SLA Urges Caution on Government Actions during Pandemic
Non-Critical Decisions Should Be Deferred Until Crisis Eases
McLean, Va., 23 March 2020—SLA has joined with more than 130 library, information, and civic organizations and advocacy groups in signing an open letter calling on government bodies to consider deferring action on important decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Government bodies should not opportunistically take advantage of the public’s inability to attend large gatherings to make critical decisions affecting the public’s interest if those decisions can reasonably be postponed,” the letter states. “Just as citizens are being asked to defer nonessential travel and errands, so should government agencies defer noncritical policy-making decisions until full and meaningful public involvement can be guaranteed. Where postponement is not realistic, every available measure should be taken to (1) notify the public of meetings of government bodies and how to participate in those meetings remotely, (2) use widely available technologies to maximize real-time public engagement, and (3) preserve a viewable record of proceedings that is promptly made accessible online.”
The need for heightened interest in greater transparency was illustrated by two recent events:
- Last week, two public hearings were held in New Jersey to consider toll hikes on the state’s largest toll roads. Only 16 people spoke at the two hearings, most of them from unions or business organizations directly involved in transportation construction. According to one media report, the state’s transportation commissioner “acknowledged the questions about proceeding with the hearings and toll hikes, but said the economic uncertainty is a reason to move ahead with a plan long in the works that would sustain tens of thousands of jobs.”
- Also last week, the city of Chicago announced that it will automatically deny all Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by the public until further notice. The city said FOIA requests are “non-essential” government operations and will not be processed until normal operations resume.
SLA recognizes that government leaders have critical roles to play during public health crises, and it is appropriate for them to ask or even require the public to refrain from meeting in groups during the current pandemic. Librarians have critical roles to play as well, and one of them is to heighten our efforts to ensure the public has access not only to information but also to opportunities to influence governments and other organizations that make decisions affecting the public welfare. We encourage SLA members to make their voices heard to ensure such opportunities are not restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Special Libraries Association (SLA) is a nonprofit international organization for innovative information professionals and their strategic partners. SLA serves information professionals in more than 60 countries and in a range of working environments, including business, academia and government agencies. SLA promotes and strengthens its members through learning, advocacy and networking initiatives. For more information, visit sla.org.