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United States Government

Bill Would End US Govt's Sale of Already-Available Technical Papers To Itself 32

Posted by timothy
from the what-and-forgo-the-multiplier-effect? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Members of the Senate have proposed a bill that would prohibit the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) from selling to other U.S. federal agencies technical papers that are already freely available. NTIS is under the Department of Commerce. The bill is probably a result of a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which points out that '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.' Ars Technica notes that the term 'public sources' refers to 'either the issuing organization's website, the federal Internet portal, or another online resource.'"
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Bill Would End US Govt's Sale of Already-Available Technical Papers To Itself

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  • You'd think that all they do is sell papers, when in fact they collect and organize them.

    Anyone that does serious research will have used specialist librarians before. Just because the data is out there and available, doesn't mean you're going to find it. Even if you do find it, it doesn't mean your search was efficient.

    Of course the bill has a catchy name - Let Me Google That For You Act - but the author(s) don't understand that their proposal is to shut down The Google, not encourage its use.

    • I'd think that AI librarians are almost overdue. We shouldn't be enjoying full-text searches in libraries today, we should be enjoying IR systems with at least some basic comprehension of the subject.
      • by khallow (566160)
        We already have that. We just call them "librarians".
        • I think the basic premise of IBM's Watson and similar initiatives is that even though these systems can't replace a human being, if they can give you the result you're looking for only in 80% of all cases at 20% of the "human" price, they're worth it. I'm not suggesting getting rid of librarians, just supplementing them.
        • Automated search systems tend to scale better than humans.
  • by tomhath (637240) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @08:09AM (#46732931)
    The NTIS was established before the internet made information easy to find and download. Back in the day it made sense to provide that service; NTIS was self-funded by the modest fees it charged. But times have changed; today it's a dinosaur agency that provides no value, loses money and should be sunset. Here's a better summary of what's going on [votesmart.org].
    • by NicBenjamin (2124018) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @09:04AM (#46733185)

      That's not very convincing. $1.3 million a year is literally a rounding error of a rounding error in the context of a $Trillion budget. Since Senators make $174k each, and they have offices with dozens of people, it's likely the salary of the people who just wrote a proposal to defund this agency cost more then the agency did.

      And if you read your source critically you'll note that it actually proved the agency has value. 26% of it's reports are not available to the government from free sources. The other 74% are clearly not in an easily searched place or nobody would pay the NTIS from their budget to access the damn things.

      BTW, the source you link to is a reprint of the press release from McCaskill's office, not an independent take at the issue. And even in her press release McCaskill just doesn't supply a very convincing array of facts.

      • I don't have enough information to have an opinion on the bill, but your argument is null. Virtually EVERYspecific item the government spends money on is small compared to the total of all of them put together. That's called "parts" and "total" - the total is always much bigger, and it's always the result of the parts.

        The cost of a few tanks is a rounding error. A hundred million to a campaign contributor's solar company is a tiny piece. A hundred million over budget on a fighter plane is a pittance comp

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You appear to be lacking in reading comprehension or only bothered to read the first sentence before formulating a poor viewpoint. The alternative to a $1.3 million agency is to have every other agency in the government hire people to do research and dig up reports individually. It would be like every department in a company having their own IT staff, their own programming staff, their own janitorial service, their own payroll system, their own parking lot, and so on. Through pooling of resources and consol

        • by sir-gold (949031)

          To use your starbucks example to explain the point of the parent post: the government spent MORE than $100,000 in order to eliminate that $5 cup of coffee

    • by murpup (576529)

      The question in my mind, however, is - if they do shut down this agency - then what will they do with all the old paper-only reports that were published before the internet and electronic documents came about? Presumably, all those old reports have been scanned into microfiche, ready to be reprinted on demand. What happens to those? I would hope that before eliminating the agency, there would be an effort to scan all those microfiche to pdf and make them available for free on the web. Or maybe just hand

    • by whit3 (318913)

      This bill is silly. And, the arguments in McCaskill's webpage are HILARIOUS.

      >>'74%' [ of articles available from other sources]

      That test (this is the INTERNET we're talking about) is so ephemeral as to be meaningless.
      Here this week, gone the next, or renamed, or miscatalogged (or, that page actually has
      a really CUTE pic of a kitty- **awww...). Ten years from April 2014, who will be able to
      locate an unedited copy of the McCaskill argument page, to understand this discussion?

      >>'sold only 8%'

  • by cxbrx (737647) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @10:18AM (#46733495) Homepage
    I was doing research earlier this year and needed a paper summarizing a taxpayer funded project from 1967. This paper was not to be found anywhere else but at the NTIS. Libraries listed the NTIS as the place that had a copy. If the NTIS was not able to sell me a copy of the paper, then I would not have been able to get the information. Closing the NTIS only makes sense if the entire contents of the NTIS's archives are made available on the Internet.

    The problem is that the most popular NTIS stuff is already on the net, but the remaining 30% (the long tail) is not.

    The federally funded research was about these large (miles in radius) circles found in Nevada. There was conjecture that they were from a nuclear test. It turns out that they were from a toxic cloud test that was done using a solid rocket engine treated with beryllium. See http://pacaeropress.websitetoo... [websitetoolbox.com], http://aair.smugmug.com/Aviati... [smugmug.com] and http://blackrockdesert.org/wik... [blackrockdesert.org]

    The NTIS had the paper in question, which I was able to get and confirm that the semi-circles were created as part of the test. There was no mention of the test in the local papers or anywhere else I could find. If the NTIS did not have the paper, then my only hope would have been to ask Aerojet, the company contracted to do the research. The odds of them having a paper from 1967 is pretty low.

    I realize that this question is not a critical, life threatening question, but determining *why* the circles where there and dispelling rumors about nuke tests is useful. The pursuit of the truth is lofty goal. Those who do not know history are bound to repeat it. In the case of this study, it turns out that there was an inversion layer that prevented a bunch of the particulate matter from reaching the ground in the test site. Maybe this is a well know mechanism now, but if I were researching atmospheric pollution, then I would want to review a study like this. If this study is not accessible, then it is like it never happened.

    If the NTIS is disbanded, then we are basically tossing a bunch of tax-payer funded projects in to the shredder.

    Interestingly, Canada is going through a somewhat similar issue where libraries containing research materials are being closed. Here an article from 2012: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/... [www.cbc.ca]

    I'm no fan of big government, but if the NTIS is to be closed, then the entire contents of the NTIS library must be made freely available.

  • Just wondering.
  • Not debating the merits of the NTIS' services, but let's look at the argument that they "cost the taxpayer's money" for an agency to buy from them.

    If Agency X purchases $50 worth of product from NTIS, $50 of taxpayer money is simply moved from Agency X's budget to the NTIS budget. No taxpayer money was "spent" it was just a Funny Money transaction. If Agency X spends $50 at Amazon.com then $50 was SPENT (i.e. left the Federal government for the private sector).

    Now if Agency X somehow finds the needed docu

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