Wednesday, May 17, 2006

War on Science, Chapter MMVI

Under the guise of fiscal responsibility, Washington has proposed eliminating $2 million from the budget for maintaining libraries run by the .  According the the Washington Post:
Budget Cut Would Shutter EPA Libraries
By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 15, 2006; Page A15

Proposed budget cuts could cripple a nationwide system of Environmental Protection Agency libraries that government researchers and others depend on for hard-to-find technical information, library advocates say.

The $2 million cut sought by the White House would reduce the 35-year-old EPA Library Network's budget by 80 percent and force many of its 10 regional libraries to close, according to the advocates and internal agency documents.

That, in turn, would dramatically reduce access to certain EPA reports, guidance and technical documents that are used by the agency's scientific and enforcement staff as well as private businesses and citizens, they say.
In the obligatory fair-and-balanced way, WaPo informs us of the defense offered by an EPA spokesperson:
EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said it was "premature" to talk of mass closings among the regional libraries, although the one in Chicago already is shutting down. Wood said that 15 other EPA libraries, many of them attached to federal laboratories, will not be affected by the budget cuts.

She said the agency plans to save money and operate more efficiently by making EPA materials in the regional libraries available electronically. Many documents that exist only on paper will continue to be available through interlibrary loans, Wood said.
It would seem that if you cut the budget by 80%, there would have to be a serious impact.  Also, it seems that if they really plan to convert to electronically-stored documents, they should do that before they close the libraries that have the hard copies.  Critics point out that it will be much more difficult for environmental advocates to do the research necessary for their efforts.  See the blog post by the (PEER) for additional links on the subject.
The physical collections, many of which are sole source documents, will simply be shuttered up, as the agency has no funds to relocate or digitize these records. The EPA Region 2 library is the principal research resource for regulators, academics and researchers in the New York and New Jersey area.
Environmental advocates point out that this is not the only effort to limit the agency's effectiveness.  Internal budget changes are steering funds away from programs that protect children's health, toward other programs that are dedicated to homeland security.  According to PEER, as reported by YubaNet:
At the same time these new security functions are being expanded, EPA's overall budget is being cut. The budgetary axe is falling on traditional environmental programs, such as those designed to improve water quality. EPA is also closing most of its libraries as a cost-saving measure.

Programs that affect children's health have also been particularly hard-hit. This fall, Johnson announced the elimination of EPA's Office of Children's Health Protection, an entity dedicated to ensure that the special vulnerability of children is safeguarded in environmental standard-setting, enforcement and prevention efforts. The Office of Children's Health Protection was collapsed into the Office of Environmental Education, considered one of EPA's lowest priority programs.
Later in the article, they refer specifically to programs designed to protect children from pesticides.  The efforts were found to be inadequate, but rather than correct the problem, they cut the funding even more:
In January, the EPA Office of Inspector General issued a report criticizing serious inadequacies in the agency's ability to assess the effects of pesticides on fetuses, infants, toddlers, and youngsters. The agency claims that it lacks funding to collect data, conduct cumulative effect analyses and develop standards for determining the developmental neurotoxicity of the pesticides that EPA is approving for commercial use. Significantly, EPA is overdue in producing a plan for corrective actions that address the material weaknesses identified by the Inspector General.
Homeland security is all well and good; we do need to prevent terrorists from poisoning us.  Of course, with these changes, the terrorists don't have to poison us.  Our own industries are doing it for them, and we are letting them get away with it.

Is this post merely a rant?  No, I actually have an idea to offer.  If the government thinks it cannot afford to digitize the EPA library, why not ask Google to do it for them?  They'd probably do it for free.