March 6, 2000
American Association of Law Libraries
Supplemental Comments on the Proposed NTIS Closure and Transfer
March 6, 2000
The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) appreciates the opportunity to make additional comments on the February 17, 2000 Emerging Consensus Position Paper regarding the Department of Commerce,s proposal to close the National Technical Information Service (NTIS). Among our 1900 member institutions are law firms that rely on the timely and efficient NTIS sales program and academic law libraries that participate in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). The legal community relies on NTIS for access to government publications, particularly in the areas of health care and the environment, that are available from no other source, including the publishing agency; that are available only through the Internet, when access to a print version such as a lengthy manual is required; or when access to historical reports is necessary for research purposes.
As outlined in our joint letter of February 24, 2000, we are deeply concerned with the Administration,s proposal to close NTIS, perhaps as early as the end of FY 2000, without having a comprehensive reorganization plan in effect to preserve its important functions. These functions go well beyond the centralized clearinghouse of scientific and technical information that properly, due to time constraints, has been the focal point of NCLIS, discussions and analyses thus far.
We are in general agreement with the NCLIS findings but believe that the Position Paper provides an opportunity to emphasize even more strongly the need for Congress to appropriate to NTIS the funding it needs to carry out its mission effectively and efficiently so that there is no further disruption of the agency's critically important services. Recommendation 5, directing the Secretary of Commerce to ensure the restoration of plant capacity, staffing, and service levels, is critically important. For example, the loss of NTIS staff since August has impacted negatively on the agency's ability to run the timely and efficient sales program that our law firms have relied upon in the past. This disruption, that has been noted by many speakers during the NCLIS meetings on NTIS, results in a barrier to public access that must be corrected now.
AALL also believes that, while a more thorough analysis of NTIS functions is appropriate, improved public access for federal depository libraries must be achieved in the short term. Recommendation #4 states that: "The one-time appropriations to NTIS to defray the costs of expanding the pilot program to disseminate reports to the Federal depository libraries should be approved." We believe that improved public access through the FDLPs must include bibliographic and permanent public access to all clearinghouse materials--both the tangible collection as well as current web-based publications. We would like to see this reflected in the Position Paper.
During the meeting of February 4, 2000, several of the long-term alternatives were discussed: establishing a new science, engineering, and technology national library and the creation of a new "service bureau" independent agency. We question the feasibility and cost of these two options and note that there was little enthusiasm for them during the meeting. In addition, AALL is very concerned about the long-term option of privatizing some NTIS activities and would like to be included in any discussions on this matter. While there is a clear role for the private sector in developing value-added products and services, all inherently governmental functions now carried out by NTIS must remain within the government.
That said, we would like to reiterate our view that the future of NTIS is part of the debate on the broader government information policy issues that affect the public, including the law library community. In recent years the public has greatly benefitted from the proliferation of free access to agency web-based databases and publications, including major electronic collections such as EDGAR and MEDLINE that were at one time fee-based. However, many challenges remain. The most serious, in our view, include the need:
- to develop and maintain timely and comprehensive finding tools;
- to ensure government accountability, permanent public access and authenticity of electronic records; and
- for agencies in all three branches of government to fulfill their responsibilities under Title 44.
Indeed, lack of compliance by agencies with Title 44 provisions requiring the distribution and access of publications to the Superintendent of Documents for public access through federal depository libraries has been problematic for many years and must be addressed in the context of the current policy decisions regarding NTIS.
Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative