On the same day that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its fiscal year 2008 budget request, announcing that it will seek $100 million less than FY 2007 and $400 million less than the FY 2006 enacted level; an unfair labor practice complaint was filed by the American Federation of Government Employees National Council of EPA Locals, Council 238 before the Federal Labor Relations Authority. The complaint was filed due to the closure of the EPA Regional Library in Chicago and allegations that EPA has refused to look into the impacts that closing this library and others would make.
The EPA Regional Library in Chicago is one of several libraries closed in the past twelve months. Last October, EPA announced that it was closing its Headquarters Library to visitors and walk-in patrons. It followed the closing of the Ft. Meade Environmental Science Center (ESC) Library (February 2006) as well as regional library closures in Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, and a specialized library on toxics and pesticides. Many of the services offered by these regional libraries have been transitioned to the Cincinnati library.
The library closures have caused quite a stir within the federal government as well as on Capitol Hill. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a full committee oversight hearing on 6 February to review recent EPA decisions, including decisions to close libraries. EPW chairwoman, Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in her opening statement said, “Today is the first in a series of hearings. EPA has gone too long without meaningful oversight. I want to send a clear signal to EPA and to this Administration. We are watching. The American public is watching. And no longer will EPA rollbacks quietly escape scrutiny.”
EPA administrator, Stephen Johnson testified before the entire committee, attributing closures of EPA libraries to the converting of materials to electronic media. Yet, Johnson was unable to answer many questions regarding EPA library closures from committee members. Boxer asked Johnson if the EPA library servicing Region 4 in Atlanta was open, Johnson answered, “Our regional library in Atlanta remains open.” Yet, all interlibrary loan requests are being handled through the Cincinnati Library. When asked if the EPA had closed the Environmental Science library at Fort Meade, Mr. Johnson answered with a definitive “no.” However, as was stated in the hearing, if you visit the EPA’s website for Ft. Meade’s library, it states, “The Library at EPA Region 3’s Environmental Science Center (ESC) at Ft. Meade is currently unstaffed. Consequently, public access to the Library facility has been suspended.”
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