OF THE CLOSING OF NTIS
CENDI INPUT FROM 10 MEMBER EXECUTIVE BRANCH AGENCIES1
For 50 years there has been
an evolution in the management of federal scientific and technical information
(STI). During this period, many interdependencies have evolved and devolved
as mission and user requirements have changed. NTIS is an integral part of our
Nation's STI infrastructure. As we rapidly approach the year 2000, everyone
recognizes that this infrastructure is changing. The single most significant
cause of change has been the evolution of information technologies. This evolution
has sped up significantly with increasingly powerful personal computers, internetworking,
and the ubiquity of the Internet and World Wide Web. However, as managers of
STI, CENDI agencies believe that it is critical to remember that it is the content
and not the technology that provides the ultimate payoff. It was the unanimous
opinion of the CENDI agencies that we are today in a very mixed economy
in the infancy of the fully electronic world, but ever more rapidly moving away
from the old world of original paper production of STI. It was also recognized
that although the agencies' interrelationship with NTIS has been changing, NTIS
has also been changing, and there are still many interdependencies with first,
second, and third order impacts. The bottom line is that NTIS today is still
an integral part of the evolving STI information dissemination system for the
general public. To suddenly remove a component of the system without reengineering
it will have significant impacts, some known and described below, but others
not fully understood.
This mixed economy, and
the rate at which each agency is changing its own way of doing business, are
reflected in the agency responses to the question of the impact of the closing
of NTIS. This paper focuses on the negative impacts on the public and the agencies.
There were certain crosscutting themes that emerged from this input which are
summarized at the end. A specific agency is highlighted only when it helps to
clarify the point being made.
The following summarizes
the input from the agencies and from CENDI studies and discussions on the future
of STI infrastructures on the three areas of 1)access, 2)information discovery
and retrieval, and 3)archiving. It is followed by a short analysis of this input:
- Proactive Collection.
Despite the existence of legislation requiring all agencies to submit STI
products to NTIS (e.g., American Technology Preeminence Act) and/or GPO, there
is and always has been a need to proactively solicit such material from agencies.
This includes both reports as well as media products such as software. From
studies done by the agencies as well as by GAO, agencies have themselves never
been comprehensive in receiving all of the deliverables contracted for with
federal funds. NTIS has established an extensive network to proactively solicit
this material. It should be noted that NTIS collects information from over
600 organizations.1 Although there is clearly
a thrust for government to move to electronic information production, the
ability of agencies to meet this goal varies dramatically. NTIS's proactive
collection may represent as much as 25 percent of the 50,000 government items
collected each year. It is unclear what the impact of new forms of electronic
publishing will do to this balance. Without an NTIS, many of these products
might not be captured for public access.
- Public Interface.
For all agencies, even those with central STI management programs like DOE,
NASA, or DOD, NTIS provides a primary and well integrated source of public
access to the results of R&D through federally published STI products.
- Defense Services.
The Department of Defense relies on NTIS to provide DoD publicly available
information to the general public via sales of documents and by providing
copies of the reports to libraries under the Depository Library Program for
those who do not wish to pay for copies.
- Intelligence Products.
NTIS is the Intelligence Community's outlet to the public for access to full
text news sources in English translation previously not available. This included
dealing with the issues of copyright from many sources in many countries.
This is done at no cost to the government. In fact, the government also uses
this access when use of classified systems is less efficient.
- Energy Access.
Although DOE has a variety of sources for access to its full text and bibliographic
information, it believes the loss of NTIS will eliminate one popular public
source for DOE information and will likely result in delayed delivery of historical
data to requesting customers. (Most of the legacy collection is not available
in electronic form).
- Other Agencies.
The USGS in the Department of Interior was especially concerned about
this point. When its Biological Resources Division was first formed, there
were collections from many predecessor agencies that had no previous single
outlet for the public. These were transferred en masse to NTIS for public
access. It is unknown if and how these products would be made otherwise accessible.
(See also impact on discovery and retrieval).
- Paper Legacy Material.
Although increasingly more of the current federal STI is created and disseminated
in electronic form, most technical reports are produced in paper and are only
recently being transformed by organizations like DTIC, DoE, NASA, and NTIS
into electronic files for effective dissemination. In addition, the historical
collection remains almost entirely in paper or off line media products. Statistics
show that about two-thirds of the titles NTIS sells in any year are more than
3 years old and over half are over 10 years old. There will have to be a continued
mechanism to provide access to this material, either by a major investment
to put it on the Web or to continue to handle on demand.
- User Demand.
Experience has shown Federal agencies that there is still a high demand for
documents in printed copies and other formats besides Internet on-line. In
fact, statistics show that when long documents are put on the Net, this increases
demand for purchases of bound paper copies. This is for two reasons: 1) Some
users of federal STI still do not have access to the Web or have the capability
of downloading and printing large or complex documents that come in a variety
of formats, and 2) there is still significant personal preference and willingness
to pay to get material in well published print form, especially since the
average technical report is about 100 pages and difficult to read on a screen
(one must assume consumers act rationally and there is a net positive cost/benefit
to their willingness to pay). In addition, there are some documents that do
not lend themselves to on-line publishing like some of the statistical compendiums
distributed by NTIS. As agencies themselves move away from providing any other
formats (print, microfiche, microfiche blowback, print-on-demand, audiovisual,
CD-ROM, or diskette), NTIS will be the only source for formats other than
Web-based electronic. Without NTIS as the single point of access for this
material, the user will need to be provided alternative ways to obtain copies.
A concern of many agencies is that users will increasingly come to them and
they have not been given the resources to handle such requests. The alternative
proposal to have the Library of Congress handle requests will require time,
customer education, and an infusion of capital to set up systems to replace
the NTIS capability.
- Business Infrastructure.
NTIS services customers and agencies with its ability to advertise, take orders,
bill, and collect money. In particular, NTIS provides billing services that
allow agencies to provide the incremental costs of dissemination (under A-130),
outside the agencyís mission-based appropriations, to the public when capabilities
are available and public demand is there. The NTIS deposit account system,
its credit card procedures, and ability to collect revenues in whatever means
are required greatly facilitate public access. This system would have to be
replicated elsewhere if NTIS ceased to provide these services. If customers
are no longer to be charged, then there would have to be a source of appropriations
somewhere in the system to provide at least some of these value-added services.
Some mission agencies are particularly concerned that they are not legally
mandated or resourced to take up any slack from the closing of NTIS.
- Low Demand Products.
NTIS is the only agency that collects and makes available all publicly available
government STI products, regardless of their commercial viability or format.
Unless another agency were resourced to do this, many of the low volume use
materials would not be made available. NTIS is able to continue to provide
such services because it can recover its costs across its entire product line.
Accommodation would have to be made to replicate this service.
- Vendor Services.
In addition to its own bibliographic database, NTIS distributes other agency
databases (e.g. AGRICOLA and Energy) to vendors such as Dialog, STN, and SilverPlatter.
This includes reproduction of monthly tapes and historical backfiles; replication
and dissemination of relevant documentation for the database; provision of
a help desk for technical difficulties associated with the data; provision
of legal and contractual talent to negotiate terms and conditions of lease;
and servicing billing and accounting functions. If NTIS is closed, these agencies
will have to deal directly with vendors or some alternative infrastructure
would have to be established. In particular, NTIS expertise in the legal and
business aspects of negotiating these contracts might have to be reproduced
at each individual agency.
- One Stop Referral.
Agency help desk services and information offices can confidently tell
all public requesters there is one place to go to get access to the agency's
material as well as to the federal STI documents from other agencies. This
saves the agencies resources in dealing with public requests that come directly
to them. It also minimizes the "run around" factor for the requester.
- Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA). NTIS provides a request fulfillment service for FOIA requests
when that information is deposited at NTIS. The Depository Library System
is the backup for those who do not wish to pay for the information. Without
these, each agency would expend resources in replicating these services.
2) Information Discovery
Cross-Mission Searching. Although the hardware and communications
technologies are there, the advance of software technology for cross-database
searching in a heterogeneous environment have proven NOT to be available yet.
The NTIS cross-discipline, cross-mission database for government published
technical reports has not yet been replaced by a better solution. Search engine
technology is not even close to being able to find the content of millions
of reports that can be found using the NTIS database. Facilities such as GovBot
or the Federal Information Center are services to which one cannot immediately
turn at this stage of their development. It's not clear when needed search
engines will be available, and when they do become available how corollary
services such as help desks will be funded.
- Common Search Standard/
Primary Index. NTIS does intellectual value-added by abstracting and
indexing (A&I) federal STI to a common standard that is valuable for retrieval.
For agencies with central STI programs like DoD, DOE, and NASA, A&I work
is already done, but NTIS combines these efforts across agencies under common
search keys. For other agencies, NTIS does the original A&I work and allows
the information from those agencies to be searched under this same common
key structure. It is unknown if and how these products would be easily located
or made otherwise accessible. All of this effort has costs and would have
to be funded somewhere else in the STI system or information would be less
- Foreign News Data.
For the Intelligence Community, NTIS has been able to provide public access
to previously restricted databases containing news sources in English translation
from throughout the world.
- Search Productivity.
As more people believe that all government STI is on the Web, more people
will be futilely searching for more information that is not, in fact, accessible
or available on the Web at a net reduction in worker productivity. Web search
engines are good at finding proper nouns. They do not as effectively search
for scientific subject content and do not effectively cover the Web, particularly
as one goes to levels of URL's that might contain the full text of government
reports. Thatís why professional searchers (in libraries or as independent
brokers) who understand the value-added of the NTIS database products are
vocal supporters of the need to continue the production of the NTIS database.
- Working Archive/Legacy
Material. Although most agencies retain the formal archival and disposition
responsibility for their STI products, the practical reality is that NTIS
has provided the effective access to the entire publicly available collection
of R&D reports of the Federal government. Unlike some archives, the NTIS
Clearinghouse is a working archival collection. NTIS provides customers with
delivery of any of the products found in the archive, usually within 48 hours,
supporting a variety of media formats, and delivery options. This covers over
3 million products. For older material, this is a low volume business (although
some documents have an active half-life of over 10 years.)
- Official Repository.
In some cases, agencies rely on NTIS as their official repository. For these
agencies, NTIS takes the responsibility to deal with the National Archives
and Records Administration (NARA) at no cost to the agencies. If NTIS were
not available, at least one CENDI agency indicated it would have to expend
incremental financial and human resources to meet all federal mandates for
archiving material and for dealing with NARA.
- Database Archive.
For Agriculture, NTIS serves as the archival repository for the entire AGRICOLA
database (1970-present). This function helps to ensure accessibility as noted
Integration Across Agencies
- One of NTISís key roles
has been an integrator across many factors including scientific disciplines,
agency missions, media, and commercial viability. Today NTIS provides public
access to over 2,000,000 CENDI agency titles and annually distributes in paper
or microfiche approximately one million copies of these information products.
This allows a customer to go to a single place to find the results of federal
R&D that are published by the federal government in the form of STI. It
also provides agencies with the ability to refer users to a single place as
questions come to them, many of which actually deal with other agency material.
It allows people to search for information on subject matter without being
familiar with the government's organization structure and functions. If a
person is interested in aircraft safety, they should not be required to search
FAA, DoD, NASA, etc. to find what they are looking for. Most citizens don't
even know of the activities of some of the agencies that might offer input
to the topic. The full ramifications of not having this integral integrating
function both for access and retrievability are not known and the impacts
of its loss will likely have negative impacts on the publicís right to know
and on research productivity.
- The input from agencies
varied from the statement of significant use of NTIS to reach the public to
agencies that no longer have strong dependencies on NTIS. DTIC, for example,
which has a primary mission to serve the R&D function of the DoD, uses
NTIS as its principle interface with the public. NLM, on the other hand, has
moved to an access system that is fully web-based without any user registration
fees. However, no agency felt comfortable with the idea that the rapid dissolution
of NTIS would have a net positive cost/benefit impact on the overall access
to federal information infrastructure or to the public. The need for a more
systematic fact finding and analysis was clearly evident.
- NTIS is also evolving
itís services to respond to the changing environment. The key functions it
plays of public access; cross-discipline, cross-agency access, dissemination,
and archiving; as well as proactive identification and collection of agency
results of R&D investments will continue to be necessary in whatever paradigm
emerges for future STI system. NTIS future strategic plans should be factored
into the impacts assessments that are being done.
- With the elimination
of NTIS some agencies expect that there will be increased demand on them directly
from the public. These agencies are not given resources within their mission
appropriations to provide this additional service. Even if they have a new
agency to refer these requests to, there will still be a resource impact for
making referrals. This also makes a negative impression on the public since
they will be referred from one place to another, particularly in the short
- It is a desire as noted
in the Commerce announcement that electronic information should be free. Without
question, this reduces a barrier to access. However, demand for electronic
information can greatly increase the cost of the infrastructure to provide
this information (telecommunications, hardware/software, help desks, etc.).
Agencies cannot afford to assume these costs out of current appropriations
nor can they accommodate these changes immediately. The net result will be
an impact somewhere else and this will include increased resource requirements.
- Without a central authority
that gains economies of scale in its dissemination function, each agency will
end up bearing a lot of additional costs or public access will be reduced.
Many examples are provided that may be second and third order impacts, but
are, nonetheless, real.
- It is clear that the
system and infrastructure is changing and there is uncertainty. We are in
a mixed economy today. But, the future paradigm is still evolving and the
NTIS role has been evolving with it. A rapid dissolution might have unintended
consequences. At best, there should be a transition period (3-5 years) during
which uncertainties can be eliminated and a more optimal system for public
access to both current and historical tax payer investment in federal R&D
in the form of STI can be realized.
- NTIS is part of an information
dissemination system for the general public that has evolved over 50 years.
The key functions of public access that include cross-discipline, cross-agency
access, dissemination and archiving, as well as the proactive identification
and collection of agency R&D results, continue to be necessary in whatever
paradigm emerges for the future Federal STI system. To suddenly remove a component
of such a system without a full analysis of the impacts (including second
and third order impacts) would now have many unknown consequences. At a minimum,
the burden of costs will be shifted to the general taxpayer from the user
who directly benefits from the services in the current NTIS cost recovery
operation. At worst, in the short term, access would simply be lost at whatever
- It is clear that the
nature of scientific and technical communication is changing and the future
can be engineered to ensure optimization. However, it is likely that this
will take analysis and time to accomplish if impacts are to be minimized and
CENDI, the agency STI programs vary in their agency-wide responsibilities and
in the roles NTIS plays for these agencies. The impacts noted here represent
those that were of significance to the STI programs. In some cases, these only
represent a part of the services NTIS plays for the entire agency. To the extent
that the STI program offices have less central authority, NTIS plays a more
active role. For example EPA has not had a centralized program and NTIS has
managed the Superfund document access for the public.