Under President Reagan’s direction, the government has significantly reduced public information with little if any media attention. During the past six years, the American Library Association has documented Administration efforts to eliminate, restrict, and privatize government documents many of which had been available to the general public. For example, since 1982, one of every four of the government’s 16,000 publications has been eliminated.
In 1985, the Office of Management and Budget consolidated its government information control powers through two initiatives. Circular A-3 requires annual reviews of agency publications and detailed justifications for proposed periodicals; Circular A-130 requires cost-benefit analysis of government information activities, maximum reliance on the private sector for the dissemination of government information, and cost recovery through user charges. The obvious result is a continued trend to commercialize and privatize government information, once thought to be public information.
During 1986, two new developments in official information control and dissemination procedures emerged:
First, the government launched a new “disinformation” program. In March 1986, the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency initiated an official disinformation program which covers 15-20 programs. Deliberately false, incomplete and misleading information, including altered technical information, will be released in order to impede the transfer of accurate technological information to the Soviet Union. On August 14, 1986, in a White House meeting, the administration launched a secret and unusual disinformation campaign of deception designed to convince Libyan leader Gadhafi that he was about to be attacked again by the U.S. and perhaps be ousted in a coup.
Second, the government developed a new category of “sensitive information” to further restrict public access to a broad range of unclassified data. This makes possible an extraordinary government censoring apparatus which could restrict access to private commercial data bases, censor the information they contain, develop software which would reveal who is using a data base, and what data they are calling up, and to license foreign users of commercial U.S. data bases. (Ironically, at the same time, the federal government is contracting out the operation of more and more of its libraries to foreign-owned private companies.)
Following are some of the U.S. agencies, departments, or offices negatively impacted by Reagan’s information control policies in 1986: Department of Agriculture, Commerce Department, Federal Election Commission, Federal Communications Commission, Bureau of the Census, Department of Transportation, Library of Congress, General Accounting Office, Department of Health and Human Services, Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Justice, Department of Energy, Government Printing Office, and the Department of Education.
AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCATION, Washington Office, “Less Access to Less Information by and About the U.S. Government: 2,” 12/86.