The legal blogosphere is abuzz about an agreement between the General Accounting Office and Thomson West giving ThomsonWest exclusive rights to federal legislative histories prepared by the GAO. Carl Malamud was quoted March 17 on Boing Boing explaining that he's been investigating the arrangement with help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
"The law librarians at GAO have compiled complete federal legislative histories from 1915 on. These are the definitive dossiers that track a bill through the hearing process and into law. If you want to divine the intent of Congress, this is where you go.... Now GAO cut a contract with Thomson West to have these documents scanned. Thomson West claims they have exclusive access to these public documents and even go so far as to boast that you should purchase this exclusive 'product' from West because the GAO law librarians (public employees!) have done all the work for you!"
Malamud has set up a Scribd page called the "Government Accountability Office" that contains the documents he has obtained from the GAO pertaining to this agreement. This weekend, our friends at Free Government Information went through the documents in some detail. They found that the GAO has compiled 20,597 legislative histories covering most public laws from 1915 to 1995 and spanning the 64th to the 104th Congresses - almost all in print or microfiche. In recent years, the GAO sought ways to digitize these histories, to preserve their integrity and improve their searchability. It tried to do some of this in-house, then went looking for a partner, which it found in Thomson West (!).
"Wholesale privatization without a careful, public examination of other, more citizen-friendly, alternatives is not acceptable," FGI asserts.
I don't think we've heard the last of this.
hattip: FGI and Legal Blog Watch