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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Letter in support of the NTIS

Things seem to be coming to a slow boil with the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). We wrote about Senate Bill 2206 the “Let Me Google That For You” Act on April 11, 2014, and again earlier this month to report about how the American Library Association and its Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) were dealing with NTIS’ proposed demise. On July 23, 2014, the Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight held a hearing “A More Efficient and Effective Government: The National Technical Information Service” (video and testimony included).

This morning, a docs librarian friend sent me the letter he was writing to his Senator. He graciously agreed to let me print it on FGI, which I’ve done below. Please feel free to copy/paste all or portions of this letter when you contact your Senator about supporting and maintaining the NTIS. I know all of our readers are going to do that asap right?!


Dear Senator ________________,

I am writing to urge you to oppose S. 2206, the Let Me Google That For You Act, which would abolish the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). As a librarian and a government information specialist who serves the government information needs of your constituents every day, I have concluded that the intent of this bill grossly undervalues the role NTIS plays in providing researchers, businesses, and the American public with access to technical research conducted at public expense.

The text of the bill observes that many reports available from NTIS can also be found through publicly searchable websites, such as Google and usa.gov, but fails to appreciate that this availability is often precisely because NTIS had a hand in collecting and publicly distributing them. In fact, many of the federal agencies which publish through NTIS have neither statutory responsibility nor the resources to provide permanent access to their own reports, and depend upon NTIS to provide them to other government agencies and the public. The availability of a technical report on an agency website today therefore provides no assurance that it will still be there tomorrow. A 2013 survey by the Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group, which collects and preserves selected online publications of federal, state, and local governments, found that 51 percent of the dot-gov URLs from their earliest survey in 2007-08 broke over the ensuing six years.

Furthermore, many of the agencies which published reports in the NTIS collection no longer exist, leaving NTIS as their only surviving source. In fact, over two million of its reports exist only in paper or microform, and are not available in digital form from any source. Alarmingly, this bill makes no provision for the preservation of these reports or the cataloging data which facilitates access to them.

Rather than elimination of the agency which serves these critical functions, transparency would be better served by legislation to:

• Fund NTIS so it does not have to operate on a cost-recovery basis
• Place NTIS under the umbrella of the Office of Science and Technology Policy directive on “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research,” announced by the White House on February 22, 2013
• Institute a digital preservation plan for NTIS reports so that NTIS not only streamlines access, but assures their long-term preservation and availability.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.

Sincerely,

________________________

[Thanks Infodocket for keeping track of this issue as well!]

Contact your representatives to save NTIS

Federal technical reports are a critical piece of the nation’s scientific literature. But technical reports are in danger. We’ve been tracking on S.2206 the “Let me google that for you” Act which seeks to shut down the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) (here’s the Bill text sponsored by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn with 5 cosponsors Claire McCaskill [D-MO], Deb Fischer [R-NE], Jeff Flake [R-AZ], John Walsh [D-MT], and Ron Johnson [R-WI]). As we’ve noted, this bill “fundamentally misunderstands the Internet and misrepresents the case by stating that finding Federal technical reports “elsewhere” is google and usa.gov, *internet search engines*!

At the last American Library Association (ALA) conference held 2 weeks ago, the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) passed a resolution in support of the NTIS — public disclosure: I’m a member of the Legislation Committee which drafted the resolution. The text of the resolution is below. While the resolution passed GODORT, it has been sent back to ALA’s Committee on Legislation (COL) to work on some wording before being sent to ALA Council.

However, we’re sharing the text of the resolution now in the hopes that our readers — especially those in OK, MO, NE, AZ, MT and WI — will contact their representatives to tell them to SAVE THE NTIS!

RESOLUTION ON PRESERVING PUBLIC ACCESS TO SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL REPORTS AVAILABLE THROUGH THE NATIONAL TECHNICAL INFORMATION SERVICE

Whereas some three million scientific and technical reports are held by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), thereby promoting research, innovation, and business;

Whereas since 1940, NTIS has been co-operating with federal agencies to collect, preserve, catalog, and provide their reports in paper, microform, and digital formats;

Whereas many federal agencies choose not to maintain collections of their own reports and to depend upon NTIS to provide these reports;

Whereas many federal agencies do not have statutory responsibility or the resources to provide permanent access to these reports and depend upon NTIS to provide them to other government agencies and the public;

Whereas the process of federal agencies entrusting their reports to NTIS ensures permanent access to the public, eliminates duplication of effort, and saves tax dollars;

Whereas since many of the federal agencies that published these reports no longer exist, many of their reports are only available through NTIS;

Whereas over two million of these reports are held only in paper or microform by NTIS and are not available in digital form from any source;

Whereas NTIS has the statutory authority to provide information management services to other federal agencies, including such programs as the Social Security Administration Death Master File used by insurance and annuity companies and the Drug Enforcement Agency Controlled Substances Registrants Data Base, which enables members of the medical community to prescribe and handle controlled substances, and the Federal Science Repository Service which supports the preservation and long-term access of participating agencies content;

Whereas the “Let Me Google That For You Act” ( S. 2206 and H. R. 4382) would abolish NTIS, and the “Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act” (H. R. 4186), as amended in the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, would repeal the law that authorizes NTIS;

Whereas these bills make no provision for the preservation of the reports and their cataloging data;

Whereas these bills do not provide libraries such as the Library of Congress, the national libraries, and libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program an opportunity to help “determine if any functions of NTIS are critical to the economy of the United States”;

Whereas the American Library Association has long supported the provision of all federal government reports and publications, at no charge, to the public through libraries and other services;

now, therefore be it

Resolved, that the American Library Association (ALA)

1. urges the United States Congress to appropriate funds to ensure that the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) continues to act as a central repository for scientific and technical reports;

2. urges United States Congress to fund the provision of these reports to the federal agencies and the public at no charge;

3. urges the United States Congress to consult with librarians at the Library of Congress, the national libraries, corporate libraries, and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) in determining “if any functions of NTIS are critical to the economy of the United States”;

4. urges the United States Congress to put NTIS under the umbrella of the Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) directive, “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research” (February 22, 2013); and

5. urges the United States Congress to fund a digital preservation plan for scientific and technical reports, which would be developed by NTIS, CENDI (formerly Commerce, Energy, NASA, Defense Information Managers Group), the Government Printing Office, the National Archives, federal publishing agencies, and the library community.

S. 2206 set to eliminate NTIS: fundamentally misunderstands the Internet @TomCoburn @McCaskillOffice

While I’m all for “streamlining the collection and distribution of government information” as the title of S. 2206 “Let Me Google That For You Act” and it’s companion House bill H. R. 4382, doing away with the National Technical Information Service will do the opposite of that.

As we noted in our analysis of the GAO’s 2012 NTIS report and in our post in January 2014 when Senator Tom Coburn first floated the idea of getting rid of NTIS, Senator Coburn — and now Senator McCaskill along with him — “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.” Additionally, Federal agencies — not to mention the public! — sometimes need to pay for these reports because they’re copyrighted!

NTIS operates on a cost recovery basis because CONGRESS created it that way. It should also be noted that GAO’s conclusions — along with NTIS comments about the conclusions — are that 1) first and foremost, NTIS offers a valuable service of access to the federal scientific literature but 2) their current fee-based cost-recovery model is not sustainable. GAO did NOT conclude that NTIS should be dismantled.

As we said in our original analysis of the GAO report, We’ve got some better suggestions for how to handle critical technical reports published by the Federal government:

  1. FUND NTIS so they don’t have to work on a cost-recovery basis.
  2. put NTIS under the umbrella of the OSTP directive on public access to federally funded research.
  3. Make technical reports OPEN ACCESS!
  4. Institute a digital preservation plan for NTIS reports so that NTIS not only streamlines access, but assures their LONG-TERM preservation and access.
  5. Distribute NTIS metadata so that technical reports can be more easily found (another goal of this legislation!)
  6. Partner with FDLP libraries for long-term preservation and widespread access!

If you agree, please write to Senators Coburn and McCaskill and let them know how they can help assure public access and preservation of valuable scientific information!

S. 2206, the Let Me Google That For You Act, would eliminate the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which is charged with trying to sell government report that are available online for free.

“This is the ‘let me Google that for you’ office of the federal government,” Coburn said. “Nearly all of the reports being sold are already available for free on other government websites, including my own.”

The senators cited a Government Accountability Office report saying the NTIS has lost at least $1.3 million during the last decade and runs a deficit on its document production.

“This agency has clearly outlived its usefulness,” McCaskill said. “I find it staggering that the agency is selling government reports both to the public and to other federal agencies that are widely available for free and easy to find with a simple Google search — and the agency is still losing money.”

McCaskill and Coburn said it should be a top priority for Congress to reduce spending and eliminate the unnecessary agency.

via Senate bill eliminates agency that sells free reports | TheHill.

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.

GAO finds NTIS’ fee-based model no longer viable or appropriate. FGI has suggestions. #FDLP

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just published a report analyzing the National Technical Information Service (NTIS):

Information Management: National Technical Information Service’s Dissemination of Technical Reports Needs Congressional Attention. GAO-13-99, November 19, 2012. (PDF copy of the report).

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 [[Open_Access|Open Access]] 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 melvinv@gao.gov

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