Information Management:

Dissemination of Technical Reports

GAO-01-490: Published: May 18, 2001. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 2001.

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This report reviews the Department of Commerce's National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which is a permanent repository and principal disseminator of scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information. NTIS acquires research reports primarily from federal agencies and their contractors and grantees as well as from international sources. GAO discusses (1) the various functions of NTIS; (2) the quantity, age, and demand trends of reports in NTIS' repository; (3) the extent to which the reports in NTIS' repository are readily available from other public sources; and (4) whether federal agencies are sending their reports to NTIS for sale to the public, as required by law. GAO found that NTIS provides its basic statutory clearinghouse repository function of collecting and disseminating full-text paper reports and various other fee-based services for agencies. These include brokerage services, distribution services, and Web services. NTIS has about 2.5 million reports in its repository that are to be retained permanently. About 75 percent of the reports are more than 12 years old, and NTIS has sold one or more copies of about eight percent of its 2.5 million reports. Of the 1.8 million reports more than 12 years old, only about one percent has sold since 1995. About 19 percent of NTIS reports were readily available from one or more of the four sources at the time GAO searched. Agencies often did not send their reports to NTIS as required by law. The reasons agencies cited for not sending their reports were that they (1) were unaware of the law; (2) would incur additional costs and duplication of effort to format and transfer information to NTIS that is free on the agency's Web site; or (3) did not believe their reports were covered because, in their view, their reports did not contain scientific, technical, or engineering information.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: In light of developments in report dissemination through the Internet, Congress may wish to reexamine how scientific, technical, and engineering information is disseminated to the public. In this reexamination, Congress could specifically look at how this information is defined; whether there is a need for a central repository of this information, such as at NTIS; and, if a central repository is maintained, whether all information should be retained permanently, and what business model should be used to manage it.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since GAO's report was issued, the Congress has taken several actions to reexamine the role of NTIS, and has reaffirmed that the agency should continue to serve as a disseminator of federal research information on a self-sustaining basis (no appropriations). For example, in December 2003, Congress passed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act which provided a coordinated federal approach to stimulating nanotechnology research and development across the government. It directed the Secretary of Commerce to establish a nanotechnology clearinghouse using the resources of NTIS to the extent possible (absent appropriations) and NTIS is in the process of establishing this service. In addition, Congress considered the broader context of electronic access to government information through its funding of NARA's Electronic Records Archive initiative and GPO's "GPO Access" under the GPO Electronic Information Enhancement Act (P.L. 103-40). In enacting these statutes, Congress reaffirmed the role NTIS plays in disseminating research information and its business model.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In the interim, while Congress is reexamining the broader policy issues of dissemination of government research information, Secretary of Commerce should instruct the Director, NTIS, to establish, in consultation with the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, a method for monitoring future compliance, which could involve the participation of agency inspectors general.

    Agency Affected: Congress

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NTIS management consulted with the President's Council on ways to monitor compliance, and, based on this, decided to work informally with information professionals both individually and in interagency groups to monitor complicance.

    Recommendation: In the interim, while Congress is reexamining the broader policy issues of dissemination of government research information, Secretary of Commerce should instruct the Director, NTIS, to pursue agreements with agencies to facilitate harvesting reports from agency Web sites as an alternative method of achieving compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As GAO recommended, NTIS contacted agencies to facilitate NTIS harvesting of reports from agency Web sites. NTIS adopted new guidelines to assist agencies with their electronic submissions and, as a result, over 78% of reports either come to NTIS electronically or are harvested from the web.

    Recommendation: In the interim, while Congress is reexamining the broader policy issues of dissemination of government research information, Secretary of Commerce should instruct the Director, NTIS, to contact the major departments and agencies to outline the law's requirements for sending reports to NTIS and offer assistance in helping these organizations comply.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, NTIS established a senior position, Director of Program Planning, in the Director's office, whose primary responsibilities include liaison with other government agencies and implementing the recommendations in GAO's report. As GAO recommended, contacts with the IG community are being done through the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency.

    Recommendation: In the interim, while Congress is reexamining the broader policy issues of dissemination of government research information, Secretary of Commerce should instruct the Director, NTIS, to submit annual reports to Congress, as required, on the status of actions taken to ensure access by the public to federal scientific, technical, and engineering information, including any action taken to implement these recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In the 2002 annual report submitted to Congress, NTIS reported on the launch of the new NTIS Web site and its e-government virtual library initiative. The initiative is intended to greatly enhance the public's access to federal scientific, technical, and engineering information.

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