This week in his weekly Time to Wake Up speech, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) speaks about climate change making the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) High Risk List for the first time this year. GAO's High Risk List is published every two years at the start of every new Congress since 1990. GAO "calls attention to agencies and program areas that are high risk due to their vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement, or are most in need of transformation."
"According to GAO, and I’ll quote again, “The nation’s vulnerability can be reduced by limiting the magnitude of climate change through actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions. . . . While implementing adaptive measures may be costly, [GAO continues] there is a growing recognition that the cost of inaction could be greater and—given the government’s precarious fiscal position—increasingly difficult to manage given expected budget pressures.”'
"Mr. President, Congress has been asleep long enough. We have a tradition in this body of taking the accounting of GAO, our non-partisan watchdog, seriously, and of taking GAO’s High Risk List seriously. GAO now joins our defense and intelligence communities, our scientific research communities, and our state and local governments, and major sectors of private industry, who have all elevated climate change from their “to-do” list to their “must-do” list. Mr. President, it is time for Congress to wake up to its duties, and to get to work."
The Government Accountability Office has launched a new Key Issues web site that highlights and groups GAO reports on critical issues.
- Key Issues, Government Accountability Office.
List of topics.
List of agencies.
List of Collections.
- GAO Launches “Key Issues” Website to Assist New Congress and the Public, Press Release, Government Accountability Office (January 7, 2013).
...to provide incoming Members of Congress and the American people with quick and easy access to bodies of GAO work on issues of critical importance to the nation.
Hat tip to infoDOCKET!
This report is an update of a 2001 GAO report on the dissemination of technical reports. It offers quite a bit of information as to the scope of work done by the NTIS and the costs associated with that work. Don't forget to read Appendix II: Comments from the Department of Commerce for additional context from NTIS/Department of Commerce. GAO's conclusion states:
...Charging for information that is freely available elsewhere is a disservice to the public and may also be wasteful insofar as some of NTIS’s customers are other federal agencies. Taken together, these considerations suggest that the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates for disseminating technical information may no longer be viable or appropriate.
In light of the agency’s declining revenue associated with its basic statutory function and the charging for information that is often freely available elsewhere, Congress should consider examining the appropriateness and viability of the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates for disseminating technical information to determine whether the use of this model should be continued. (P. 29)
Given that GAO's conclusions -- along with NTIS comments about the conclusions -- are that 1) NTIS offers a valuable service of access to the federal scientific literature but 2) their current fee-based cost-recovery model is not sustainable, I have some suggestions for NTIS moving forward. These suggestions speak to the need for greater access AND preservation of NTIS technical reports and a better long-term funding model:
1) Technical reports would be the perfect space for an OpenAccess model in which the costs would be borne by the organizations creating the reports. Offering technical reports online for free would also fit well with the open data goals and initiatives as laid out by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The statute under which NTIS operates states that it must be "financially self-sustaining, to the fullest extent feasible, by charging fees for its products and services." But the statute doesn't state who must pay those fees. Maintaining the NTIS database of technical reports should be borne by the organizations which created the information in the first place.
2) NTIS should institute a digital preservation plan that includes long-term storage in the LOCKSS-USDOCS program. I've had good discussions about this in the past with NTIS staff. With the future of NTIS in doubt, now is the time to assure that their valuable work to this point is not wasted or lost to the digital sands of time.
3) Distribute metadata for bulk download in the same fashion as the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) does for its reports. This allows libraries to add MARC records to their library catalogs for increased access.
4) Expand the reach of the Federal Science Repository Service by partnering with academic libraries. Many academic institutions are building digital repositories (ie., Stanford Digital Repository (SDR)) and would be interested in hosting and giving access to this information.
What GAO Found
As a component of the Department of Commerce, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) is organized into five primary offices that offer the public and federal agencies a variety of products and services. As of late October 2012, NTIS was supported by 181 staff, all except 6 of which held full-time positions. NTIS reports its progress toward agency goals to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce, and the Director of NTIS reports to the Director of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology. In addition, NTIS receives oversight of its functions and strategic direction from an advisory board with members appointed by the Secretary of Commerce. NTIS's product and service offerings include, among other things, subscription access to reports contained in its repository in both print and electronic formats, distribution of print-based informational materials to federal agencies' constituents, and digitization and scanning services.
NTIS revenues are generated exclusively from direct sales or subscriptions for its products and services. NTIS reported that net revenues from all its functions (products and services) totaled about $1.5 million in fiscal year 2011. However, over most of the last 11 years, its costs have exceeded revenues by an average of about $1.3 million for its products. While NTIS has not recovered all of its costs for products through subscriptions and other fees, it has been able to remain financially self-sustaining because of revenues generated from its services such as distribution and order fulfillment, web hosting, and e-training. The NTIS strategic plan states that the electronic dissemination of government technical information by other federal agencies has contributed to reduced demand for NTIS's products. As a result, the agency is taking steps to reduce its net costs, such as improving business processes and increasing the breadth and depth of its collection.
NTIS's repository has been growing with mostly older reports, but the demand for more recent reports is greater. Specifically, NTIS added approximately 841,500 reports to its repository during fiscal years 1990 through 2011, and approximately 62 percent of these had publication dates of 2000 or earlier. However, the agency was more likely to distribute (by direct sale or through a subscription) reports published more recently. For example, GAO estimated that 100 percent of the reports published from 2009 through 2011 had been distributed at least once, while only about 21 percent of reports published more than 20 years ago had been.
Of the reports added to NTIS's repository during fiscal years 1990 through 2011, GAO estimates that approximately 74 percent were readily available from other public sources. These reports were often available either from the issuing organization's website, the federal Internet portal (http://www.USA.gov), or from another source located through a web search. Reports published from 1990 to 2011 were more likely to be readily available elsewhere than those published in 1989 or earlier. Further, GAO estimated that 95 percent of the reports available from sources other than NTIS were available free of charge. 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.
Why GAO Did This Study
NTIS was established by statute in 1950 to collect scientific and technical research reports, maintain a bibliographic record and repository of these reports, and disseminate them to the public. NTIS charges fees for its products and services and is required by law to be financially self-sustaining to the fullest extent possible.
GAO was mandated by Congress to update its 2001 report on aspects of NTIS's operations and the reports in its collection. Specifically, GAO's objectives were to determine (1) how NTIS is currently organized and operates, including its functions, current staffing level, reported cost of operations, and revenue sources; (2) the age of and demand trends for reports added to NTIS's repository; and (3) the extent to which these reports are readily available from other public sources. To do this, GAO reviewed agency documentation, analyzed a sample of reports added to NTIS's collection from fiscal years 1990 through 2011 (reports from the period since GAO's last study and other older reports), and interviewed relevant agency officials.
What GAO Recommends
GAO is suggesting that Congress reassess the appropriateness and viability of the fee-based model under which NTIS currently operates for disseminating technical information to determine whether the use of this model should be continued. In comments on a draft of this report, the Department of Commerce stated that NTIS believes GAO's conclusions do not fully reflect the value that the agency provides. However, GAO maintains that its conclusions and suggestion to Congress are warranted.
For more information, contact Valerie C. Melvin at (202) 512-6304 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Department of Defense announced today the release of a cloud computing strategy that will move the department's current network applications from a duplicative, cumbersome, and costly set of application silos to an end state designed to create a more agile, secure, and cost effective service environment that can rapidly respond to changing mission needs. In addition, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has been named as the enterprise cloud service broker to help maintain mission assurance and information interoperability within this new strategy.
For further information:
- DoD Cloud Computing Strategy
- Cloud strategy memo
- Designation of DISA as the enterprise cloud service broker
Of related interest:
GAO was asked to (1) assess the progress selected agencies have made in implementing OMB's "Cloud First" policy and (2) identify challenges they are facing in implementing the policy. To do so, GAO (1) selected seven agencies, analyzed agency documentation, and interviewed agency and OMB officials; and (2) identified, assessed, and categorized common challenges. The agencies were the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, State, and the Treasury; the General Services Administration; and the Small Business Administration.
GAO recommended should these agencies direct their respective chief information officer (CIOs) to establish estimated costs, performance goals, and plans to retire associated legacy systems for each cloud-based service discussed in this report, as applicable.
More news and new resources via INFOdocket.com.
Proposed cuts to Congress's investigative arm spark protest, By Alexander Bolton, The Hill (09/29/11).
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Republican, Sen. John Hoeven (N.D.), have crafted legislation to cut Congress's budget by 5.2 percent, or $200 million. Nearly $42 million in savings would come from the GAO budget.
Hat tip to Benton.
Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue, U.S. Government Accountability Office, GAO-11-318SP (March 2011).
This is GAO’s first annual report to Congress in response to a new statutory requirement that GAO identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives, either within departments or governmentwide, which have duplicative goals or activities.
...The objectives of this report are to (1) identify federal programs or functional areas where unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation exists, the actions needed to address such conditions, and the potential financial and other benefits of doing so; and (2) highlight other opportunities for potential cost savings or enhanced revenues.
- An Rx for shrinking government, By Sean Reilly, Federal Times (March 6, 2011).
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has a new report on the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) development of an Electronic Records Archive (ERA) to preserve and provide access to massive volumes and all types of electronic records.
- Electronic Records Archive: National Archives Needs to Strengthen Its Capacity to Use Earned Value Techniques to Manage and Oversee Development GAO-11-86 January 13, 2011.
GAO recommends, among other things, that NARA establish a comprehensive plan for all remaining work; improve the accuracy of earned value performance reports; and engage executive leadership in correcting negative trends. NARA generally concurred with GAO's recommendations.
- Costs soaring for Archives' digital library, auditors say, by Lisa Rein, Washington Post (February 4, 2011)
The cost of building a digital system to gather, preserve and give the public access to the records of the federal government has ballooned as high as $1.4 billion, and the project could go as much as 41 percent over budget...
The Government Accountability Office blames the cost overruns and schedule delays on weak oversight and planning by the National Archives which awarded a $317 million contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. six years ago to create a modern archive for electronic records....
ArsTechnica reports today that a new GAO report debunks the many private industry- and govt agency reports on the economic impact estimates of information and industrial "piracy." GAO states that the "lack of data hinders efforts to quantify impacting of counterfeiting and piracy." They go on to highlight in particular 3 reports often linked to the government and commonly cited by industry groups that are bogus.
Three commonly cited estimates of U.S. industry losses due to counterfeiting have been sourced to U.S. agencies, but cannot be substantiated or traced back to an underlying data source or methodology.
First, a number of industry, media, and government publications have cited an FBI estimate that U.S. businesses lose $200-$250 billion to counterfeiting on an annual basis. This estimate was contained in a 2002 FBI press release, but FBI officials told us that it has no record of source data or methodology for generating the estimate and that it cannot be corroborated.
Second, a 2002 CBP press release contained an estimate that U.S. businesses and industries lose $200 billion a year in revenue and 750,000 jobs due to counterfeits of merchandise. However, a CBP official stated that these figures are of uncertain origin, have been discredited, and are no longer used by CBP. A March 2009 CBP internal memo was circulated to inform staff not to use the figures. However, another entity within DHS continues to use them.
Third, the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association reported an estimate that the U.S. automotive parts industry has lost $3 billion in sales due to counterfeit goods and attributed the figure to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The OECD has also referenced this estimate in its report on counterfeiting and piracy, citing the association report that is sourced to the FTC. However, when we contacted FTC officials to substantiate the estimate, they were unable to locate any record or source of this estimate within its reports or archives, and officials could not recall the agency ever developing or using this estimate. These estimates attributed to FBI, CBP, and FTC continue to be referenced by various industry and government sources as evidence of the significance of the counterfeiting and piracy problem to the U.S. economy.
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