Your Taxes Are Still Paying for This?
Policy + Politics

Your Taxes Are Still Paying for This?


Yesterday, we told you about the “autopen”-- a machine embraced by the Franklin Roosevelt administration that helped lawmakers sign bills without getting hand cramps.  The Washington Post called it the killer app of 1937. That ancient device is still being used in Federal offices. 

Like the moribund autopen, so is an obviously outdated federal agency. Lawmakers are rallying around legislation to get rid of an antiquated operation that only exists to sell government documents anyone can find online for free.

The aptly named “Let Me Google That For You Act of 2014” sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) would scrap the Commerce Department’s National Technical Information Service known as NTIS.

Related: Government Blatantly Wastes $30 Billion This Year

The agency -- which was created 40 years before the Internet – describes itself as the “largest central resource for government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business related information available today.” However, almost every report that the agency sells can be accessed online for free via any web search engine like Google.

NTIS even sells Coburn’s annual “Wastebook” report that the senator’s office posts on his website for free.

“This is the ‘let me Google that for you’ office of the federal government,” Coburn said in a statement. “Nearly all of the reports being sold are already available for free on other government websites, including my own.”

The Government Accountability Office reviewed NTIS and found that 74 percent of its documents are available online at no cost. This includes reports from Coburn’s office on government waste and abuse, which can be accessed for free across the Internet.

Related: Government Wastes More Money Than You Think

GAO found that NTIS has sold only 8 percent of its 2.5 million reports between 1995 and 2000. The auditors estimate that the office has cost the government an average $1.3 million over the last 11 years.

A fact sheet accompanying the legislation shows that NTIS’s product expenditures have exceeded its revenues for 10 of the past 11 years.

“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,” the measures sponsors said in a statement.

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