THE PROPOSED CLOSING OF
A Response from the Government Documents Round Table (GODORT)
Prepared for the American Library Association's Washington Office
On August 12, 1999, Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley proposed closing the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), transferring its paper, microfiche, and digital "archives" and its bibliographic database to the Library of Congress (LC). He promised that the Department of Commerce will work to ensure that technical and business reports that have been available through NTIS will be provided by government agencies to the public for free via the Internet. The Commerce Department stated that NTIS' core function of providing government information for a fee is no longer self-supporting, nor is it needed now that agencies and groups can make their reports available on the Internet for free.
The American Library Association's Government Documents Round Table (GODORT), the national organization of government information librarians and specialists, believes that it is critical that the basic functions and services that NTIS provides to identify, collect, disseminate, and archive scientific and business information be continued, whether at NTIS or at other federal agencies. GODORT is concerned that legislation enacted to relocate or reinvent NTIS improve rather than diminish the ability of businesses, researchers, and the American public to have ready, ongoing, and permanent access to literature previously made available through NTIS for a fee.
NTIS is one of two federal agencies, the other being the Government Printing Office (GPO), that sell or distribute scientific, technical, and related business information produced by or for the U.S. government. The NTIS collection of nearly three million publications includes the results of billions of dollars of contracts funded by American taxpayers. GODORT believes that the continued public access to and preservation of this collection and future scientific and technical information the federal government produces under contract is of critical importance to a democratic society and the economic well-being of the nation.
The Department of Commerce proposal to close NTIS provides the opportunity for a reevaluation of how the federal government might best make these information resources readily available to researchers, businesses, and the general public. However, GODORT is concerned about the consequences of the proposed actions: the transfer of NTIS publications and bibliographic database to the Library of Congress, and the expectation that there will be adequate public access to these technical reports and business information if the only source for this information is agency Web sites.
EXPLORING WHETHER NTIS SHOULD BE CLOSED
NTIS should not be closed nor its services transferred until there is a thorough assessment of the full range of NTIS services, alternatives for providing each service, and the requirement that the program be self-supporting. The assessment should consider whether it would be most cost effective to retain these functions in a reinvented NTIS, whether in the Department of Commerce or elsewhere.
If NTIS is not self-supporting, distributing NTIS functions among one or more other agencies may simply shift the deficit from one agency to another. The research and development and other information benefits derived from the ready availability of NTIS research may justify reevaluating whether the program must be self-supporting. A small investment of appropriated funds would be an investment in future research of great economic and social value.
ANALYZING WHICH AGENCIES SHOULD PERFORM WHICH NTIS FUNCTIONS
If NTIS is closed, its material should not be transferred to the Library of Congress without careful assessment of which agencies should perform which NTIS functions. While the Library of Congress science and technology services are very good, other agencies may perform certain NTIS functions better.
More analysis is needed as to which agencies are already providing similar services and would do the best job of providing ongoing access and preservation. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) may be a more appropriate permanent repository for preservation of the older and less-requested material. The Government Printing Office (GPO) has significant experience in such areas as identifying, locating, publishing, and selling government publications, negotiating with other agencies to provide access to government information, and providing Internet search engines with multiple access points.
GODORT suggests that no single agency is best suited to perform all NTIS functions. If that is true, a careful analysis must be made to determine which agency can best perform which functions. Further, no agency can provide these services without additional appropriations, and the cost of such services for historical materials can not be recovered from sales revenue.
IMPROVING THE DELIVERY OF NTIS SERVICES
GODORT feels that this extensive review and analysis of NTIS functions should not be limited to transfer the collections and databases. This is an opportunity to develop timely, no-fee public access to NTIS information. The federal government should include technical reports in the Federal Depository Library Program to guarantee permanent public access through America's libraries. A number of research libraries have acquired major segments of NTIS collections, but no library has all of the reports, and they are not obligated to keep the material.
The government should also use this opportunity to reduce unnecessary duplication of cataloging and sales functions for government-related technical reports and other publications. Reducing duplication could result in lower prices for businesses, researchers, and the public and reduce the number of agencies the consumer will need to contact to obtain necessary publications. The result will be better service to the public and other federal agencies, and potential financial savings.
GODORT believes that the majority of the "fugitive" publications that have not been distributed through GPO's Federal Depository Library Program are found in the NTIS collection. Adding these publications to the depository program would provide no-fee, permanent public access to this information through a well-established and effective means of dissemination.
DISTRIBUTING OTHER NTIS FUNCTIONS
Transferring the NTIS collections and databases does not address how the many other important NTIS information dissemination functions would be performed if NTIS were closed. Examples are:
- assisting agencies with printing procurement and with CD-ROM production
- providing Federal Patent licensing and the Center for Utilization of Federal Technology
- providing information to commercial vendors
- translating foreign technical reports
- publishing for government agencies
- document delivery service for many foreign and international technical reports and documents
- licensing federal government databases to online services
- providing a wide range of online services from Web design and Web servers to intranets
- managing Web sites such as Fedworld and the National Partnership for Reinventing Government site
GODORT urges that, to reduce redundancy, these vital functions should be transferred to agencies that have the appropriate experience and expertise and that the agencies taking on the functions should receive additional appropriations to improve these services.
CONTRASTING ARCHIVAL AND CURRENT MATERIAL
The Commerce Department statement refers to transferring "archives," but the proposal is not limited to transferring older and seldom used material. Instead, the Commerce Department proposes to transfer everything in its sales program, including new and heavily requested material. This means that the receiving agencies must be concerned not only with preserving archival material, but also with maintaining and enhancing public access to current material. Any agency taking on this responsibility must anticipate and be able to support an active sales program.
PROVIDING ACCESS TO REPORTS
The Internet and other advances in electronic technology are not the complete answer to access to NTIS publications, because many scientific and technical reports produced by or for the U.S. government are not available on the Internet. Moreover, many users continue to require hard copy, microfiche, and disc products to meet their needs. Certain types of publications still are most easily used in print, and CD-ROM is often a more useful format for disseminating large data sets than is the Internet. Last year alone, the Government Printing Office sold 19 million of these tangible government publications. An efficient means of supplying similar NTIS products to citizens and businesses must be maintained.
Replacing NTIS dissemination of technical and business information with decentralized Internet access -- posting individual technical and business reports on individual agency Internet sites -- will not ensure continuing and permanent access to scientific and technical reports. Some Federal agencies post their technical reports and business information on their Web sites, but others do not; some agencies post their reports for long periods, but others remove them after a period of time. Many other federal agencies depend on NTIS and GPO sales programs and the Federal Depository Library Program to ensure ongoing access to their technical reports, since the agencies do not have the money, staff expertise, or time to provide access on their own. No legislative requirement guarantees long-term access or the archiving and permanent preservation of that information.
Many agencies do not see the public as their primary clientele; they do not see providing public access as a primary function. During times of contracting budgets, other agencies may emulate the Department of Commerce and try to end their public access obligations. Such action by NTIS, which has a comprehensive collection, engenders public discussion; similar cutbacks by more specialized agencies may go unnoticed by the general public. There is no guarantee that the American public will have long-term access to these valuable resources in a decentralized environment.
MAINTAINING A CLEARINGHOUSE FOR REPORTS
GODORT firmly believes that a centrally coordinated clearinghouse for the collection, dissemination, bibliographic control, retrieval, and archiving of federal technical reports must be maintained to insure access by businesses, researchers, and the public. Government information can be difficult to identify and locate. Users often do not know which agency or subagency produced a given publication, and even with this knowledge, finding copies of a publication on an agency's Internet site can be a difficult and frustrating experience as users encounter a multitude of databases, software, and search engines that offer access to government information.
A clearinghouse can provide links to individual agency sites, identify and locate reports that are not on the Internet, and guarantee long-term public access and permanent preservation. An agency must be given authority to monitor compliance with regulations to maintain electronic reports on the Internet and to archive older reports appropriately. Relying on federal agencies to keep copies of technical publications on the Internet "for long periods of time" is not a sound information policy for access to or permanent preservation of these materials. There should be a provision for NTIS material similar to the one GPO has to transfer masters of older, low-use material to both the Library of Congress (for ongoing access) and the National Archives (for permanent preservation).
NTIS has long served as a centralized clearinghouse for a large variety of publications and reports and provided bibliographic control of this material that helps the public find what they need. Consolidating NTIS services with an agency such as GPO that already provides no fee public access to large amounts of government information on the Internet would help eliminate some of this confusion and would streamline access for agencies and the public.
CATALOGING AND INDEXING REPORTS
Access to this literature is not just a result of where and for how long this information is available. GODORT is also concerned that the proposal maintains the extensive indexing and cataloging that NTIS has provided through its Government Reports Announcements and Index. GODORT urges that no-fee access to scientific and technical report indexing and cataloging be available to businesses, researchers, and the American public.
This clearinghouse agency must make the reports accessible through a sophisticated but easy-to-use search engine. An agency that already maintains extensive indexing and cataloging of electronic publications should be funded to provide an improved search engine and multiple indexes and access points. The Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office are obvious candidates for this funding.
Due to the size of the collection and nature of the materials in the NTIS collection, timely high-quality bibliographic control of the publications is necessary. LC and GPO have a long-standing partnership in providing cataloging and descriptive services for all types of government publications. Regardless of which agency is chosen to maintain the NTIS database, GODORT urges that additional partnerships be established to avoid redundancy, save money, and increase access.
PRESERVING ARCHIVAL MATERIAL
Important legal and regulatory mandates affect the transfer of historical publications and records. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) must be consulted about the transfer of publications they consider to be records. GODORT supports both permanent access to government information that continues to be needed by the public and permanent preservation of such information.
After GPO has cataloged government publications and distributed them to depositories, GPO gives copies of its microfiche to LC for permanent access and of its microfiche and paper copies to NARA for preservation as records. Similar arrangements must be developed to house older but still valuable NTIS material.
GODORT believes that government information should not be only a commercial commodity. We support timely, equitable, effective, no-fee public access to all government information. We urge that all interested stakeholders - businesses, libraries, educational institutions, and the appropriate government agencies - be brought into the decision-making process on this vital issue.
Permanent public access to NTIS archives as well as to future scientific and technical information in all formats needs to be ensured. In addition, other vital functions of NTIS, such as the provision of bibliographic access, the sales program, on-demand production of publications, and Web services to federal agencies, need to be preserved. GODORT urges careful consideration of whether NTIS should close and, if so, of the appropriate agencies to continue the essential functions presently performed by NTIS.
Please send comments to GODORT Chair Larry Romans (firstname.lastname@example.org) and to GODORT Legislation Committee Chair Kevin Reynolds (email@example.com).
This report is posted at /central/staff/ntisfull.htm.
A summary is posted at /central/staff/ntissumm.htm.
August 28, 1999
Approved by the GODORT Steering Committee, September 1999