Is it Time to Eliminate the National Technical Information Service?
Before the Internet came along, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) served a real purpose. The agency provides government reports and documents that at one time were available nowhere else. But it might be time for NTIS to go the way of the World Book encyclopedia.
At least that seems to be what Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) is saying. She and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) have sponsored the Let Me Google That For You Act, which would eliminate NTIS. “Why would anyone buy publications from NTIS when they’re free on the Internet?” McCaskill said, according to FedScoop. “Can we as a Congress come together and cut bureaucracy when it is duplicative and unnecessary?”
As the demand for printed materials has declined, the 64-year-old NTIS has attempted to remain relevant by offering shipping and fulfillment services, e-training services, government webhosting and information and support services to other government agencies for a price, but McCaskill blasted those efforts. “We can’t find any IT services you offer that [General Services Administration] doesn’t offer,” she said.
At a hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs contracting subcommittee, McCaskill and Coburn pulled no punches in their interrogation of NTIS Director Bruce Borzino. “Our goal here is to eliminate you as an agency,” Coburn brazenly told Borzino.
The NTIS chief attempted to defend his agency. “Many federal agencies and departments have neither the technical expertise, nor the statutory mandate or funding that would be necessary to individually take on responsibility to maintain permanent availability of their scientific and technical information,” Borzino said. “This is a service that NTIS is uniquely suited and mandated to provide, and which it provides without appropriated funding.”
The agency maintains a collection of nearly 3 million publications that cover more than 350 technical and business-related subject areas, according to Borzino. Every year, 30,000 new titles are added to the repository, which is indexed and abstracted.
Some of the documents sold by NTIS are readily available elsewhere, such as Armed Forces cookbooks, but Borzino said the agency is going through its library to ensure it now holds only scientific and technical documents, which is what it’s supposed to have.
A Government Accountability Office report showed that about 74% of the reports added to the NTIS collection from fiscal year 1990 through 2011 were available elsewhere, and 95% of these were available for free. The report also said that the agency’s costs for its products have exceeded its revenue in 10 of 11 fiscal years, and that the NTIS remained solvent only by selling services to other agencies.
To Learn More:
Why Is This Commerce Department Agency Charging Other Agencies for Free Reports? (by Charles S. Clark, Government Executive)
Has Google Made NTIS Irrelevant? (by Jake Williams, FedScoop)
A Lesson Learned From The Beleaguered NTIS (by Gabbi Fisher, Sunlight Foundation)
Federal Agency Charges for Reports Available Free Online (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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