the very powerful incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a committee he joined when first elected to the Senate in 1959. Byrd has been a strong supporter of the Government Printing Office (GPO) and the Library of Congress (LC) in the past.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. [http://durbin.senate.gov], the new Senate majority whip, is a longtime champion of libraries. During the battle over the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act during the 109th Congress, Durbin was one of a small bipartisan contingent of senators who successfully threatened a filibuster unless several changes were made to protect civil liberties. In addition, Durbin has been the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee’s Legislative Branch Subcommittee that sets annual funding levels for GPO and LC. Last year, the Chicago Association of Law Libraries presented Sen. Durbin with its 2005 Legislator of the Year Award in recognition of his support for libraries on the USA Patriot Act. With him assuming his new leadership position as majority whip, the chair for that important subcommittee will go to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Durbin also serves on the Judiciary Committee that has oversight, among other things, over intellectual property and freedom of information issues.
Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif. [http://feinstein.senate.gov], is the incoming chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee, the authorizing committee for GPO and LC. She will also likely chair the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress. Sen. Feinstein has not been highly engaged in GPO and LC issues, so she’ll need to hear from the California library community as the new Congress gets underway. Like Durbin, Sen. Feinstein is a very powerful member, as she also serves on the Judiciary Committee, the Appropriations Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and the Select Committee on Intelligence. While she is strong on defense and border security issues, we can also expect her strong support in combating identity theft and protecting personal privacy.
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii [http://inouye.senate.gov], is the new chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. In 2006, Sen. Inouye introduced a bill to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to ensure that tribal libraries receiving assistance under the Library Services and Technology Act are eligible for E-rate assistance. Sen. Inouye also championed Net Neutrality last year, bucking then-chairman Ted Stevens, who strongly opposed including a provision on Net Neutrality in his telecommunications reform bill.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. [http://leahy.senate.gov], is the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a group that is sometimes referred to as the “cybersenators.” Leahy is a strong champion of libraries, including the Library of Congress, and has worked hard to protect privacy rights and freedom of speech on the Internet. During the past few Congresses, he and fellow Judiciary member Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, co-sponsored several important freedom of information reform bills and the OPEN Government Act. This should come as no surprise, since Leahy authored the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996. Leahy has also signaled that he will make oversight of the FBI and the Department of Justice, improving access to government information, and protecting the public’s right to privacy among his top priorities during the 110th Congress. He has also promised to introduce the Orphan Works Act in early 2007 and to work with the House toward its enactment.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn. [http://lieberman.senate.gov], is the new chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Formerly the Democratic senator of Connecticut, Lieberman lost the Democratic nomination to represent Connecticut in the Senate in the 110th Congress. However, he then ran as an independent candidate and was re-elected. Lieberman promises to represent Connecticut as a Democrat and therefore retains his leadership position on the committee. He strongly supports access to government information and sponsored the E-Government Act of 2002 and the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006.
Meet the New U.S. House of Representatives Committee Leaders
Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich.-14 [http://www.house.gov/conyers], is the second-longest-serving current member of the House. He is the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that has oversight over intellectual property issues. Directly below Conyers in seniority is Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif.-28, who will take over as chair of the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. With his close ties to Hollywood, Berman has been on the side of strong controls over digital content, rather than supporting efforts endorsed by the library community to promote fair use in the digital environment.
Rep. John David Dingell, Jr. , D-Mich.-15 [http://www.house.gov/dingell], holds the record as the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. As the new chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Dingell — like his counterpart in the Senate, Inouye — should prove a strong champion of Net Neutrality. His committee will also have primary jurisdiction over the Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act, introduced in the 108th and 109th Congresses by Rep. Rich Boucher, D-Va.-9.
Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn.-06 [http://gordon.house.gov], is the new chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology that has oversight over all nonmilitary research and development. During the 109th Congress, Gordon worked with then House Government Ranking Member Henry Waxman to introduce legislation to ensure that federal scientists can carry out their responsibilities free from political interference. The Science and Technology Committee has also been active in oversight over federal agencies regarding scientific integrity issues. The closure of the EPA libraries is another issue that falls under the Science and Technology Committee’s jurisdiction and we may well see an early oversight hearing on EPA issues.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5 [http://hoyer.house.gov], like Sen. Durbin, is a longtime champion of libraries. He was elected the new majority leader in the 110th Congress. Coming from the D.C. suburbs of Maryland, he is a good friend of labor and government employees and a consistently effective supporter of both GPO and LC. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, Hoyer has been very helpful in the past in securing adequate funding for both agencies. He is highly regarded for his ability to work well in a bipartisan manner.
Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald , D-Calif.-37 [http://millender-mcdonald.house.gov], former ranking member of the House Administration Committee, was named its new chairwoman by Speaker Pelosi in mid-December. House Administration is a very important committee for libraries as it has oversight over both GPO and LC. During the 110th Congress, the committee will also provide leadership for the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP). It is very likely that Chairwoman Millender-McDonald will also chair the JCP.
Rep. David Obey , D-Wisc.-7 [http://obey.house.gov], is the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He has long-term familiarity with the programs and funding of GPO and LC. I contacted his staff immediately after the November elections to encourage Obey to reinstate the Legislative Branch Subcommittee eliminated by the Republican majority several years ago. Reconstituting the subcommittee would go a long way toward helping us gain new and stronger House champions for GPO and LC in the coming years.
Rep. Henry Waxman , D-Calif.-30 [http://www.house.gov/waxman], is chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where he previously served as the ranking member. Waxman is a champion of information access issues and has spoken out in strong support for openness and transparency in government. Sponsor of the Restore Open Government Act of 2005, which he will likely reintroduce early in the 110th Congress, Waxman has strongly condemned the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy. Last fall, he joined with House colleagues in requesting a GAO report on the closures of many EPA libraries. Waxman is also a member of the House Science and Technology Committee, which dovetails nicely with his Oversight and Government Reform hat and his concerns about scientific integrity in federal research and policymaking. If you’re interested in updates on these issues, even nonconstituents can subscribe to his e-newsletter from his Web site.
Key Library Issues for the 110th Congress
Now that we have a snapshot of important leadership changes for the 110th Congress, let’s take a look at some of the key issues of concern to the library community. First, the bad news. The FY 2007 appropriations process was a disaster for most agencies. Congress recessed for the November midterm elections having gotten only two of the FY 2007 appropriations bills to the White House — not surprisingly, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007and the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2007. FY 2007 funding bills for the GPO, the LC, and the National Archives and Records Administration passed the House, but only got out of committee in the Senate. The bills never reached the Senate floor or a conference committee to negotiate differences between the two bills.
To keep the government operating, Congress passed a first Continuing Resolution (CR) through Nov. 17, 2006, that was then extended during the lame-duck session through Feb. 15, 2007. The problem with a CR is that funding is distributed based on the lowest total among the FY 2006 appropriations, the Senate-approved FY 2007 levels, or the House-approved FY 2007 levels. This is dire news for many agencies and has resulted in cuts to services and operations due to the budget shortages. Since the FY 2008 appropriations cycle begins in February, Sen. Byrd and Rep. Obey, the new Appropriations Committee chairmen, have agreed not to revisit the FY 2007 bills but to focus instead on preparing the budgets for FY 2008. So unless a supplemental is passed when the new CR expires in February, further cuts and even furloughs will likely occur in many agencies.
In the case of the GPO, this means that its request for a one-time supplement of $10 million in FY 2007 for important digital projects, including $2 million for the productions and distribution of the print 2006 U.S. Code, as mandated by law, will not be funded, even though both the House and Senate versions of the FY 2007 appropriations bill included the funding. It seems obvious that some sort of supplemental bill will have to be enacted in February, but equally obvious that agencies will be fighting for their fair share. Certainly the library community will do its best to secure GPO’s supplemental funding or further programmatic cuts will occur for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP).
Now for some good news. While it’s always much easier to kill a bill than to get one enacted, the library community and our allies actually gained momentum on several important pieces of legislation during the waning days of the 109th Congress. You can check for updates on THOMAS [http://thomas.loc.gov] on the following list of important bills that we hope to see move quickly through the legislative process in 2007.
The Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act
Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va.-9, and former Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif.-4, co-sponsored the Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act (DMCRA) in the 108th and 109th Congresses. In spring 2004, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection held an important hearing during which both members testified in support of the bill. They noted that while they supported the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (P.L. 105-304), it was very clear to both that the DMCRA had eroded user rights. Their bill would restore the historic balance in U.S. copyright law by reaffirming fair use. Under the DMCRA, it would not be a violation of Section 1201 of the DMCA to circumvent a technological measure in connection with gaining access to or using a digital work, unless the circumvention resulted in an infringement of the copyright in the work. The library community strongly supports the DMCRA because it reaffirms fair use in a networked environment, resolves key concerns regarding hardware and software that permit significant noninfringing uses, and allows researchers to engage in the scientific research of technological protection measures. We expect Rep. Boucher to introduce a slightly revised DMCRA early in the new Congress.
The Federal Research Public Access Act
The Federal Research Public Access Act was introduced on May 2, 2006, by Senators John Corny and Joseph Lieberman. The bill requires that agencies with federally funded research budgets of more than $100 million enact policies to ensure that articles are made available online within 6 months of publication. It also requires that every researcher using agency funds submit an electronic copy of the final manuscript to the agency that provided the funding after the work has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The agency is responsible for providing open public access to the information and ensuring the preservation of the manuscript in a stable, digital repository. The bill was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, now chaired by Sen. Lieberman, so we hope to see quick progress in moving it forward in 2007.
The basic premise of the Net Neutrality principle is to ensure that all Internet traffic is treated equally. Every company, business, or individual who owns and runs a Web site has to pay a premium to telecom companies for use of their hard lines that connect Web sites to users. Net Neutrality would ensure that the premium is the same for everyone. Despite the best efforts of Net Neutrality proponents, including AALL, a Senate Commerce Committee telecommunications bill, the Communications, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, failed to include a provision for Net Neutrality. The telecom giants have spent millions to block Net Neutrality legislation because they can reap enormous financial benefits by creating a two-tiered Internet consisting of a “fast lane” and a “slow lane.” This would create a two-tiered system and a segregated Internet in which telecom companies, through the use of premiums, could indirectly control access to Web sites. Without a guarantee of Net Neutrality, libraries may not be able to provide the same volume of information online as most do now, due to the cost of accessing the fastest connections. Fortunately, both Sen. Inouye and Rep. Dingell, the new chairmen of the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction, are both strong proponents of Net Neutrality.
The Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government (OPEN) Act
Introduced early in the 109th Congress by Senators Cornyn and Leahy in the Senate and Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas-21, in the House, the OPEN Government Act would strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by clarifying the response time for requests and establishing reliable methods for checking the status of pending requests. Specifically, the legislation clarifies that the 20-day time limit for agencies to respond to FOIA requests would begin on the day that the agency originally receives the request. It also requires each agency to establish a telephone line or Internet service as a method to allow for a request status check. Last but not least, it sets up oversight and reporting requirements for denials of FOIA requests. Last fall, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its version of the OPEN Government Act and put the bill on the Legislative Calendar for a floor vote. The House took a small step toward passing its version of the bill in late September when the Subcommittee on Government Management, Finance and Accountability approved the bill. Chairman Leahy of the Senate Judiciary Committee has already signaled his intent to move this bill forward quickly.
The Orphan Works Act
AALL has participated for several years with other national library associations in efforts by the U.S. Copyright Office to address the orphan works problem. Orphan works are those for which the copyright owner is difficult or impossible to find when a library or museum seeks permission for copyrighted works. The bill was introduced in May 2006 and quickly approved by the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. This important legislation constitutes a very positive step forward in solving many orphan works concerns raised by libraries, museums, and others in the cultural community. On Sept. 27, 2006, the bill was consolidated into the larger, more contentious Copyright Modernization Act of 2006, making it much more difficult to pass than a stand-alone bill. As a result, that bill failed to be reported out of committee in the House, but we expect to see it reintroduced in both the House and the Senate early this year. The good news on orphan works is that Chairman Leahy has listed it among his top priorities for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Restore Open Government Act
The new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman, has been the most outspoken member of Congress in his criticism of the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy and its lack of accountability to Congress and the public. In the waning days of the 108th Congress, he introduced the Restore Open Government Act to reverse the Bush executive order on presidential records; revoke the Card and Ashcroft memos on FOIA; clarify the presumption of disclosure over secrecy in all FOIA requests; and ensure openness when the president obtains advice through special committees, such as Vice-President Cheney’s Energy Policy Task Force. Waxman reintroduced his bill early in the 109th Congress even though, under Republican control of the committee, chances were slim to none that it would move. In his new position as committee chairman, we can expect to see early action on this important piece of legislation.
How You Can Advocate for Libraries!
With both House and Senate Democrats now in control of Congress and the resulting substantive leadership committee changes, whether or not you’ve been active in support of the library community’s legislative agenda in the past, now is the time to take action. To succeed as an advocate for our legislative agenda, you must start to build positive long-term relationships with your senators and representatives. All politics is local, and it’s important that you, as individuals and members of state library groups, get to know your members and begin to build that important relationship.
Ms. Kennie Gill, former Democratic staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and a champion of the GPO and the FDLP, joined AALL at our annual meeting last summer for our Legislative Advocacy Leadership Training. This is an annual conference event, free to AALL members, to update them on federal and state issues important to law libraries. Ms. Gill has been a longtime good friend of AALL and received a Presidential Certificate of Appreciation in 2005 for her championship of the FDLP. According to Ms. Gill:
What makes AALL unique among the library associations is the priority that the organization makes to empowering its members through advocacy training. Being an effective advocate really is as simple as getting your name on a staff member’s rolodex so that any time an information issue arises in Congress, the staff member turns to you as a dependable resource.
As she points out, the most effective way to influence your representatives is to build a long-term relationship with their staff.
There are many ways for you to follow our legislative activities. I write regular columns for AALL’s monthly Spectrum and make them available on our Web site in our monthly AALL Washington E-Bulletin [http://www.aallnet.org/aallwash]. Other library associations provide regular updates and alerts as well. In addition, a sidebar on page 29 lists some of the coalitions in which AALL actively participates that are vital to our legislative success. Check them out and they’ll provide you with a wealth of information on a broad scope of issues important to libraries and information professionals.
Good luck, and please feel free to drop me a note to let me know of your success in helping us advocate for our legislative issues during the 110th Congress!