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Report on Wasteful Spending by the Federal Government speciously targets NTIS

I was over at Sabrina Pacifici’s ever-informative bespacific.com blog (subscribe, you’ll be glad you did!) to read about e-govt and public access  during the last government shutdown and happened to see another post about Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OKLA)  latest “Report on Wasteful Spending by the Federal Government.” While I haven’t read the “report” in its entirety, I zoomed in on page 16, the section about the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) (“Let Me Google That for You: National Technical Information Service – (Department of Commerce) $50 million”), which quickly got my ire up.
That section is so specious and misleading. Senator Coburn cites the 2012 GAO Report “Information Management: National Technical Information Service’s Dissemination of Technical Reports Needs Congressional Attention” (Rep. no. GAO-13-99) to basically argue that NTIS is wasting $50 million because many of the reports in the NTIS database are available online elsewhere, but NTIS is charging federal agencies (he doesn’t say anything about the public!) to access those reports. But he fundamentally misunderstands the Internet and misrepresents the case by stating that “elsewhere” to him is google and usa.gov, *internet search engines*! Doesn’t he realize that Google and USA.gov are simply pointing to NTIS, so if NTIS goes away, the reports that his staff found there will go away too.
While I think the GAO report on NTIS is of interest — and wrote about it at the time, noting that GAO concluded that NTIS is offering a valuable service — I’m flabbergasted that Coburn took away from the GAO report that NTIS is a big waste of $$.
  1. The internet doesn’t just happen! Does he think that gas magically appears in his car’s gas tank?!
  2. It’s obvious that NTIS reports are critical as agencies are paying “millions of dollars” for the NTIS service.
  3. NTIS operates on a cost-recovery basis because CONGRESS created it that way.

Rather than “wasting $$” by having NTIS charge agencies and the public for reports (some of which are in copyright!!), why doesn’t Congress *fund* NTIS so that they can serve agencies AND the public for free?!  Why doesn’t the Obama administration add NTIS to the OSTP directive on public access to federally funded research? The directive applies to agencies with over $100 million in R&D expenditures so it’d be easy to simply add NTIS, OSTI and other .gov information providers to the directive.

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