American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Action needed on Draft Bill Affecting Scientific Publications

Legislation Could Restrict Journal Articles by Government Scientists

May 13, 1997 (Last updated August 26, 1998)

Current Status: In mid-May 1997, AGI sent out the following alert encouraging geoscientists to write to members of the Joint Committee on Printing to oppose draft legislation that would restrict government scientists from publishing in scientific journals. AGI President Ed Roy sent a letter to committee chairman Sen. John Warner (R-VA) as did the presidents of the Geological Society of America and Society of Economic Geologists among others. On May 14th, the committee's staff director, Eric Peterson, met with representatives from a number of scientific and engineering societies, including AGI and the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Substitute language drafted by AGU leadership was submitted on behalf of the group, but no word yet on whether it will be accepted. On May 29th, Senator Warner responded to Roy's letter, ensuring that the revised draft "is in no way intended to inhibit the research and writings of the Federal scientific community," but not making it clear that the earlier concerns had been addressed.

On July 10, 1998, Warner introduced S. 2288, a bill to provide for the reform and continuing legislative oversight of the production, procurement, dissemination, and permanent public access of the Government's publications. Named for retiring Senator Wendell Ford (D-KY), the bill would transfer the Government Printing Office from Congress to the executive branch, rename it the Government Publications Office, and eliminate the Joint Committee on Printing. The bill does not include the troublesome Title I of the draft bill discussed in this alert. That bill has yet to be introduced. AGI will continue to monitor the situation.


Scientific society executives have expressed concern over the potential ramifications for scientific publishers of draft legislation on the Government Printing Office (GPO). Although staff for bill sponsor Sen. John Warner (R-VA) have made assurances that there is no reason for concern, the Clinton Administration has voiced strong reservations over sections of the bill that establish civil penalties for any government employee who willfully provides public information to a private publisher with the expectation of monetary award or personal recognition. The irony here is that provisions designed to improve public access to government documents contain contradictory language that could preclude government employees from publishing their publicly funded research results in the non-governmental scientific literature or even publishing abstracts from presentations given at scientific meetings.

AGI urges its member societies and their membership to write Sen. Warner and other members of the Joint Committee on Printing, urging them to carefully consider potential effects of the proposed legislation on scientific publication and to make the necessary changes to avoid such effects. Because the legislation has yet to be introduced, a strong response from the scientific community now can catch any problems at an early stage when flexibility is high. This alert includes background information as well as contact information for pertinent senators and representatives.

This legislation is currently in draft form and has yet to be introduced in either the House or Senate. It is being developed by staff of the Joint Committee on Printing and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, both of which are chaired by Warner. The bill's purpose is to "ensure the continuing public access to Government information, establish the Government Printing Office as an agency in the executive branch, provide for continuing legislative oversight of the Government Printing Office, modify and clarify the authority of the Public Printer, and for other purposes."

Only the bill's Title I is controversial with respect to scientific publication. The rest deals with the transfer of the Government Printing Office (GPO) to the executive branch from its current, somewhat anachronistic location in the legislative branch. The bill also eliminates the Joint Committee on Printing, one of only a handful of joint House-Senate committees. A short summary of the bill follows as an appendix to this alert, and the draft bill text has been posted by the University of Kentucky.


The Senate Rules Committee has held two hearings so far, one on April 24th and the other on May 8th, on revisions to Title 44 of the U.S. Code relating to the GPO. The testimony from those hearings is available from the committee's web site. The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's Government Management, Information and Technology subcommittee also held a hearing on this issue on May 8th. Unfortunately, that testimony is not available on the web. Four additional hearings were held by the Senate Rules Committee during the last Congress on the issue of public access to government information in the 21st century.

According to Senator Warner's opening statement at the April 24th hearing, the need for a shift of the GPO to the executive branch stems from a 1983 Supreme Court decision (Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chada) that essentially found that congressional control over executive branch printing was unconstitutional. Consequently, the ability of Congress to require federal agencies to comply with public access and cost effectiveness provisions had become compromised as had the viability of federal depository libraries. To illustrate his point, Warner cited an "egregious" example related to scientific publication. According to Warner, the National Cancer Institute sold its Journal of the National Cancer Institute to Oxford [University?] Press, a British company that subsequently began charging a $150 subscription fee. Noting that the research was funded by the American taxpayer and that some editorial staff were federal employees, Warner was appalled that a "secret" agreement had been signed between NCI and Oxford Press without consulting Congress and the GPO.

Testifying on behalf of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Sally Katzen expressed general satisfaction with the draft bill but expressed strong concern over the bill's Sections 104 and 105 relating to public access and depository libraries. She argued that these sections would "have a chilling effect on government information production and dissemination. For example, the science agencies point out that the Section 104 prohibition on government employees receiving a "benefit" including "personal attribution or personal recognition" would stifle scientific research by prohibiting their staff from submitting work to even the most respected journals and receiving well deserved professional recognition for it."

In response to queries from scientific societies, Eric Peterson, the staff director of the Joint Committee on Printing, has written that "the proposal is not intended to inhibit the research and writings of the Federal scientific community" and that "whoever started this rumor has deliberately excluded important information, and taken this one section (104) out of context." Peterson cites a provision in the bill excluding derivative works from the prohibition and another finding that "there should be no limitations which preclude the ability of nongovernmental entities from obtaining Federal research data and analysis..., adding value, and reselling such information in a copyrighted format...." The provisions prohibiting actions of federal employees, however, appear to contradict those cited by Peterson. Moreover, further concern is raised by Warner's use of a scientific publication as his "egregious" example of the problems to be solved by this legislation.


A letter has been sent by AGI President Edward C. Roy Jr. to Senator Warner and the other members of the Joint Committee on Printing (roster below) that expresses support for the legislation's purpose of increasing access to public information but then raises concerns about the current draft. The letter urges them to clarify the bill's language to ensure that it will not limit the ability of government scientists to communicate their research results in the scientific literature and at scientific meetings.

We encourage the Member Societies and their membership to write to the Joint Committee on Printing and secondarily to other members of the Senate Rules Committee and House Oversight Committee. A potentially important member of the latter is Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), who is also Vice Chair of the House Science Committee and a former research physicist. Letters might also be sent to Rep. Steve Horn (R-CA), who chairs the House Government Management, Information and Technology subcommittee that held a hearing on this issue on May 8th. The subcommittee's ranking member is Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).

Committee rosters and individual addresses are available from the Senate and House web sites.

If you do write a letter, please send a copy to AGI's Government Affairs Program, 4220 King Street, Alexandria VA 22302; fax (703) 379-7563. And please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions at or (703) 379-2480.

Letters to Senator Warner should be addressed as follows:

The Honorable John Warner, Chairman
Joint Committee on Printing
818 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6446

Letters to other committee members can be sent to their personal offices:

The Honorable _____________
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510


The Honorable ______________
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515


818 Hart Office Building, Washington, DC 20510-6446
(202) 224-5241; fax (202) 224-1176

Majority Members:
Sen. John Warner (R-VA), Chairman
Rep. William Thomas (R-CA), Vice Chairman
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Rep. Bob Ney, (R-OH)
Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX)

Minority Members:
Sen. Wendell Ford (D-KY)
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD)
Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-CT)


May 13, 1997

Dear Senator Warner:

I am writing to express the concerns of the American Geological Institute and the geoscience community it represents over draft legislation to revise statutes related to the Government Printing Office. AGI fully supports the bill's purpose of ensuring public access to information obtained at taxpayer expense, but it appears that provisions in Title I of the draft could have unintended consequences for scientific publications. Although intended to promote access to public information, the draft language of Sections 104 and 105 could serve to limit the ability of government scientists to widely disseminate their research results in the scientific literature.

Peer-reviewed journals published by scientific societies and commercial publishers are the principal means for the dissemination of scientific research results. Much of that research is federally funded, and government scientists at national laboratories and federal agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey are important contributors. The draft language of Section 104 would appear to limit the ability of government scientists to publish their results in such journals without first having released them in a government publication, a process that could significantly delay wide circulation of those results among scientists. Similar concerns have been raised by the White House Office of Management and Budget in testimony before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

Under the current system, publicly funded data published in scientific journals remain in the public domain, and government researchers are free to publish their results in government documents as well. The publishing prohibitions in the bill would also apply to abstracts often published in conjunction with scientific meetings, seminars, and workshops, thus restricting the participation of government scientists in these gatherings. I am sure that it is not your intent to inhibit the dissemination of research results by federal scientists, and I encourage you to amend the language in the bill to make that clear.

The American Geological Institute is a nonprofit federation of 31 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice of shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.

Please contact me or David Applegate, AGI's Director of Government Affairs, if you or your staff have any questions. I appreciate your help in addressing these concerns and am certain that a bill can be developed that will receive the full support of the scientific community.

Sincerely yours,

Edward C. Roy, Jr.
President, American Geological Institute


This summary was prepared by GAP staff. The draft bill text has been posted on the web by the University of Kentucky.

Title I includes a Findings section (102) emphasizing that public information created at the expense of taxpayers by Federal agencies should not be limited by copyright or other restrictions. At the same time, there should be no limitations on the ability of nongovernmental entities from obtaining Federal research data and analysis, reports, or other Government information, adding value, and reselling such information in a copyrighted format, but the public information upon which it is based remains in the public domain. A definitions section (103) follows, defining public information as "any work of the US Government, regardless of form or format, that any agency discloses, disseminates, makes available to the public, or makes available for dissemination to the public".

Section 104. Protection of Public Accessibility to Works of the United States Government. Provides for civil penalties (up to $5,000) and dismissal for any Federal employee that provides public information to a person that the employee expects will publish, and the employee "expects to receive a benefit from the publication, including the professional attribution or personal recognition of the employee as an author of such work," or expects the agency will receive a benefit from publication, or if the employee fails to give written notice that the public information is not available for copyright. "Nothing in this section shall be construed to apply to the publication of a derivative work based on a work of the US Government."

Section 105. Requirement to Make Certain Publications Available to Depository Libraries. Provides similar penalties as section 104 for any employee who violates a regulation intended to ensure that each Government publication required to be made available to depository libraries shall be made available.

Title II of the bill establishes the Government Printing Office as an executive agency. The agency would be headed by the Public Printer, a presidential appointee requiring Senate confirmation.

Title III eliminates the Joint Committee on Printing, shifting all of its duties to the Public Printer and its oversight authority to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the Committee on House Oversight.

Title IV contains administrative provisions to ensure the continued employment of staff, legality of documents, legitimacy of pending lawsuits, and similar issues of continuity.

Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated August 26, 1998

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