A little-known branch of the Commerce Department faces elimination, thanks to advances in technology and a snarkily named bill from Sens. Tom Coburn and Claire McCaskill.
The National Technical Information Service compiles federal reports, serving as a clearinghouse for the government’s scientific, technical, and business documents. The NTIS then sells copies of the documents to other agencies and the public upon request. It’s done so since 1950.
But Coburn and McCaskill say it’s hard to justify 150 employees and $66 million in taxpayer dollars when almost all of those documents are now available online for free.
Enter the Let Me Google That for You Act.
“Our goal is to eliminate you as an agency,” the famously grumpy Coburn told NTIS Director Bruce Borzino at a Wednesday hearing. Pulling no punches, Coburn suggested that any NTIS documents not already available to the public be put “in a small closet in the Department of Commerce.”
Borzino countered that his agency still serves an important purpose. “As the amount of data generated by the federal government grows, so does the challenge of ensuring its continued access and permanent availability,” he testified. “This is a function unique to NTIS.”
He noted instances in which NTIS had helped other agencies stockpile information to help with specific projects, and he emphasized its role in electronically storing documents some agencies are unable to host on their own websites. He also noted the NTIS expects to bring in $88 million in revenue from other government agencies this year.
To Coburn and McCaskill, though, that’s more wasted money. In addition to the costs of staffing NTIS, taxpayers then get charged again when other agencies pay for its information. And that’s not the only redundancy the senators see.
“We can’t find any IT services you offer that [the General Services Administration] doesn’t offer,” McCaskill said. “You’re more expensive than GSA.”
“No, we’re not,” said Borzino.
“Yes,” McCaskill replied, “you are.”
She continued: “This is not personal. This is about duplication. This is about charging taxpayers for something that they can get for free.”
Borzino maintained that his agency still has value. “We’re trying to provide a service within our capabilities,” he said. “We’re doing a good job.”
Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office has asked NTIS to stop selling its reports, as that agency posts them on its own site for free.
What We're Following See More »
"Egypt called off a scheduled meeting between its foreign minister and top U.S. presidential adviser Jared Kushner on Wednesday after the United States decided to withhold millions of dollars in aid. But President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi would meet the U.S. delegation led by Kushner later in the day as scheduled, Sisi's office said." Washington decided to deny Egypt $95.7 million in aid and delay $195 million.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last night questioned President Trump's fitness for office, following the president's angry speech in Arizona. Calling the president's performance "disturbing," Clapper said, "I really question his ability to be -- his fitness to be -- in this office, and I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it," Clapper said on CNN. "How much longer does the country have to, to borrow a phrase, endure this nightmare?"
The National Infrastructure Advisory Council has warned "that the U.S. in not ready to cope with a catastrophic attack aimed at the U.S. power grid, communications systems and other critical infrastructure." The panel "voted up a report recommending that the U.S. establish separate communications networks to support critical systems and take steps to rapidly declassify cybersecurity threat information." According to council member Mike Wallace, the country is "in a pre-9/11 moment" with respect to its vulnerabilities.