Washington, DC — Despite public pledges of cooperation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to consult with its own employees about the effects of past or schedule of future library closures, according to an unfair labor practices complaint released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the face of growing congressional opposition, EPA continues to shutter libraries and make collections unavailable both to its own staff and the public.
The unfair labor practice complaint was filed on Monday, February 5, 2007 by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of EPA Locals, Council 238 before the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The complaint centers on the closure of the EPA Regional Library in Chicago and charges that EPA has refused to bargain on the impacts this action has on scientists and other specialists. The complaint asks for intervention to force EPA to enter binding arbitration on the subject.
“EPA touts its outreach efforts but has refused to consult with its own professionals or anyone else prior to hacking apart its library system,” stated PEER Associate Director Carol Goldberg. “It is ridiculous that our nation’s top environmental professionals have to wage legal battle just to keep access to information.”
This Tuesday, in an oversight hearing before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson testified that only five of the 26-library network had been closed. In fact, additional libraries have been shut, including, most recently the EPA Regional Library in Atlanta (serving eight southeastern states) where virtually all services have been transferred to Cincinnati. When confronted by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the committee chair, Johnson said he knew nothing about this functional shuttering of the Atlanta facility.
The rationale for EPA’s library shutdowns has shifted. Originally it was to save funds but agency studies show that its libraries produce cost savings several times their budgets by eliminating staff time that would otherwise be spent on tracking down documents. In addition, EPA’s plan to digitize tens of thousands of documents will likely cost far more than the $1.5 million it estimated it might save.
Now, EPA claims that it wants to modernize its information system, even as its budget is being cut – the FY 08 proposed budget unveiled by President Bush this week would cut EPA’s budget by 6.6%. The agency, however, has not described how the new system it is implementing on a piecemeal basis will ultimately function. Nor is it known how this still-developing new system will perform any better.
“EPA is forcing its entire staff to become their own librarians, wasting countless hours and sacrificing access to mountains of information formerly available,” Goldberg continued. “These shuttered libraries handled tens of thousands of information requests each year, not the handful that EPA is now implying.”