Saturday, August 22, 2015

FCC Plans Open Source Accessibility Platform

According to an August 20, 2015 press release, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will "offer an open source video access platform that will enable Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind or who have a speech disability to communicate directly with federal agencies and businesses in American Sign Language (ASL)."

The press release describes the system as follows:

The platform will provide open source applications for mobile and desktop operating systems which – along with direct video calling – will allow for text and high-quality voice communications. In addition, the FCC will provide applications that relay service users can download on their smartphones or desktops in order to communicate directly with agency representatives. An ASL-user will be able to click on who they want to talk to and the call will be connected directly to a customer service center staffed by, most commonly, another person who is deaf or hard of hearing who is fluent in ASL. The Commission plans to roll out a beta version later this year with final release schedule for spring of 2016.

The FCC’s platform will provide the basic building blocks that are common to any IP-based application. The platform also will establish a set of interoperability standards to be used by today’s two-way video communications providers, ensuring seamless usability while maintaining freedom of choice for all ASL users. Giving applications developers open access to source code will enable them to provide apps with easy interoperability for those receiving calls.

Under the leadership of Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC has become a leader in using "interactive video to allow deaf and hard of hearing callers direct access to ASL consumer support." Other agencies such as the Small Business Administration, the Census Bureau, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the City of New York are already following or planning to follow the FCC's example.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Smithsonian's Plan for Increased Public Access to Federally Funded Research Results

On August 18, 2015 the Smithsonian Institution released its Plan for Increased Public Access to Results of Federally Funded Research  which proposes "to provide increased public access to certain peer-reviewed scholarly publications and supporting digital research data"  for research partially or wholly funded by a federal funding source. The plan applies to "all fields in which the Smithsonian conducts  research, including but not limited to the fields of science, history, art, and culture." 

Address Wildfire Threat with National Seed Strategy

According to an August 17, 2015 press release, as "part of a comprehensive, science-based strategy to address the threat of wildfires that are damaging landscapes across the West, the Department of the Interior today announced the release of a National Seed Strategy for rehabilitation and restoration to help foster resilient and healthy landscapes." More information is available from the press release and the FAQs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement: Selected Issues for Congress

On August 6, 2015 the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report entitled Iran Nuclear Agreement: Selected Issues for Congress By Kenneth Katzman and Paul K. Kerr. The agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia, and China (countries labelled the P5+1), is under review by Congress until September 17. A paragraph in the report's summary describes the agreement in broad terms:

Broadly, the accord represents an exchange of limitations on Iran’s nuclear program for the lifting or suspension of U.S., U.N., and European Union (EU) sanctions. The text contains relatively complicated provisions for inspections of undeclared Iranian nuclear facilities, processes for adjudicating complaints by any of the parties for nonperformance of commitments, "snap-back" provisions for U.N. sanctions, finite durations for many of Iran’s nuclear commitments, and broad U.N., E.U., and U.S. commitments to suspend or lift most of the numerous sanctions imposed on Iran since 2010. Many of the agreement’s provisions have raised questions about the degree to which the accord can accomplish the P5+1 objectives that were stated when P5+1-Iran negotiations began in 2006.

Legal Background of National Security Letters in Foreign Intelligence Investigations

Charles Doyle, Senior Specialist in American Public Law, has written a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report entitled "National Security Letters in Foreign Intelligence Investigations: A Glimpse at the Legal Background." He discusses the five National Security Letter (NSL) federal statutes that authorized "intelligence officials to request information in connection with national security investigations" and the Department of Justice's Inspector General (IG) findings in relation to the five statutes. In the summary he reveals:

The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies recommended several NSL statutory adjustments designed to eliminate differences between NSLs and court orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“§215 orders”), including requiring pre-issuance judicial approval of NSLs. Instead in the USA FREEDOM Act, P.L. 114-23 (H.R. 2048), Congress opted to adjust the NSL judicial review provisions governing the nondisclosure requirements that may accompany NSLs. It also precludes the use of NSL authority for bulk collection of communications or financial records. Finally, it adjusts existing reporting requirements to permit recipients to publicly disclose the extent to which they have been compelled to comply with NSLs.

Friday, June 12, 2015

New Strategic Plan for the National Library of Medicine

According to a June 11, 2015 press release, the National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D, released a new strategic vision for the National Library of Medicine (NLM) created by a NLM Working Group. The vision will help ensure that NLM "remains an international leader in biomedical and health information." The Working Group believes "NLM has an important opportunity to play a key leadership role in one of the most exciting periods of biomedical history: data science is increasing rapidly, computational power is expanding at a breathtaking pace, the breadth and depth of digital health data are undergoing unprecedented and accelerating growth, a movement towards more interdisciplinary work and team science continues to gain momentum, a broad commitment to open science is becoming increasingly adopted, and the demand for services to support an ever more engaged and informed public is expanding." The group made six broad recommendations:
  • RECOMMENDATION #1. NLM must continually evolve to remain a leader in assimilating and disseminating accessible and authoritative biomedical research findings and trusted health information to the public, healthcare professionals, and researchers worldwide.
  • RECOMMENDATION #2. NLM should lead efforts to support and catalyze open science, data sharing, and research reproducibility, striving to promote the concept that biomedical information and its transparent analysis are public goods.
  • RECOMMENDATION #3. NLM should be the intellectual and programmatic epicenter for data science at NIH and stimulate its advancement throughout biomedical research and application.
  • RECOMMENDATION #4. NLM should strengthen its role in fostering the future generation of professionals in biomedical informatics, data science, library sciences, and related disciplines through sustained and focused training efforts.
  • RECOMMENDATION #5. NLM should maintain, preserve, and make accessible the nation’s historical efforts in advancing biomedical research and medicine, thereby ensuring that this legacy is both safe and accessible for long-term use.
  • RECOMMENDATION #6. New NLM leadership should evaluate what talent, resources, and organizational structures are required to ensure NLM can fully achieve its mission and best allocate its resources.

To see more including breakdowns within the recommendation, access the full report (PDF).

Friday, May 29, 2015

Sunlight Foundation Creating Database for Criminal Justice Data

The Sunlight Foundation, a national non-partisan, nonprofit organization committed to open government, has created an inventory of publicly and privately produced criminal justice data as the first step to creating a database. The inventory, Opening Criminal Justice Data, shows what data has been collected so far and provides an opportunity for people to submit their own data, statistics or a finished report. However, no information is given on the main page about how these submissions will be evaluated. Links to data and reports already submitted can be accessed by opening the Google spreadsheet. Most of the reports presently available are from official government agencies.

Audit of the Management of the International Space Station National Laboratory

The General Accounting Office (GA0) released a report covering the April 2014 to April 2015 management of the ISS (International Space Station) National Laboratory. The Highlights section of the report, International Space Station: Measurable Performance Targets and Documentation Needed to Better Assess Management of National Laboratory, explains the purpose of the audit and provides recommendations:
Why GAO Did This Study

The U.S. has spent almost $43 billion to develop, assemble, and operate the ISS over the past two decades. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 required NASA to enter into a cooperative agreement with a not-for-profit entity to manage the ISS National Laboratory and in 2011 did so with CASIS. CASIS is charged with maximizing use of the ISS for scientific research by executing several required activities. Recently, questions have arisen about the progress being made to implement the required activities and the impact it has had on ISS’s return on the investment.

GAO was asked to report on the progress of CASIS’s management of the ISS National Laboratory. GAO assessed the extent to which (1) CASIS has implemented the required management activities, and (2) NASA and CASIS measure and assess CASIS’s performance. To perform this work, GAO reviewed the cooperative agreement between NASA and CASIS, CASIS’s annual program plans, and other documentation and interviewed ISS, CASIS, and NASA officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends NASA fully staff the ISS National Laboratory Advisory Committee; NASA and CASIS work together to develop measurable targets for CASIS’s metrics; and NASA begin documenting its annual review of CASIS’s performance. NASA partially concurred and CASIS did not concur with the first recommendation, but concurred with the other two. GAO continues to believe the first recommendation is valid, as discussed further in the report.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Massive National Recall of Takata Air Bags

According to a May 19, 2015 news release, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a national recall of certain types of driver and passenger side air bag inflators made by Takata. The recall, which started with those at highest risk due to age of vehicle and areas of high absolute humidity, is now nationwide with about 34 million vehicles involved. Even if your vehicle is not listed at present, the NHTSA advises you to keep checking the website as new entries continue to be added. The new website created to provide regular updates on the status of this and other recalls is

Thursday, April 30, 2015

New Fair Use Index from the U.S. Copyright Office

The U.S. Copyright Office has created a Fair Use Index "to make the principles and application of fair use more accessible and understandable to the public by presenting a searchable database of court opinions, including by category and type of use (e.g., music, internet/digitization, parody)." It includes a wide selection of cases regarding fair use (but not all) and is not a substitute for legal advice. Each decision includes "a brief summary of the facts, the relevant question(s) presented, and the court’s determination as to whether the contested use was fair." Browse all the cases, search for specific cases or review cases from specific courts. Usually only the highest court decision issued in a case is included. The index does not include the court opinions themselves, but provides citations to access those opinions through other free (Google Scholar, Justia, etc.) or commercial databases (Westlaw, LEXIS, etc.).