Would they actually get rid of a federal agency?


Federal office charges other agencies for reports they can get for free

By Sarah Westwood | April 18, 2015 | 6:55 am

Photo - Former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the National Technical Information Service should be abolished because most federal publications it offered were available at no cost on the Internet. (AP Photo) Former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the National Technical Information Service should be...

A federal agency that has lost millions of tax dollars while attempting to sell government reports that are available free of charge online could be on the chopping bloc as a result of a bipartisan proposal in Congress.

The National Technical Information Service, an arm of the Commerce Department, has been the subject of criticism in recent years from government and independent watchdogs who decry its outdated business model as an example of government waste.

NTIS was created more than 60 years ago as a central repository of all government reports where citizens could locate and purchase documents from any federal agency.

In the digital age, however, agencies can upload their reports to the Internet for little cost, dramatically reducing the need for a third party to provide access to such documents

Reviews performed as far back as 2000 have "identified concerns about NTIS's financial sustainability," the Government Accountability Office reported.

Former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., called NTIS the "'let me Google that for you' office of the federal government" in the 2013 edition of his annual Wastebook publication identifying outrageous examples of government waste.

"Federal agencies pay NTIS millions of dollars each year to provide government reports that are available for free online and can be found with a simple Google search," Coburn wrote.

Coburn and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., introduced a bill in April 2014 to eliminate the agency altogether. Coburn has since retired from Congress but McCaskill re-introduced the bill March 18 with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

"This agency has outlived its usefulness, and Americans might gain a little more confidence in their government if we recognized and acted on that," said McCaskill. "This is a government office performing a function that the advent of the Internet rendered outdated, and it's past time we eliminate it."

A congressional aide told the Washington Examiner McCaskill is hopeful the Commerce Committee will take up the bill soon.

Three-quarters of the reports NTIS attempts to sell to agencies and individuals are available for free online, a November 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office found.

The agency ran up more costs than it received in revenue for 10 of the 11 fiscal years between 2001 and 2011, a July 2014 Government Accountability Office report found.

During that time, NTIS's best customer was the federal government, with other agencies "financially sustaining" the information service using taxpayer money.

A disclaimer at the top of the website warns potential customers to first search online for reports to see if they are available for free before purchasing them from NTIS.

But many of the more than 3 million documents available for sale on the agency's website are still offered for free elsewhere on the Internet and are easily located with a Google search.

Coburn cited as an example the Armed Forces Recipe Service — a CD of recipes for large groups and a best seller for the agency — as an example, noting that it could be downloaded for free off the Quartermaster Corps website despite the fact that NTIS charged $79 for it.

Coburn also protested when he discovered NTIS was charging $48 for copies of his Wastebook reports, which he published for free each year.

He fired off a pair of letters to the agency in April 2014 demanding to know how much NTIS had made off his free reports. Coburn requested the reports be removed from the list of items for sale on the NTIS website.

1 Comment 1 Comment

Sarah Westwood

Watchdog Reporter
The Washington Examiner

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  • Good plan to shutter the doors of NTIS. All reports should be free to all, after all tax payers money plus borrowed money pay salary's for the paper pushers to write.

    It is common sense, a no brain'er and a simple solution, shut it down.

    • If there is one thing we know for sure, it's that very few in Washington have an ounce of common sence.

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