NTIS' continuing punishment
- By Timothy Sprehe
- Aug 28, 2000
Here's a question for new Commerce secretary Norman Mineta: Why does the
Commerce Department continue to punish the National Technical Information
Service with a personnel hiring freeze?
A year ago, former Commerce secretary William Daley announced that
the department would close NTIS because the agency had fallen several million
dollars into the red, and its business model was outmoded in the Internet
In fact, Commerce has not only failed in its attempt to shut down the
agency, but it can't even get any member of Congress to introduce the necessary
And the House Appropriations Committee cut the close-down funding from
the department's budget, so killing NTIS is a dead issue in the Clinton
administration. Despite that, the hiring freeze has stayed in place.
Furthermore, no one supports shutting down NTIS. Members of Congress
have roundly criticized the Commerce Department's intentions. The White
House and the Office of Management and Budget have maintained a thundering
silence in the matter. The National Commission on Libraries and Information
Science produced a report challenging the closure decision and is now conducting
a study sure to result in further criticisms for the department's hasty
action and shoddy reasoning. In the meantime, NTIS undertook substantial
cost saving measures and is now several million dollars in the black. So
the financial reasons for closing the agency have disappeared.
And what has the Commerce Department been doing about NTIS over the
past 12 months?
Other than giving some fallacious testimony before Congress, Commerce
has essentially been imposing the hiring freeze with an iron hand.
And then, irony of ironies, Commerce went ahead and saddled NTIS with
a new Senior Executive Service official. Now that makes a lot of sense,
doesn't it? Because you're concerned about NTIS' financial health, you assign
a high-priced new body to NTIS while at the same time forbidding the agency
to fill any of its lower-priced vacancies. In these circumstances, punishment
is not too strong a word to describe the department's actions.
Commerce is delivering a clear message: We've failed to put NTIS out
of existence, so we'll starve them to death with personnel attrition. And
of course, the Commerce Department has strictly muzzled NTIS from speaking
out in public about the situation.
This is petty bureaucratic politics at its meanest.
Secretary Mineta, please do yourself, the department and the taxpayers a favor by taking a fresh look at the NTIS situation and adopting a more enlightened and reasonable course of action.
—Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates, Washington,