Federal Agency Charges for Reports Available Free Online

Thursday, April 17, 2014
Above, NTIS’s website advertising a $30 manual. Below, the same one available from CDC for no charge

The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) is something of a federal dinosaur, charging money for government reports that can be obtained elsewhere for free on the Internet.


Around since 1950, NTIS was set up as a clearinghouse for technical papers produced by the government. It has continued to sell these reports to the public even though many of them can be had for free through other agencies.


For instance, anyone interested in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s handy report on chemical hazards can order a free copy here. Or they can pay the NTIS $30.


Another example is Terrorism and Other Public Health Emergencies: A Reference Guide for Media, available for free from the Department of Health and Human Services.


The NTIS charges $16 for the report.


The agency has agreed to stop charging for reports produced by Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), one of Congress’ most vocal critics of government waste, after his office complained. But it will continue to require payment for reports produced by other lawmakers (presumably unless they, too, tell it to stop).


John Hart, a Coburn spokesman, told The Washington Times: “If 535 offices followed Dr. Coburn’s model we’d save even more. This is just one area of waste out of thousands. Now, NTIS needs to stop charging for other reports as well.”


The NTIS also charges for the free reports produced by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which has repeatedly questioned the agency’s business model.

“NTIS’s declining revenue associated with its basic statutory function and the charging for information that is often freely available elsewhere suggests that the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates for disseminating technical information may no longer be viable and appropriate,” a 2012 GAO report stated. The NTIS charges $16 for an electronic version of this report and $33 for a printed copy. Or it can be obtained for free here.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Bureaucrats at Their Best: Feds to Charge for Free Online Reports, Except for Coburn’s (by Stephen Dinan, Washington Times)

NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards: $30 (National Technical Information Service)

Terrorism and Other Public Health Emergencies: A Reference Guide for Media (Department of Health and Human Services)

Terrorism and Other Public Health Emergencies: A Reference Guide for Media: $16 (National Technical Information Service)


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