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Context of 'November 30, 2006: House Democrats Demand that EPA Cease the Dismantling of its Library Network'

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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)

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).

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)

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)

The EPA quietly closes its Office of Prevention, Pollution, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) Library, packing its paper-only collection of documents into boxes and storing them in a basement cafeteria. The uncataloged collection is now completely unaccessible to government scientists. The library was used by EPA scientists who review applications from chemical companies who want to market new chemicals. Critics say the closure will make it more difficult for EPA scientists to determine the safety of new chemicals. In violation of federal policy (Office of Budget & Management Circular A-130), the agency issued no public notice about dismantlement of the library. (PEER 10/30/2006) Not even the scientists who use the library were given prior notice. (PEER 11/20/2006) Nor was the library included in the “EPA FY 2007 Framework” listing libraries slated to be shut down. (PEER 10/30/2006) The library’s collections is supposed to be distributed to other EPA libraries, but some of the documents will be tossed into garbage bins (see October 20, 2006 and After).

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).

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)

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