The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Agency Charges Taxpayers for Free Reports

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


According to its website, The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) seeks to “promote American innovation and economic growth by collecting and disseminating scientific, technical and engineering information to the public and industry, by providing information management solutions to other federal agencies, and by doing all without appropriated funding.”

However, with the advent of the internet, the need for the services provided by NTIS has dwindled.  According to a November 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Of the reports added to NTIS’s repository during fiscal years 1990 through 2011, GAO estimates that approximately 74 percent were readily available from other public sources.”  Even more troubling is that while NTIS charges for its information, the GAO report estimated that “95 percent of the reports available from sources other than NTIS were available free of charge.”

Making matters worse, “over most of the last 11 years, its costs have exceeded revenues by an average of about $1.3 million for its products.”  Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have sponsored legislation aimed at eliminating the NTIS.  Introduced on April 3, 2014, the Let Me Google That for You Act has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Sen. Coburn’s 2013 Wastebook, states that one report “sold by NTIS is the 2009 Public Health Service Food Code produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, which is available for $69.  Alternatively, the report is available for free on the Food and Drug Administration’s website.”  Comically, NTIS also sells Sen. Coburn’s report, which prompted the senator to send a letter to the agency’s director instructing him to stop selling documents which can be accessed for free on the his website.

Sens. Coburn and McCaskill are not the first government officials to suggest eliminating the program.  In August 1999 then-Secretary of Commerce William Daley proposed closing the NTIS by the end of fiscal year 2000.  The reasoning behind the Secretary’s recommendation was that “he believed that declining sales revenues would not continue to be sufficient to recover all of the agency’s operating costs.”  Secretary Daley’s prediction has proven to be prophetic.

In a Financial and Contracting Oversight subcommittee hearing on the afternoon of July 23, 2014, McCaskill asked, “Why would anyone buy publications from NTIS when they’re free on the Internet?”  The Senator also commented, “Can we as a Congress come together and cut bureaucracy when it is duplicative and unnecessary?”  Lets hope so, because disposing of the agency could save as much as $50 million per year.

At the same hearing, Coburn told NTIS Director Bruce Borzino, “Our goal is to eliminate you as an agency.”  Hopefully lawmakers will follow through on this objective.  The NTIS has stockpiled government reports since 1950, its time the program was put out to pasture.

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