POSTED Wed Sep 17 13:42:39 PDT 2008 VIA EMAIL AND FEDEX

The Great Seal of Approval
our main
The Honorable Robert C. Tapella
Public Printer of the United States
Government Printing Office
732 North Capitol Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20401
September 17, 2008

Dear Mr. Tapella:

I am writing to you today for two purposes:

  • To purchase a copy of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.
  • To propose that you work with Public.Resource.Org to open source the remainder of your bulk electronic products.

1. Purchase of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

Per my prior discussions with Mr. Kurtz and Ms. Edmonds of the Public & Information Sales Division, you will find enclosed a check for $17,325 in payment for stock number 021-610-00249-9, the Code of Federal Regulations (File Transfer Protocol) (SGML text and images). I have examined the sample data provided by Ms. Edmonds and find the format satisfactory. Per your requirements, I am also submitting a Locator Coded Product Purchase Agreement [ pdf ] and acknowledge per that agreement that this product will be “hard to use.”

Our intent in purchasing this product is to make it available in raw format on the Internet for access by anonymous FTP. We will not charge for access, nor will we restrict usage by the imposition of any license agreements. Since public documents are defined as “public property” in 44 USC 1119, this deployment of the raw feed of the Code will make it available for all to use without restriction and will allow for-profit and non-profit entities to construct alternative versions of the CFR.

A broad range of public interest groups have expressed interest in using this vital public information. The purchase today of the CFR was made possible through contributions made to us by the Omidyar Network, the Sunlight Foundation,, Stanford University Libraries and Google.

2. Proposal to Open Source America's Operating System

In addition to the Code of Federal Regulations, GPO has several other key databases that are made available in bulk. These include the Congressional Directory, Congressional Record, Daily Bills Digest, Daily Bills, Federal Register, Federal Register Index, List of Federal Regulations Affected, the United States Code, the U.S. Government Manual, and the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents.

While a rudimentary version of these “products” are available on the GPO Access web site, they are built upon a very old technology known as WAIS, a database that allows keyword searches and browsing, but does so with unstructured text and a very primitive user interface. The more definitive bulk products that you sell are used by commercial services to build value-added systems. As evident from the broad interest in the CFR product and by the proliferation of “Web 2.0” sites that build more advanced public interfaces to public information, there is a great demand for the raw data in the public, academic, and nonprofit sectors.

All of these databases are core to our system of government, a collection of rules, laws, and reports we call America's Operating System. Creation of these products is integral to the operation of the legal machinery in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government. Even if no commercial firms were to purchase these products, the Government Printing Office would create them as required in Chapter 44 of the United States Code and as part of your annual appropriations for congressional printing and the operation of the Federal Depository Library Program.

Public dissemination is at the heart of the Government Printing Office: “GPO's main mission is to ensure the American public has access to Government information.” For electronic products, 44 USC 4102 is very specific that “fees charged under this section shall be set so as to recover the incremental cost of dissemination of the information involved.”

It is our proposal to you that GPO make all of these products available to Public.Resource.Org, which will in turn make the products available without restriction by anonymous FTP. There are several points I would like to make about this proposal:

  • We will handle user support, hosting, and network access, so your incremental costs will be close to zero.
  • It is highly unlikely that any of the commercial concerns who purchase these “products” from you today would be willing to rely on the services of a non-profit such as ours, so this action would have no immediate impact on your revenues.
  • As has been demonstrated, a large number of public service organizations are currently unable to access the raw data, and we would thus be opening new uses of this vital public information.

In previous discussions with you, your predecessor Mr. James, and other GPO officials, we have established that the Government Printing Office is able to accept unsolicited joint venture proposals and to engage in agreements that further the basic mission and purpose of the GPO in a manner that makes fiscal and operational sense. It is my hope that you will consider this offer to serve as a distribution point for electronic products as furthering your core mission and would be happy to answer any questions.

Sincerely yours,

Carl Malamud
President & CEO
Public.Resource.Org, Inc.