A little-known federal agency, the National Technical Information Service, works quietly behind the scenes, collecting scientific, technical and engineering information and selling reports on those topics to the public and industry, just as it has since the 1950s.
But now its very existence is being challenged by a proposed federal law that would eliminate the NTIS because about 74 percent of the documents it circulates can instead be found for free through Google searches.
The bill, S.2206, which is called the "Let Me Google That For You Act," was introduced on April 3 by U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and U.S. Reps. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., and Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, according to a statement from Coburn's office. The legislation was inspired because the agency loses an average of $1.3 million a year selling such reports and is no longer needed, according to the co-sponsors.
"With a money-losing profit model only the government could design, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) sells free government reports to other federal agencies and the public—at a loss," the statement alleged.
"This agency has clearly outlived its usefulness," McCaskill said in the statement. "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. I think Americans would gain a little more confidence that their tax dollars are being spent wisely if we ended this display of waste and inefficiency. This is a government office performing a function that the advent of the Internet has made outdated, and it's past time we eliminate it."
A report in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office found that "Of the reports added to NTIS's repository during fiscal years 1990 through 2011 … approximately 74 percent were readily available from other public sources." From 1995 to 2000, the office sold only 8 percent of the 2.5 million reports in its repertoire, the GAO report concluded. "NTIS has lost on average at least $1.3 million over the last 11 years, running a deficit on its document production for nearly a decade."
The NTIS provides access to about 3 million publications covering over 350 subject areas and was created to help the U.S. Department of Commerce promote the nation's economic growth, according to the agency's Website. The NTIS is located in Alexandria, Va.
So if you want to order a document from the NTIS, you'd better get moving. The agency may not be around for much longer.