UPDATED: Bush's 2007 budget cuts target EPA libraries

Public employee group members protest proposed cuts they say would undermine environmental research.

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 2:30 March 9, 2006, with additional information from the EPA.

President Bush’s 2007 budget would end funding for an Environmental Protection Agency electronic catalog that lists tens of thousands of documents not available outside the EPA's library network.

According to internal agency documents released this month by the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the president’s plan to cut $2 million from the library program’s $2.5 budget would eliminate the database that makes it possible to search through the EPA's libraries.

EPA officials later informed Federal Computer Week that the fiscal 2007 budget would still fund public and interagency access to the EPA electronic catalog.

Although the proposed cuts to the library program are severe, the budget requests a significant increase in EPA research funds for nanotechnology, air pollution and drinking water system security, which are part of the president's innovation agenda. In his recent State of the Union address, Bush announced a three-part program called the American Competitiveness Initiative that focuses on research and development, education and workforce and immigration policies.

The libraries' primary users are EPA’s own scientists and enforcement employees.

“How are EPA scientists supposed to engage in cutting-edge research when they cannot find what the agency has already done?” asked Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER. “The president’s plan will not make us more competitive if we have to spend half our time reinventing the wheel.”

EPA operates a network of 27 libraries from its Washington, D.C., headquarters and 10 regional offices nationwide. The proposed cuts would force the headquarters library and most of the regional libraries to shut their doors, PEER officials said.

Each year, the EPA libraries catalog about 50,000 documents that are exclusive to the EPA library network. The library system allows public access to EPA databases.

The American Library Association this week expressed its concern about the proposed 80 percent drop in funding for EPA's libraries.

ALA president Michael Gorman issued a statement saying that ALA has a long-standing commitment to promoting free public access to government information. "We are troubled by what seems to be an accelerating trend in increased restrictions on access to government information.”