Why We Can’t Kill a Useless Government Agency
Policy + Politics

Why We Can’t Kill a Useless Government Agency


Lawmakers are once again trying to close a tiny obscure agency that serves virtually no purpose other than racking up an unnecessary multimillion-dollar tab for taxpayers.

The entire purpose of the National Technical Information Services agency (NTIS) is to compile and sell government documents and scientific research papers to other federal agencies and the private sector.

Related: GAO Asks Agency to Stop Selling Its Free Reports

There’s one big problem. Most of the documents the agency sells can now be accessed online for free, thanks to a handy invention called the Internet – which, to be fair to the NTIS, wasn’t around when the agency was created in the 1950s.

Now, lawmakers say it’s time for NTIS to go since its entire mission is obsolete.

The push to eliminate NTIS first began last year when the Government Accountability Office reported that more than 75 percent of the agency’s documents were available on the Internet in 2012. That figure has almost certainly increased.

The GAO’s findings prompted former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to introduce a bill – aptly named the “Let Me Google That For You” Act – that proposed doing away with the entire agency.

Related: Your Taxes Are Still Paying for This?

During a hearing last summer, Coburn didn’t mince words to NTIS director Bruce Borzino: The goal, said Coburn, is to “eliminate you as an agency.”

That movement didn’t exactly catch fire on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers were dubbed the least productive Congress in history last year. Coburn retired and NTIS is still standing.

Now McCaskill is making another attempt at shutting it down. On Wednesday, the senator from Missouri reintroduced the “Let Me Google That for You” Act, pledging that closing the agency would save the federal government over $50 million a year.

NTIS, for its part, says it helps “promote American innovation and economic growth by collecting and disseminating scientific, technical and engineering information to the public and industry, by providing information management solutions to other federal agencies.” That’s according to its mission statement.

Related: How Many Agencies Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Yet a report from GAO found the agency has only sold 8 percent of its documents between 1990 through 2011 – losing more than $1.3 million a year in operating costs.

So far, the bill has received bipartisan support, though it’s unclear how much traction it will get by the ever-gridlocked Congress.

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