GPO revises policy for restricting public access to documents

The Government Printing Office has revised its policy governing how and when agencies can withdraw, withhold or restrict public access to information products, such as publications, studies and manuals.

The new policy requires a more detailed review of why an agency wanted to withdraw, withhold or restrict access to a document, and whether alternative options could be used. The option would depend on what the agency wanted to do. For example, if they wanted to withdraw a publication, the option might be to edit it so it can be printed anyway. If they wanted to hold a publication, the option might be to put a timeline on how long it's held.

The policy applies to all government information products, such as agency publications, studies and manuals, and services subject to the jurisdiction of the GPO superintendent of documents.

Under the revision, GPO officials must formally consult with an agency at least three times before they take action that affects public access to information. The GPO is responsible for notifying the agency of any costs associated with such an action.

The original policy required only one review by the GPO superintendent of documents before action was taken.

The reasons information may be withheld, restricted or removed include: production errors in printing, software or mastering; content errors; the presence of classified or sensitive material that could affect national or homeland security; and the presence of strictly administrative or official use only material distributed in error, unless subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

"If after confirmation and verification, the publishing agency remains steadfast in its desire to initiate an action, the director of program planning and coordination services will notify the superintendent of documents," the policy states. "This notification will include a recommendation for acceptance or rejection of the intended request, justification of and means to accomplish the action, if recommended. The recommendation should include cost estimates and an evaluation of other anticipated consequences, if applicable.

"In addition, the recommendation will never request destruction of the information product, but request its return to GPO or the publishing agency, with or without audit," the policy adds.

The original rules, published in September 2002, did not include any reference to "sensitive material that could impact national or homeland security."

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