For immediate release | February 11, 2014

ALA urges open access to government websites during government shutdowns

CHICAGO — At its Midwinter Meeting & Exhibitions in Philadelphia, the American Library Association (ALA) Council, passed a resolution calling for open access to essential information on public websites in the event of a government shutdown.

In the resolution, the Council urges the president to direct the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) to provide guidance to federal agencies that states that, in the event of a government shutdown or other emergency, continued access by the public to essential information on agency websites is an “excepted” activity that would warrant the retention of paid personnel or the obligation of funds.

In the absence of such a guideline, the Council urged, the OMB should direct each agency to communicate the status of its website during a shutdown to the Government Printing Office (GPO) or other agency that communicate to the public information about which websites are being maintained, updated or closed.

The Council further stated that the OMB should require each agency to determine which information is essential and should be available in the event of a government shutdown and should develop a contingency plan for continued public access.

The OMB, it continued, should direct agencies to work with GPO in hosting their onsite publications and data in the Federal Digital System (FDSys) or other publicly accessible means. The Council urges that the agency should also expand its automated harvesting of federal agencies’ websites and redirect persistent uniform resource locators (PURLs) to GPO-harvested copies rather than agency websites.

Finally, the Council urges that the GPO or another appropriate agency be directed to maintain a clearinghouse of Web pages that provide alternate ways of accessing government information.

Neither the OMB nor the DoJ, the Council said, provide sufficient guidance to agencies about government websites during such shutdowns.

In passing the resolution, the Council mentioned that public online access to government information directly affects U.S. persons in areas as diverse as weather forecasting, natural hazards, immigration, health and taxation.

The Council affirmed that federal government information has been paid for by the public through taxes and should remain freely available even during a shutdown.

There have been 18 partial and total federal government shutdowns since 1980. From Oct. 1 through Oct. 16, 2013, the federal government shut down and curtailed most routine operations after Congress failed to enact legislation or interim authorization for appropriating funds for 2014.

During the 2013 shutdown, some federal websites became inaccessible, while others continued to function at full or limited capacities; however, the public was not informed which agency websites were or were not accessible.

In addition, Federal Depository Libraries were unable to provide alternative access to electronic information to the public during the shutdown.

About the American Library Association

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 57,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.


JoAnne Kempf


Office of ALA Governance