Commerce Secretary Proposes Closing Technical Information Service
NTIS was established in the 1950s to collect and disseminate to the public scientific and technical information, including reports on federally and internationally-sponsored research, statistical data, and technical standards. In 1987, Congress mandated that NTIS be self-supporting, with its operations sustained largely by fees charged for its products. In recent years, due to the widespread availability of much technical information on the Internet, demand for NTIS services has dropped to the point that its income no longer covers its costs. The Administration, in its FY 2000 budget request, asked Congress for $2 million to sustain NTIS operations. However, neither the House nor the Senate Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bills included this funding for NTIS.
In August, Daley proposed "to work with Congress" to close NTIS and move its archives to the Library of Congress and attempt to ensure that federal agencies would post scientific and technical information on the Internet for public access. The department's press release states that "In the new economy, the NTIS business model is fundamentally flawed" and "federal agencies are increasingly bypassing NTIS as a distribution channel, instead offering their publications directly to the public over the Internet."
On September 14, Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) chaired a hearing addressing issues raised by the possible closure of NTIS. Witnesses warned that only a minority of the public has access to the Internet, and that the service adds crucial value to scientific and technical information by organizing it for easier access, ensuring uniformity, and making it available on a permanent basis. Kenneth Allen, chairman of the NTIS Advisory Board, noted that "information is not free. Providing the public with access to information...will have to be financed by someone.... Transferring the functions performed by NTIS to other organizations will not eliminate the cost of carrying out those functions."
Bonnie Carroll of Information International Associates, Inc. pointed out that "one of the main products of R&D investment is information. The broader it is disseminated and used in our national interests, the better the return on our taxpayers' investment in the R&D." She called NTIS "still an integral part of the...information dissemination system" and urged "a deliberate and thoughtful transition period." Caroline Long, representing a number of library associations, added that "simply replacing NTIS dissemination of technical and business information with decentralized Internet access...will not ensure continuing and permanent access to scientific and technical reports.... We need to allow enough time to do it right."
The Commerce Department plans to submit draft legislation to Congress this month proposing the closure of NTIS. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), whose district includes the NTIS headquarters, has promised to oppose action to close the service.
Although neither the House nor the Senate appropriations bills contain the requested $2 million for NTIS, they do not call for it to be closed immediately. The Senate Appropriations Committee report requests that GAO review its mission and pricing structure, and states that it "expects the NTIS to utilize fiscal year 2000 receipts to cover agency expenses." The House committee report notes that the Commerce Department "is in the midst of devising a plan for the future of NTIS" and "is expected to consult with the committee on developments concerning NTIS."
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics