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Sen. Coburn Offers To Put An Outdated Agency Out Of Its Misery With His 'Let Me Google That For You' Bill

from the microsoft-now-hastily-composing-angry-response-letters dept

No entity highlights the ridiculous amount of bureaucratic inefficiency and ineptitude of government agencies better than the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Its reports are loaded with the sort of damning evidence that would lead those unfamiliar with how government actually works to assume that heads will be rolling. In reality, the agencies investigated by the GAO soldier on from scathing report to scathing report with little to no sign of improvement.

Tom Coburn, a long-time combatant of government waste and fraud who publishes a yearly report exposing the worst of worst in terms of senseless government spending (the “Wastebook”) is now using the GAO’s own words to craft a bill targeting the money pit that is the National Technical Information Service (NTIS).

Here’s the leadup:

(3) NTIS is tasked with collecting and distributing government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information and reports.
(4) GAO found that NTIS sold only 8 percent of the 2,500,000 reports in its collection between 1995 and 2000.
(5) A November 2012 GAO review of NTIS made the following conclusions:

(A) ‘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.’
(B) ‘These reports were often available either from the issuing organization’s website, the Federal Internet portal (http://www.USA.gov) or from another source located through a web search.’
(C) ‘The source that most often had the report [GAO] was searching for was another website located through http://www.Google.com.’
(D) ‘95 percent of the reports available from sources other than NTIS were available free of charge.’

(6) No Federal agency should use taxpayer dollars to purchase a report from the National Technical Information Service that is available through the Internet for free.

And here’s the punchline:


This Act may be cited as the ‘Let Me Google That For You Act.’

Someone had fun cranking out this “Short Title.”

As the bill points out, it was suggested by the Secretary of Commerce in 1999 that the NTIS would eventually outlive its usefulness. According to the GAO’s 2012 findings, that sell-by date was reached more than a decade ago.

NTIS product expenditures exceeded revenues for 10 out of the past 11 fiscal years.

The “Let Me Google That For You” Act calls for the repeal of the 1988 National Technical Information Act and the disbandment of the agency itself, with the redistribution of whichever of its duties are still deemed essential to the Commerce Department.

It’s not often you get the chance to watch an extraneous government agency be put down and even rarer still under a snarky, incisive, short title. This is for the best. As we’ve seen all too frequently, time marches on, swiftly distancing itself from the glacial pace of government innovation.

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Comments on “Sen. Coburn Offers To Put An Outdated Agency Out Of Its Misery With His 'Let Me Google That For You' Bill”

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ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Looks too much like them there gay acronyms (LGBT, etc.) for Sen. Coburn.

Not necessarily. I suspect that it has a lot more to do with reducing the acronym confusion that revolves around government. He probably figures that other senators (who haven’t been known for their technical competence) would see LMGTFYA and would think it has something to do with the military or social security. The White House may know what LMGTFY or ROTFLMAO means, but I think you might find it hard to find a Senator that doesn’t have to ask their interns what those acronyms mean.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t trust ’em. I remember when the Rs took over chairmanship of the Senate Energy Cttee. A wealth of information on the committee website just vanished. Historical archives, data and reports including prior committee hearing transcripts going back for years. We tax-payer plebs were to be kept in the dark, and could no longer have access to the information we paid for and no chance to scour the historical data and record. Coburn and his friends have a barely hidden ulterior motive to drape all governemnt data collection in the garb of being wasteful in order to rewrite history.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: I don't trust 'em

You don’t trust Sen. Colburn in particular, or just because he’s a Republican?

We need to start treating people as individuals instead of as members of groups, if we are ever going to get past our tribal wars.

There are good and bad Republicans, good and bad Democrats, good and bad Libertarians, etc.

Imagine – there may even be people who are good on some topics but bad on others. In the same person, even! I think my brain is exploding at the very thought! /sarc

Anonymous Coward says:

An alternative path for NTIS

Having all the reports in one place and having them indexed/searchable is as well. An easy solution to this — since they’re all static documents — would be to stand up a simple static-content-only web server and open it for indexing not just by Google, but by everyone else.

Yes, it might need to be mirrored/replicated to handle the load, but “serving up static documents via HTTP” is a pretty well solved problem in computing and the resource requirements are surprisingly minimal if it’s done right.

I’m not arguing that the entire agency in its current form should survive. Maybe it should be put out of our misery. But this particular function should be done by someone in the federal government: it’s cheap, it’s easy, and it serves a useful purpose, the free dissemination of information that we all paid for.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Re: An alternative path for NTIS

Other than cross indexing like a library, these documents are often available via a Google search for free. I can get the relevant sections of the various regulations and documents via Google and if I expect to referring to them regularly; bookmark the relevant pages.

The problem is there are numerous agencies that live on after the original reason for existence ceases to be valid. These agencies must create mission creep to justify their continued existence.

When Canada actually balanced their national budget in the 1990’s their experience was the best way to balance their budget was wholesale elimination of agencies and realigning duplicated efforts into fewer agencies. Their observation was often the agencies improved their services and the public did not notice any major problems with services. Analogy here is the fact so many agencies have their own internal police department and swat teams which duplicate other agencies. This inevitably leads to turf wars over who has jurisdiction.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: An alternative path for NTIS

You know, the reason you can find links to the documents from a Google (or other) search is that they exist somewhere on the web. If the “somewhere” ceases to exist then that’s not going to work out so well for you.

So it’s generally a good idea to have someone, somewhere inside the federal government maintaining this. Maybe the Library of Congress. Maybe NARA. Maybe GPO. But somebody should take on the task of keeping all this stuff available and in one place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: An alternative path for NTIS

So it’s generally a good idea to have someone, somewhere inside the federal government maintaining this.

The Internet archive can do that job, and a lot cheaper than a government department. Also looking at recent events in Canada, such as book burnings, it is not such a good idea to rely on a government to preserve information.

Anonymous Coward says:

NTIS is supposed to be supported by its sales, hence the Death Spiral of ever higher prices for fewer sales. I just peeked at the NTIS website and found an 8 page astronomy report for $15 as an electronic document or $33 in paper form. Contrast the Defense Technical Information Center or the US Geological Survey where topographic maps are free as PDFs.

toyotabedzrock (profile) says:

Two things.

First is that the wastebook is often misleading about many government functions and studies they say are wasteful because it comes from a group of people that see no real use for the government.

Second I don’t see why the government would need to buy things from itself, and having a dependable archive is useful since no webpage is permanent and links change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Personally, I would not be too eager to get your goodbye speeches in gear yet folks.

Obsolete, useless, inefficient, expensive, wasteful, pointless, dumb, dumber, money-pit…. these are the sort of things that the US federal government – itself being all of the above – excels at and promotes.

I would assume that the Fed considers the NTIS as one of its most successful and important agencies, considering the measuring stick they use for such things.

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