Congress Orders EPA to Disclose Library Reorganization Plans

Last fall, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to close its nationwide network of scientific libraries, including some regional branch libraries and one at its Washington, D.C. headquarters. The agency was not only closing the facilities, but also had reportedly begun destroying documents or shipping them to repositories where they were uncataloged and inaccessible to EPA employees, scientists, and the general public.

In January, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson told Congress he was imposing a 90-day moratorium on closing additional libraries or disposing of reference materials. On February 6, 2007, Johnson testified before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee that, “we are not closing any more libraries.” Nonetheless, an internal draft policy memo recently surfaced that seemed to indicate EPA was planning to renew destroying and dispersing documents from its libraries.

On April 29, House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) sent a detailed letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson requesting an update on the status of the EPA library system. According to a report published by the American Library Association, on May 4, EPA provided a briefing to the House committees and the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the status of its library reorganization program.

In September 2006, the GAO initiated an ongoing investigation on the impact of EPA’s proposed library closures.

NCH will be participating in an upcoming meeting, being organized by ALA, with the EPA to ensure that stakeholders have input into any plans being developed on the future of the agency’s library system.