NTIS' continuing punishment

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

Age.

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

legislation.

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.

Message Received

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,

D.C.

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