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

timothy posted about 6 months ago | from the what-and-forgo-the-multiplier-effect? dept.

United States 32

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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Bad idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46732503)

I am presuming that the NTIS does not run with massive profits or have staff with obviously higher salaries than elsewhere. In that case the fees they receive would probably go to cover legitimate work - for example, the work of gathering these papers into one repository. Something being publicly available doesn't mean easily or obviously accessible, and gathering and systematizing it is value-adding legwork. Hence given a choice they would either stop doing that, or increase the price of the remaining 25% of papers massively. I don't have direct knowledge of the situation, but it seems like one where there is potential for unintended consequences.

Re:Bad idea? (1)

rusty0101 (565565) | about 6 months ago | (#46732517)

Pretty sure that the process you are describing is not how the NTIS is funded. Whether that's the way it should be funded is a different matter.

Re:Bad idea? (2)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 6 months ago | (#46732519)

I am presuming that the NTIS does not run with massive profits or have staff with obviously higher salaries than elsewhere. In that case the fees they receive would probably go to cover legitimate work - for example, the work of gathering these papers into one repository. Something being publicly available doesn't mean easily or obviously accessible, and gathering and systematizing it is value-adding legwork. Hence given a choice they would either stop doing that, or increase the price of the remaining 25% of papers massively. I don't have direct knowledge of the situation, but it seems like one where there is potential for unintended consequences.

Exactly. I do not know about NTIS, but there are fee for service gov't agencies that charge other agencies for what they do. They differ from appropriated agencies, who get a fixed amount of money from the budget, in that they need to make enough to cover costs. If they don't, they ultimately need to cut expenses like any private organization. In addition, other agencies do not have to use their services, they can buy them on the open market as well if the cost is less.

Re:Bad idea? (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 6 months ago | (#46732535)

Exactly.

If NTIS were funded through appropriations then the behavior of other government departments would significantly effect the funding that NTIS needs. If NTIS charges the requesting department per document then NTIS's budget scales with demand and the burden for the activity of the requesting department rests on the requesting department.

As far as charging for free documents - the NTIS is offering a one-stop-shop service, which requires money to implement and maintain. That some of the documents are free elsewhere is irrelevant.

Re:Bad idea? (2)

Lehk228 (705449) | about 6 months ago | (#46732549)

people wonder why government acts so inept at times, yet they keep electing herp and derp to congress

Re:Bad idea? (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 6 months ago | (#46732759)

If the NTIS cannot charge for their service any longer for particular documents, they should stop providing those documents - or are they legally bound to supply the service regardless?

Re:Bad idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46733173)

I tried to read the report, but it's paywalled by NTIS.

Taxes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46732569)

I wonder if it possible to publish your own financial data as reported to the tax man? And you know, charging them money to get access to it? Or is that tool only available to the rich?

Scrap librarians too? (1)

Albanach (527650) | about 6 months ago | (#46732611)

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.

Re:Scrap librarians too? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46732675)

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.

Re:Scrap librarians too? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46732687)

I love my chewable anuses. I love them. I adore them. I can't get enough of them.

Why do you cower in the face of my presence? Because my power is incomprehensible to one such as yourself! How pathetic you are! Your existence doesn't even deserve to be graced by my presence! Vanish, I say! Vanish right this minuteness!

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Re:Scrap librarians too? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46732763)

Hello HKAlphawolf

Re:Scrap librarians too? (1)

khallow (566160) | about 6 months ago | (#46732811)

We already have that. We just call them "librarians".

Re:Scrap librarians too? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 6 months ago | (#46732869)

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.

Scaling (1)

tepples (727027) | about 6 months ago | (#46732935)

Automated search systems tend to scale better than humans.

Re:Scrap librarians too? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 6 months ago | (#46735513)

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.

I think you missed the whole point. The bill wouldn't stop them from doing the research. It would simply stop them from SELLING the results to other government agencies.

I mean come on, think about how ridiculous that is. The research was done with taxpayer dollars. Then they sell that research to other government agencies for more taxpayer dollars?

I do think it's a good idea to account for which government agencies use the service, and how much. But selling? Too far.

Government bills itself .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46732717)

Why is this news?

If the money was being siphoned out of the system somehow, and given to a "friendly" government contractor, then THAT might be news.

Re:Government bills itself .... (1)

Livius (318358) | about 6 months ago | (#46732915)

It's not obvious that that's much different. It certainly sounds like one form of old-fashioned embezzlement or another.

Accountability (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46732829)

I've worked in government for a few years and I think it's some level of sad that this requires a bill. If most people in government were held accountable for money and waste this wouldn't be an issue.

What the bill really is doing (2)

tomhath (637240) | about 6 months ago | (#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] .

Re:What the bill really is doing (5, Insightful)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 6 months ago | (#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.

convincing argument? EVERY part is a small part (0)

raymorris (2726007) | about 6 months ago | (#46733377)

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 compared to billions.

Budget issues are "death by a thousand cuts" problems. With the breadth of the federal budget, that's even more true for Washington than it is for your own home budget. Even for a household, $5 for Starbucks is nothing, right? A cup of coffee is a "rounding error", you'd say. Yet, $5 / day adds up to over $100,000 at retirement. The government wastes a trillion dollars the same way a household wastes a hundred thousand - a little bit at a time.

Re:convincing argument? EVERY part is a small part (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46734347)

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 consolidation of like duties money can be saved.

1.3 million is chump change compared to the alternative of repeating the same work dozens of times. Should you not understand that I suggest a remedial course in English reading and another in arithmetic.

Re:convincing argument? EVERY part is a small part (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46735397)

you appear to be lacking in reading comprehension. Let me draw your attention to raymorris's first sentence:

I don't have enough information to have an opinion on the bill

Parent was referring to the logical fallacy of comparing a piece of the budget to the whole budget and declaring it to be too small to be worth bothering about. The question of whether the spending is worth it doesn't have anything to do with the relative size of the appropriation to the whole.

In fact, by the "too small to note" argument, it's not worth collecting taxes from me, either. The amount currently collected from me is rounding error compared to $1.3 million. Shall I stop paying? What about all of us in similar positions?

Re:convincing argument? EVERY part is a small part (1)

sir-gold (949031) | about 6 months ago | (#46734551)

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

Re:What the bill really is doing (2)

murpup (576529) | about 6 months ago | (#46733281)

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 them over to Google and let them scan it all in and host it.

Re:What the bill really is doing (1)

whit3 (318913) | about 6 months ago | (#46735373)

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%' [of the available articles, recently]

I'm pretty sure I haven't looked up anywhere near 0.1% of the listings in my local
phone directory, but I'm not burning the book to save shelf space! This also, is meaningless.

A copy of a scholarly study (which I got from NTIS and wore to tatters) is of great
value to me, and whenever I pass my work on, there will be a nice scholarly reference to it, with
NTIS being listed as the source. Anyone following good scholarship procedures will require
access and NTIS IS THAT ACCESS.

Kill the bill. It looks like someone : thinks libraries are run for profit; thinks bookburning
is an easy 'final solution'; perceives inefficiency; and doesn't see the increase in value of
old literature. Internet availability of articles and discussions WITH SCHOLARLY REFERENCES
means that many streams now trace to those old sources.

sounds like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46739483)

some low level money laundering/backhanding scheme.

I used the NTIS last month: The Long Tail (5, Informative)

cxbrx (737647) | about 6 months ago | (#46733495)

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.

Who is Bill? (1)

thisisauniqueid (825395) | about 6 months ago | (#46733545)

Just wondering.

Government purchasing from itself? Hmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46734389)

This sounds a bit like forbidding me from paying my left hand with my right hand. Is this really worth doing?

Funny Money (1)

CMYKjunkie (1594319) | about 6 months ago | (#46748501)

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 document for free and gets it, avoiding "spending" $50, does the taxpayer save money? I say no. Agency X will "use it or lose it" when it comes to their budget and will simply spend that $50 somewhere else. So is there any real benefit to such a bill?

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