Environmental Protection Agency: EPA Needs to Complete a Strategy for Its Library Network to Meet Users' Needs

GAO-10-947 Published: Sep 30, 2010. Publicly Released: Nov 01, 2010.
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Highlights

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) library network provides agency staff and the public with access to environmental information. A 2006 attempt by EPA to reorganize its network by consolidating libraries and making more materials and services available online caused concern among users, and in 2007, EPA put a moratorium on its reorganization plans. Congress requested that GAO report on the reorganization and has again requested a follow-up on these issues. Accordingly, GAO reviewed (1) the status of EPA's overall strategy for its library network, (2) the status of EPA's plan to reopen the libraries it closed and other actions planned or taken, (3) EPA's efforts to digitize printed documents to make them electronically available, and (4) EPA's efforts to communicate with staff and other stakeholders about its library network. GAO reviewed regulations and agency funding and inventory documents and interviewed EPA staff and contractors, as well as independent library professionals. GAO also assessed the reliability of EPA's data on library holdings and from EPA's staff survey on library use and needs.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency To ensure that EPA's library network continues to meet its users' needs, the Administrator of EPA should complete EPA's strategic plan for the library network, including implementation goals and timelines. In so doing, EPA should outline details for how funding decisions are to be made, to ensure that they are informed and transparent.
Closed – Implemented
In June 2011, EPA published the EPA National Library Network Strategic Plan FY2012-2014, which includes implementation goals and timelines for four key areas: Network Governance; Library Services; Library Network Electronic and Physical Collections; and Communications, Outreach, and Training. Action items related to funding are outlined in the Governance section of the plan. EPA's updated strategic plan for FY2015-2017 is currently in review, with expected issuance in the first quarter of FY2015, according to EPA. In addition, in 2014, EPA established the National Library Council, which includes senior leaders from across EPA and provides a mechanism for holding senior-level discussions about EPA libraries, addressing library resource issues, and enhancing library operations to ensure effective and efficient delivery of services.
Environmental Protection Agency To ensure that EPA's library network continues to meet its users' needs, the Administrator of EPA should complete an inventory of the library network's holdings to identify what items remain to be digitized.
Closed – Implemented
The EPA Library Network has inventoried their EPA publications to identify items that remain to be digitized. EPA identified this as a goal in the Collections section of the EPA National Library Network Strategic Plan FY2012-2014. EPA completed an inventory of EPA publications in May 2014 and an inventory of general collections (inlcuding other documents, journals, and monographs) in April 2014. Further, EPA libraries are required to inventory library collections at least every three years as part of the EPA Library Cataloging Procedures.
Environmental Protection Agency To ensure that EPA's library network continues to meet its users' needs, and for assistance agreements already in place, EPA should digitize documents produced under the agreements and make them available to federal employees and other authorized users for federal government purposes.
Closed – Not Implemented
EPA noted that digitizing documents under assistance agreements would provide a useful resource to federal employees, however, EPA does not plan to digitize products from past or current assistance agreements due to legal and technical constraints. EPA will continue to make print copies of these materials freely available upon request in the Library Network collections.
Environmental Protection Agency To ensure that EPA's library network continues to meet its users' needs, the Administrator of EPA should, in future assistance agreements, make explicit that EPA can include in the agency's public online database, without obtaining prior permission from the copyright holder, any documents produced under the agreements.
Closed – Implemented
EPA released its "Plan to Increase Access to Results of EPA-Funded Scientific Research" dated November 29, 2016. According to the plan, its purpose is to describe steps that EPA will take to increase the availability of the results of EPA-funded research to the scientific community, environmental policy makers, other stakeholders, and the public in order to accelerate scientific breakthroughs that support the agency's mission and policy making efforts. According to EPA as of October 1, 2018, it had implemented phases 1 and 2 (all intramural research publications and data) of the plan. In addition, a draft policy order for implementation of phase 3 (extramural funded research publications and data) was undergoing internal review at that time, and EPA was anticipating the order would be final by the end of calendar year 2019. On September 26, 2019, EPA approved its order, Policy for Increasing Access to Results of EPA-Funded Extramural Scientific Research. This order describes requirements for EPA offices that manage research through extramural agreements (i.e., grant and cooperative agreements, interagency agreements, and contracts) and states that assistance agreements must include terms and conditions about making extramural research publicly accessible. The requirements include ensuring that recipients/contractors make EPA-funded extramural scientific research journal publications or associated author manuscripts accessible to the public at no charge via the National Institutes of Health's PubMed Central (PMC) repository and post the digital research data underlying the publications to a publicly accessible platform. The order further states that publication-related metadata will be accessible through PMC, and metadata pertaining to the dataset underlying the publication will be accessible from EPA's dataset metadata repository.
Environmental Protection Agency To ensure that EPA's library network continues to meet its users' needs, and for future assistance agreements where EPA cannot make such an arrangement, EPA should digitize documents produced under the agreements and make them available to federal employees and other authorized users for federal government purposes.
Closed – Implemented
EPA released its "Plan to Increase Access to Results of EPA-Funded Scientific Research" dated November 29, 2016. According to the plan, its purpose is to describe steps that EPA will take to increase the availability of the results of EPA-funded research to the scientific community, environmental policy makers, other stakeholders, and the public in order to accelerate scientific breakthroughs that support the agency's mission and policy making efforts. According to EPA as of October 1, 2018, it has implemented phases 1 and 2 (all intramural research publications and data) of the plan. In addition, a draft policy order for implementation of phase 3 (extramural funded research publications and data) was undergoing internal review at that time, and EPA anticipated the order would be final by the end of calendar year 2019. On September 26, 2019, EPA approved its order, Policy for Increasing Access to Results of EPA-Funded Extramural Scientific Research. This order describes requirements for EPA offices that manage research through extramural agreements (i.e., grant and cooperative agreements, interagency agreements, and contracts). It establishes policy for increasing access to peer-reviewed scientific research journal publications or associated author manuscripts, and their underlying digital research data, resulting from extramural research awards. According to EPA, its public access policy requires that peer-reviewed scientific research documents resulting from assistance agreements that are exempt from public disclosure be made available to federal employees and other authorized users for federal government purposes, and all documents posted on PMC are digitalized.
Environmental Protection Agency To ensure that EPA's library network continues to meet its users' needs, the Administrator of EPA should ensure that the data analysis protocols used for conducting surveys of users' needs--including sampling procedures and response rates--are sufficiently sound methodologically to provide reliable information on which to base decisions and allocate resources efficiently.
Closed – Implemented
EPA's Library Network team has consulted with EPA's Statistician for advice and counsel regarding methodologically sound protocols for conducting surveys of users' needs. In addition, according to EPA, the Library Network will continue to seek advice and counsel from the official Statistician on any future assessments.

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