Internet Age passes NTIS by

In the world of information dissemination, the National Technical Information Service was the eight-track player; it was BetaMax. It was outmoded, and Commerce Secretary William Daley's announcement this month that he would seek to eliminate NTIS came as no surprise to those in the government information dissemination community.

In its heyday, NTIS joined the Government Printing Office as one of the twin towers of government information distribution. But today, almost every agency distributes its own information, and as far as the public is concerned, the price is right: It's free.

NTIS' passing says little about its employees or, for that matter, its leaders. Rather, it reflects an outgrown business model: It performs a difficult task made impossible by the changing nature of information dissemination in the private and public sectors.

Unlike other agencies that distribute government documents, NTIS is required by law to cover its expenses. This requirement, coupled with the maturation of the Internet, led to an untenable situation in which NTIS was trying to sell information that often had been posted on agency World Wide Web pages for free. That led to multiple restructurings and reinvention efforts and to the organization's ultimate demise.It is a bittersweet tale, but citizens and Congress have asked that government be run more like a business. There are plenty of businesses that have faced the harsh reality of being left behind by fast-changing technology. This is a risk all businesses face, and agencies that cannot compete will not survive in this new environment.

There are services that NTIS offers that will need to be continued by another agency. The challenge will be to pick out those valuable and special services that NTIS provides and ensure that they live on either at Commerce or at another government agency. It is no longer business as usual in the age of the Internet, and as harsh as it seems to those affected, it is no longer business as usual in government.

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