ARCHIVED: Proposed Closing of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS)

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Statement of Caroline C. Long

on behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Medical Library Association, Special Libraries Association

before the Subcommittee on Technology House Science Committee on the Proposed Closing of the National Technical Information Service

September 14, 1999

Good afternoon. I am Caroline C. Long, Associate University Librarian for Collection Services, The Gelman Library, George Washington University. I am honored to appear before the Subcommittee today on behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Medical Library Association and the Special Libraries Association to respond to the August 12, 1999 announcement by Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley proposing to close the National Technical Information Service (NTIS).

We are here to consider the Department of Commerce proposal to close the NTIS and transfer selected functions to the Library of Congress in the legislative branch. This announcement promises that the Department of Commerce will work to ensure that technical and business reports that have been available through NTIS in the past will be provided by government agencies to the public for free via the Internet.

There are many critically important issues involved in the closing of NTIS, not just those limited to scientific and technical information (STI). Indeed, this proposal touches upon all aspects of federal information policy. Consequently, these issues must be carefully reviewed before the Commerce proposal goes any further. We believe that it is essential to continue the basic functions and services that NTIS provides to identify, collect, disseminate, and archive scientific and business information, whether at NTIS or at other federal agencies. These core functions are inherently governmental and should be continued in some capacity.

Information is a key byproduct of our country's $80 billion federal research and development investment -- an investment that has kept the United States as a world leader in the information age and the global economy. In light of this enormous investment of resources, this proposal by Commerce can be an opportunity to analyze how these functions can be carried out in the most effective way to maximize the public's ability to access our government's scientific and technical information and other related business information. This can be an opportunity to improve the government distribution of federally-funded information products. We believe that any legislation enacted to relocate or reinvent NTIS should result in the improved ability of businesses, researchers, and the American public to have ready, ongoing, and permanent access to government information previously made available through NTIS for a fee.

My testimony this afternoon will cover three key areas regarding the possible closing of NTIS: First, NTIS should not be closed nor its services transferred until there is a thorough assessment of the full range of NTIS services, of alternatives for providing each service, and of the current requirement that the NTIS program be self-supporting.

Second, NTIS provides unique centralized services that are critically important to the ability of the public to locate and have access to the government's STI resources, including the tangible collection and current agency web-based publications.

And third, technology has not yet solved two key challenges in moving towards greater dissemination of STI reports through the Internet: those challenges are centralized bibliographic access and permanent public access.

A THOROUGH ASSESSMENT IS NEEDED

The United States is a world leader in scientific and technical research. Effective access to that research is fundamental to maintaining that leadership.

NTIS plays a vital role in the collection and dissemination of the government's scientific, technical and business information, making that information available to a wide range of students, faculty and researchers. Thus, the Department of Commerce proposal to close NTIS raises a perennial question: How can the federal government best make these information resources more readily available to researchers, businesses, and the general public? In order to answer this question, particularly because to date there have been few details provided as to the transfer of NTIS important services, we need a comprehensive assessment of the full range of NTIS services to determine how these important services are to be provided. NTIS should not be closed nor its services transferred until there is a thorough study of the full range of NTIS services, of alternatives for providing each service, and of the requirement that the program be self-supporting.

Until this assessment is completed, it is premature to talk about what entity or entities should take over the NTIS functions. Those that have been mentioned as possible successors include the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the General Services Administration. Finding another way to provide those services, however, must involve much more than simply shifting the costs from one agency to another or from one branch to another.

Indeed, it would be ideal if the proposed Department of Commerce plan could be the jumping-off point for a broader discussion of how the federal government can best make information resources of all kinds readily available to the general public, to researchers and to businesses. To that end, we must first understand how NTIS and its services fit into the broader federal information framework.

This should be an opportunity to consider the many issues involved in:

  • identifying what agency or agencies can most effectively collect, maintain, disseminate and preserve the information;

  • cataloging and indexing information products for future retrieval;

  • providing ready access to information resources, regardless of format;

  • evaluating the costs of these and other services and determining how they should be borne; and

  • ensuring permanent public access to information resources.

In undertaking this assessment, there are a number of key questions that should be considered:

  1. What is the role of NTIS and its services in the federal information framework?

  2. Some of NTIS's services, such as the acquisition, indexing, maintenance, and preservation of the STI collection, are inherently governmental or "public good" functions. We need to ask: What are the core, valuable services that NTIS performs for different constituencies, e.g. federal agencies, libraries, private sector entities, that support the research and development enterprise?

  3. What are the financial ramifications for agencies which utilize NTIS services if the agency is no longer in operation? For example, who will serve as the dissemination and indexing service for agencies? What policies are in place or will need to be developed to assist agencies in providing access to their resources?

THE UNIQUE VALUE OF NTIS'S CENTRALIZED SERVICES

A centrally coordinated clearinghouse for the collection, dissemination, bibliographic control, retrieval, and archiving of federal technical reports is necessary to ensure access by businesses, researchers, and the public. Government information can be difficult to identify and locate. If a user cannot locate the information, its inherent value is lost. Users often do not know which agency or subagency produced a given publication, and even with this knowledge, finding copies of a publication on an agency's Internet site can be a difficult and frustrating experience as users encounter a multitude of databases, software, and search engines that offer access to government information. NTIS collects and makes available much of the scientific and technical research from hundreds of separate federal departments, agencies and offices. Without this service, which allows researchers to be aware of and have access to previous research efforts, our country would waste millions of dollars on repetitive research and development.

As a clearinghouse for a large variety of publications and reports, NTIS also has provided the bibliographic control of this material that helps the public find what they need, whether those reports are in electronic or paper format. A clearinghouse can provide links to individual agency web sites, can identify and locate reports that are not on the Internet, and can guarantee long-term public access and permanent preservation. Businesses, researchers, and the American public must continue to have access to the NTIS database of indexing and cataloging services for the government's scientific and technical reports.

Under the current NTIS model, libraries -- particularly large academic, research and special libraries -- purchase NTIS bibliographic database and segments of its vast collection. Libraries constitute 80% of the subscription base to the NTIS database. For example, at the Georgia Institute of Technology, access to the NTIS Index is essential for research and teaching -- and is one of the most heavily used databases -- because it consolidates indexing to reports of government sponsored research from a variety of agencies. Students seeking information about these reports would almost certainly be unable to locate needed information if it became necessary to search many different agency web sites.

In addition to the database, Georgia Tech has maintained a repository of reports for its faculty and students that dates back to the 1960s. Its current technical reports collection is 2.6 million items -- a valuable resource for research and study. It must be emphasized, however, that although a number of research libraries have acquired major segments of NTIS collections at considerable cost, no library has all of the reports nor is any library obligated to keep the material. It is the federal government that has the obligation to preserve these materials and to ensure that the public has permanent access to them. The issue of long-term and permanent access to valuable scientific and technical information must be carefully considered.

For meaningful continuation of NTIS services, we suggest that the following questions are addressed:

  1. There is a federal research and development investment of well over $80 billion with information being a key byproduct of that investment. NTIS plays a primary role in ensuring that some of the products of that investment are publicly available. How will this be continued if NTIS is no longer mandated to provide this service?

  2. NTIS plays a key role in imposing uniformity via common standards in indexing scientific and technical information (STI) products from myriad federal agencies. Most of these agencies utilize different indexing schemes. How will this important role be continued in the future?

  3. Although the American Technology Preeminence Act mandates agencies to submit STI products to NTIS, there has not been full compliance with the Act. It is important to try and achieve as comprehensive a collection as possible to support needed R&D activities, both in the public and private sectors. As discussions evolve concerning the roles and responsibilities of NTIS and related information dissemination agencies, are there other mechanisms that should be considered to make the clearinghouse as robust and complete as possible, regardless of which agency is tasked with acquisition, maintenance, and preservation of the collection?

  4. NTIS maintains a core collection of paper products for which there continues to be a demand -- two-thirds of the titles NTIS sells in any year are more than 3 years old and over half are over ten years old. This is, in part, because research projects build on prior knowledge thus a researcher needs access to all prior research, some of which is federally-funded and accessible via NTIS. As more information becomes available electronically, these resources in conjunction with the paper products, should be included in the collection, ensuring the building of a robust and expanding collection over time. How will efficient, meaningful and cost-effective access to these resources be continued?

  5. Addressing long-term preservation and access issues are central to the success of any collection, including both print and electronic resources. How will this crucial function be continued in an increasingly decentralized networked-based environment? NTIS has undertaken the role of archival repository for many agencies. How will these archival concerns be addressed?

THE CHALLENGES OF TECHNOLOGY AND INTERNET ACCESS

The rapid pace of technological change is truly daunting. The Internet and other advances in electronic technology have made amazing and positive changes in the way information can be gathered and shared. By 2007, it is estimated that there will be more than a billion computers and Internet-enabled appliances. But as significant as the advancement has been, many of us still rely upon printed products; some agencies do not make all of their information resources available via the network; and search engines and related technologies are not sophisticated nor sufficiently robust to permit effective cross database searching and retrieval. Moreover, many users continue to require hard copy, microfiche, and disc products to meet their needs. Certain types of publications still are most easily used in print, and CD-ROM is often a more useful format for disseminating large data sets than is the Internet. Last year alone, the Government Printing Office sold 19 million of these tangible government publications.

It is estimated that achieving the vision of effective and easy access to information resources across agency databases -- access to the content of the resource, not mere linking -- will not be possible for at least five years. And achieving this vision is not only technology dependent. Policies will need to be enforced to ensure that agencies are in fact making their resources publicly available. We need to ensure an efficient means of supplying similar NTIS products to citizens and businesses. Simply replacing NTIS dissemination of technical and business information with decentralized Internet access -- posting individual technical and business reports on individual agency Internet sites -- will not ensure continuing and permanent access to scientific and technical reports.

The following questions should be asked:

  1. How has the federal information framework evolved and changed most recently due to the introduction of information technology and the increasing reliance upon the networked environment to make information resource publicly available?

  2. Looking to the future, what technological changes are anticipated and are required to implement a comprehensive approach to meeting the Nation's needs in access to federal information resources, of which STI is only one part?

CONCLUSION: NTIS AND THE PUBLIC GOOD

The NTIS plays a key role in a complex, interwoven information system encompassing many agencies, users, and technologies. Thus, we strongly support this Subcommittee's undertaking of a thoughtful, thorough analysis and a systematic approach to the Department of Commerce proposal, taking into account the broader federal information framework. We need to have all the right stakeholders at the discussion table. We need to allow enough time to do it right, because continued public access to and preservation of this collection -- and future scientific and technical information that the federal government produces -- is of critical importance to our R&D enterprise and to the economic well-being of the nation.


ORGANIZATIONAL BIOGRAPHIES

THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF LAW LIBRARIES (AALL) The American Association of Law Libraries is a nonprofit educational organization with over 5,000 members nationwide. Our members respond to the legal and governmental information needs of legislators, judges, and other public officials at all levels of government, corporations and small businesses, law professors and students, attorneys, and members of the general public.

THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION (ALA) The American Library Association is a nonprofit educational organization of 58,000 librarians, library educators, information specialists, library trustees, and friends of libraries representing public, school, academic, state, and specialized libraries. ALA is dedicated to the improvement of library and information services, to the public's right to a free and open information society--intellectual participation--and to the idea of intellectual freedom.

THE ASSOCIATION OF RESEARCH LIBRARIES (ARL) The Association of Research Libraries is a not-for-profit organization representing 122 research libraries in the United States and Canada. Its mission is to identify and influence forces affecting the future of research libraries in the process of scholarly communication. ARL programs and services promote equitable access to, and effective use of, recorded knowledge in support of teaching, research, scholarship, and community service.

THE MEDICAL LIBRARY ASSOCIATION (MLA) The Medical Library Association is an organization of over 3,800 individuals and 1,200 institutions in the health sciences information field. MLA members serve society by developing new information delivery systems, fostering educational and research programs for health sciences information professionals, and encouraging an enhanced public awareness of health care issues.

The SPECIAL LIBRARIES ASSOCIATION (SLA) The Special Libraries Association is an international professional association representing the interests of information professionals in 60 countries. Special librarians are information resource experts dedicated to putting knowledge to work to attain the goals of their organizations