Washington, DC —The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving ahead this summer to shut down libraries, end public access to research materials and box up unique collections on the assumption that Congress will not reverse President Bush’s proposed budget reductions, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA’s own scientists are stepping up protests against closures on the grounds that it will make their work more difficult by impeding research, enforcement and emergency response capabilities.
In an August 15, 2006 document entitled “EPA FY 2007 Library Plan,” agency management indicates that it will begin immediately implementing President Bush’s proposed budget cuts for the next fiscal year, which begins in October, without waiting for Congress to act. The memo describes what EPA terms “deaccessioning procedures” (defined as “the removal of library materials from the physical collection”) for its network of 26 technical libraries. Under the plan—
- Regional libraries, located in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City, serving 15 Midwestern and Southern states will be closed by September 30. Other regional library hours and services will be gradually reduced;
- Public access to EPA libraries and collections will end as soon as possible;
- As many as 80,000 original documents which are not electronically available will be boxed up (“put their collections into stasis,” in the words of the EPA memo) and shipped for eventual “digitizing.”
EPA scientists represented by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest federal employee union, had previously sent a “Demand to Bargain” on the issue, but EPA managers dismissed that demand as premature. The August 15th EPA memo, however, shows that the union concern was far from premature. On August 16, the AFGE National Council of EPA Locals filed a formal grievance demanding that all library closures be put on hold until affected scientists can negotiate the matter as required in the collective bargaining agreement, writing:
“After October 1, 2007, three Regions will no longer have a physical library at all. Library hours or core library services will be reduced in other Regions that keep their physical libraries open. Management has been insisting that it can effectively ‘do more with less,’ and continue to provide the same level of library services to all of EPA’s staff members despite the reduction in the number of library contractor staff. The Council is not convinced that this is the case.”
“The central fiction is EPA’s promise to digitize its entire massive collection, making everything available online someday, without any dedicated funds amid sharply reduced budgets,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting EPA studies show the cuts will actually lose money due to additional professional staff time that will have to be spent tracking down research materials now assembled by the libraries. “The idea that library closures are a purely budgetary move is increasingly hard to swallow.”
A key tenet of the new plan is that all research requests will be centrally controlled. The plan calls for “discouraging establishment of divisional or branch mini-libraries” so that central staff can “have knowledge of [the] location” of all research materials. In a mass letter of protest signed this June by representatives for 10,000 EPA scientists and researchers, more than half the total agency workforce, employees contend that the library plan is designed to “suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics.”
“What is going on inside EPA is positively Orwellian,” concluded Ruch.