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Context of 'September 19, 2006: House Democrats Ask GAO to Investigate Impact of EPA Library Closures'

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The Bush administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2007 proposes an 80 percent cut to the EPA’s library budget. The White House wants to trim it down from $2.5 million to half a million dollars. To meet this lean budget, the EPA intends to eliminate its electronic catalog, which tracks some 50,000 documents and studies that are available nowhere else, and shut down its headquarters library and several of its regional libraries. The EPA manages a network of 28 libraries from its Washington headquarters and has 10 regional offices nationwide. The libraries are used primarily by EPA scientists, regulators, and attorneys to enforce existing environmental regulations, develop new regulations, track the business histories of regulated industries, and research the safety of chemicals and the potential environmental effects of new technologies. [PEER, 2/10/2006] Though the EPA insists the closures are necessary to trim costs, internal studies have reportedly shown that providing full library access to its researchers saves an estimated 214,000 hours in professional staff time worth some $7.5 million annually. [PEER, 6/29/2006] Patrice McDermott, deputy director of the Office of Government Relations, says the proposed cuts would put “at risk important environmental information and the public’s ability to access the information they need to protect their health and safety.” [Federal Computer Week, 3/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

After critics complain that the EPA’s plan to eliminate its electronic catalog would make it impossible for researchers to locate any of the libraries’ holdings within the network, the EPA announces that it will restore the $500,000 that Bush’s proposed 2007 budget wants to cut for this service. But to offset this amount, the agency says it will have to make even deeper cuts elsewhere in its library budget. [PEER, 3/16/2006] In February, the Bush administration’s 2007 budget request proposed cutting the EPA’s library budget 80 percent by closing many of its libraries (see Early February 2006).

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

EPA Midwestern Regional Administrator Thomas Skinner writes in an email to employees that the EPA library at Chicago regional headquarters “will close in the near future” in order “to allow time for an orderly relocation of our library collection.” The memo explains that the Bush administration’s 2007 budget request, which has not been approved by Congress, has proposed reducing funding for the Chicago library by 90 percent (see Early February 2006). [PEER, 3/16/2006] The agency does not publish any notice in the Federal Register about the closure of this library, despite a federal requirement (Office of Budget & Management Circular A-130) that the public be notified whenever “terminating significant information dissemination products.” [PEER, 8/21/2006] The library serves the six-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. [PEER, 3/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Thomas Skinner, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

An internal EPA document reveals that the agency plans to immediately implement the Bush administration’s proposed budget cuts for the next fiscal year, which begins in October, without waiting for congressional approval. The memo, titled “EPA FY 2007 Library Plan,” describes “deaccessioning procedures” for the “the removal of library materials from the physical collection.” The document says that regional libraries located in Chicago, Dallas, and Kansas City will be closed by September 30 while library hours and services at other regional facilities will be gradually reduced. As many as 80,000 original documents, which are not electronically available, will be boxed up and shipped to a new location until they are eventually digitized. [Environmental Protection Agency, 8/15/2006 pdf file; PEER, 8/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The ranking members of the House Government Reform Committee and the Committee on Science, Energy, and Commerce ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate the impact that Bush’s proposed budget cuts (see Early February 2006) and the EPA library closures (see, e.g., August 15, 2006 and October 20, 2006 and After) will have on scientific research, regulatory quality, and enforcement capability. The letter cites the concerns of EPA scientists that the changes will “harm the agency’s ability to carry out its mission and will be especially damaging to EPA’s ability to enforce environmental laws.” It adds that EPA employees fear the library reorganization scheme may result in the “permanent” loss of access to many documents. [PEER, 8/21/2006; Gordon, Waxman, and Dingall, 9/19/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Waxman, Bart Gordan, Government Accountability Office, John Dingell, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The EPA publishes a notice in the Federal Register that it will be closing its headquarter library on October 1. The library contains 380,000 documents on microfiche, a microforms collection of abstracts and indexes, 5,500 hard copy agency documents, and more than 16,000 books and technical reports produced by other government agencies. The EPA has already quietly closed several regional libraries, whose collections are currently not available to anyone, even the agency’s own scientists (see August 15, 2006). Though agency officials insist that the collections from these libraries will be digitized and made available via the Internet, no funds have yet been allocated for this purpose. [PEER, 8/21/2006; Environmental Protection Agency, 9/20/2006 pdf file] Unlike today’s notice about the closing of the headquarter library, no public notice was given for the closures of the agency’s regional libraries (see August 15, 2006).

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Citing proposed cuts in its 2007 fiscal year budget, the EPA begins ordering its regional offices to cancel subscriptions to several of the technical journals and environmental publications that are used by its scientists. One internal email reveals that the agency’s Mid-Atlantic Region is being asked “to cut its journal renewals about in half.” According to the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the subscription cancellations mean that “agency scientists and other technical specialists will no longer have ready access to materials that keep them abreast of developments within their fields. Moreover, enforcement staff, investigators, and other professionals will have a harder time tracking new developments affecting their cases and projects.” The cancellations come on top of the closures of several EPA libraries that have already cut employees’ access off from tens of thousands of documents (see, e.g., September 20, 2006 and August 15, 2006). When news of the library closures sparked protest from EPA scientists over the summer (see June 29, 2006), agency officials attempted to assuage their concerns with promises that the EPA would implement a “new library plan to make environmental information more accessible to employees.” But critics say the subscription cancellations contradict this claim and are a clear sign that the agency does not intend to improve its staff’s access to the information. [PEER, 10/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

On October 20, the EPA quietly closed its Office of Prevention, Pollution, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, which housed thousands of one-of-a-kind documents relating to the safety of chemicals (see October 20, 2006). Material from the library had been used by government scientists to review industry applications for new chemicals. Since the closure, the agency has asked other EPA libraries to take possession of the documents. But documents that have not been claimed by other libraries are being tossed into garbage bins. Jeff Ruch, of the organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), has been an outspoken critic of the EPA library closures. According to him, it appears as if “the appointed management at EPA is determined to actually reduce the sum total of human knowledge. EPA is not an agency renowned for its speed, so its undue haste in dumping library holdings suggests a political agenda rather than anything resembling a rational information management plan.” [PEER, 11/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Jeff Ruch, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Four incoming House Democratic committee chairs write a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson demanding that the agency immediately cease the “destruction or disposition of all [EPA] library holdings… and that all records of library holdings and dispersed materials” be kept safe. On October 1, the EPA closed several regional libraries and has since boxed up or destroyed collections from these libraries as part of a library reorganization plan. The closures were prompted by Bush’s 2007 budget request which slashed funding for the EPA’s network of technical libraries (see Early February 2006). However, neither the budget request nor the reorganization plan has been approved by Congress. [Gordon et al., 11/30/2006 pdf file; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006] The next day, on December 1, the EPA, apparently ignoring the senators’ request, removes thousands of documents from the website of the Office of Prevention, Pollution, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library [Stoss, 12/4/2006 pdf file; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006] , which was quietly shut down about six weeks ago (see October 20, 2006).

Entity Tags: Henry A. Waxman, John Dingell, Stephen Johnson, James L. Oberstar, Bart Gordan

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

As part of a library reorganization plan that was proposed in Bush’s 2007 budget request (see Early February 2006), but not approved by Congress, the EPA begins hurriedly selling library assets off for less than a penny on the dollar. Acting on orders from EPA headquarters, the agency auctions off over $40,000 worth of furniture and equipment from the recently closed Chicago regional library for a mere $350. The woman who purchases the merchandise says she expects to resell the goods for about $80,000. [GSA Auctions, 10/23/2006 pdf file; Partee, 10/28/2006 pdf file; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006] Critics suggest that the motivation behind the rushed liquidation sale is to prevent a re-opening of the libraries should Congress vote down Bush’s budget cuts. Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and an outspoken critic of the EPA library closures, notes, “One big irony is that EPA claimed the reason it needed to close libraries was to save money but in the process they are spending and wasting money like drunken sailors.” [Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Jeff Ruch, Environmental Protection Agency

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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