- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2015

Over the past decade a federal agency has wasted roughly $10 million printing out and selling government reports that are readily available for free with a quick online search. Now, Congress is calling for its abolition.

On Thursday, Sens. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, and Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican announced plans to reintroduce a bill to gut the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which is run out of the Commerce Department, dubbing it the “Let me Google that for You” bill.

NTIS has lost more than $1 million per year for the past ten years trying to distribute government reports for a fee, most of which can be found online in a quick Google search for free.

“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 Ms. McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in a statement. “This is a government office performing a function that the advent of the Internet rendered outdated, and it’s past time we eliminate it.”

The agency’s own website contains a disclaimer saying the reports it offers for sale may be available for free directly from the reports’ authors, and advises readers to first do a Google search for the documents.

Google and other search engines find and retrieve many of these documents, but that is possible only because NTIS has standardized the metadata that makes it easier to find these documents that NTIS or another federal agency has put on the web,” and NTIS spokesman said.

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NTIS provides free electronic versions of 800,000 of its documents stored in the agency’s library. The remaining documents, most published before 1995, have to be scanned into the system before the NTIS can provide them.

“However, each time a microfiche document is scanned to fulfill such a request, the agency adds the electronic full-text PDF to its online database for subsequent free public download,” the spokesman said.

A Government Accountability Office audit in 2013 estimated that 74 percent of the reports added to NTIS’s collection from 1990 through 2011 “were available elsewhere, and 95 percent of these were available for free. This calls into question the viability and appropriateness of NTIS’s fee-based model for disseminating the reports it collects,” GAO said.

From 1995 to 2000, the office sold only 8 percent of the 2.5 million reports in its repertoire and has run a deficit on its document production for nearly a decade, the GAO report said.

“Every year, the federal government wastes more than a million dollars on this obsolete federal agency that operates primarily to disseminate government reports that are free and readily available to the public,” Ms. Ayotte said. “As we look for ways to address our $18 trillion debt and find cost savings across government, there’s no justification for continuing to fund an agency whose mission is no longer necessary.”

Last year, Ms. McCaskill first introduced legislation of the same name with then-Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate but did not make it past the House.

Outside federal spending watchdogs agree that the NTIS is a prime example of the government’s wasteful duplicative spending.

“Leave it to the government to try to print the Internet out,” said Ryan Ellis, tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform. “We can at least feel fortunate that taxpayers are only paying for the government to print out boring government reports from the Internet, and not some of the other more interesting content you can find there.”

Bruce Borzino, the director of NTIS defended the agency at a July Senate hearing, saying the problem with killing NTIS is that “many federal agencies and departments have neither the technical expertise, nor the statutory mandate or funding that would be necessary to individually take on responsibility to maintain permanent availability of their scientific and technical information. This is a service that NTIS is uniquely suited and mandated to provide, and which it provides without appropriated funding.’

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