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
Recently, we noted that NTIS is going to offer a Repository Service to Federal Agencies. Here is a followup story:
- A Joint Venture to Create Federal Science Agency Repositories, by Miriam A. Drake, InfoToday (October 20, 2011).
This program will help agencies manage their content, make it more accessible to the public while preserving it for NARA and future generations. The agencies also benefit because they do not have to begin at square one to build a repository and metadata. Doing more with less may be possible because costs will be shared.
Drake reports that the first client of this venture is the National Technical Reports Library (NTRL), which contains 2 million titles and that NTIS wants to deal with thematic as well as agency collections. Another project is the the Deep Water Horizon Archive with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is thematic program that crosses agency lines and include PDFs, images, and video.
The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) has announced the development an Institutional Repository (IR) Service for federal agencies.
Excerpts from press release (link to original [.doc]):
NTIS NEWS RELEASE - October 5, 2011
National Technical Information Service, Information International Associates
INSTITUTIONAL REPOSITORY SERVICE
FOR FEDERAL SCIENCE AGENCIES UNDERWAY
The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Information International Associates, Inc. (IIa), a small, woman-owned company in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, have recently formed a Joint Venture (JV) to develop an Institutional Repository (IR) Service for federal agencies. Institutional Repositories are collections of agency scientific and technical information documents and other content that represent the work and mission of the agency, provided as a searchable, digital collection. The IR will be hosted by NTIS and promoted and supported by expert content managers and a technical team from IIa and NTIS. As part of this new NTIS line of business, the IR will provide a framework through which federal agency content can be made available, providing users with increased ease of access and agencies with cost savings.
The Director of NTIS, Bruce Borzino, states: "There is a huge demand coming from national laboratory and federal research communities to dramatically update the way scientists publish, share, and archive information. Through selected partnerships such as this one with IIa, NTIS can attain its e-science development goal of creating new levels of transparency for scientific, technical, and engineering content."
The president and founder of IIa, Bonnie Carroll, points out that "the Institutional Repository Service will provide content management and information dissemination, making it easier for agency personnel and the public to find and receive better access to information resources. The IR will support a wide variety of content types including images, audio, video, and traditional text."
Individual IRs will be developed for agencies based on a core set of services with optional services, including those based on Web 2.0 technologies. This IR Service will be a valuable asset for smaller agencies, agency components, projects and programs that need to provide information collection and dissemination but do not have sufficient IT and content management support, for agencies who are interested in support for retooling their current repositories, and for agencies seeking to take advantage of new technologies such as mash-ups, blogs, and wikis which they can reuse and repurpose from other resources through the IR. Agencies will be able to respond to growing Administration Open Government requirements for transparency and citizen involvement. One major benefit will be that cost savings will occur as the technology and development of the system is shared - not redeveloped in multiple settings.
Among the core services to be provided will be content inventories, selection, and harvesting; the ability to map agency information to a core metadata scheme based on the standards to be used by and on the needs of the agency; customized interface design; increased search capabilities; and disaster recovery, archiving and preservation. Optional services may include extension of the core metadata scheme to meet the specific needs of the agency audience, customized controlled vocabularies and taxonomies, metadata creation and controlled vocabulary indexing, quality assurance capabilities, and value-added subject matter expertise. Links can be developed between different types of content and documents to make searching easier and add to the value of searches.
Thanks and a big hat-tip to Bill McGahey of NTIS.
Carl Malamud posed this question over on twitter: "What if our national cultural institutions all worked together on a common problem, attracted White House support?" In his post on the O'Reilly blog, "A National Scan Center: A Public Works Project", Malamud scopes out the issues and calls for Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Technical Information Service to come together and make the compelling case for funding a 5-year $500 million effort to create a National Scan Center. Here here Carl!
In the U.S., we face a similar deluge of paperwork that we faced in the 1930s. A huge backlog of paper, microfiche, audio, video, and other materials is located throughout the federal government. Little money has gone from Congress for digitization, and bureaucracies have resorted to a series of questionable private-public partnerships as a way of digitizing their materials. For example, the Government Accountability Office shipped 60 million pages of our Federal Legislative Histories (the record of each law from the initial bill through the hearings and conference reports) off to Thomson West, but didn't even get digital copies back. Another example is the recent failed effort by the Government Printing Office to digitize 60 million pages of the Federal Depository Library Program, an effort they tried to get through as a "zero dollar cost to the government" effort with the private sector.
There are no free lunches and there are no "no cost to the government" deals. The costs involve the government effort to supervise the contract, prepare the materials, and ship them, and in both the GAO and GPO cases, the government wasn't getting much back for its effort. What the government and the people usually get is a lien on the public domain, preventing the public from accessing these vital materials. Similar efforts are sprinkled throughout the government. I testified to Congress that I had learned that the National Archives was contemplating a scan of congressional hearings with LexisNexis under similar circumstances, and many may be aware of the questionable deal the Archives cut with Amazon where my favorite online superstore got de facto exclusive rights to 1,899 wonderful pieces of video.
Public Domain superhero Carl Malamud has done it again! Public.resource.org has announced a joint venture with the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) (mmmm NTIS documents!!) to digitize their videotapes and deposit them in the Internet Archive. Carl's announcement doesn't say what kind of videotapes NTIS is offering up, but I'm assuming they're coming from NTIS' National Audiovisual Center (NAC) which "contains over 9,000 audiovisual and media productions ... in occupational safety and health, fire services, law enforcement, and foreign languages. Information and educational materials include areas such as history, health, agriculture, and natural resources." I hope Carl can confirm that. And I also hope he'll send us titles/links every month so we can get them into library catalogs and into library users' hands.
And I'd like to challenge libraries to catalog anything of interest to your local users that you find in the Archive -- audio, video, text. If Carl can digitize 20 videotapes a month, imagine how many digital items the 60,000 libraries in 112 countries in the OCLC cooperative can catalog. In no time, libraries could catalog the roughly 600,000 items in the Internet Archive (206,890 audio, 104,076 video, 290,269 text). If each OCLC library catalogs 1 item/day, the job will be done in 100 days. So get to it, and thanks again Carl Malamud for being such an inspiration!
"Public.Resource.Org is pleased to announce a joint venture with the U.S. government's National Technical Information Service, a program I've dubbed 'FedFlix.' Each month NTIS will send us 10-20 videotapes, which we'll digitize, then send the tapes back. We'll upload all this public domain data to places like the Internet Archive, and also give the NTIS a digital copy of their data."