NTIS steamed over hiring freeze
- By William Matthews
- Nov 05, 2000
If you want federal tax forms and filing instructions on CD-ROM, or a copy
of the U.S. Statistical Abstract, or access to numerous federal databases,
the National Technical Information Service is the place to go.
But it might be a good idea to hurry.
The NTIS is dwindling under a hiring freeze imposed by the Commerce
Employee reductions have been so substantial that the agency "is rapidly
falling below the minimum satisfactory level of staffing needed to sustain
it," the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science warned
in a letter to Commerce Department Secretary Norman Mineta. The commission
advises the president and Congress on library and information policies.
Several federal agencies that rely on the NTIS to store, catalog and
disseminate their scientific and technical information "are fearful that
the freeze's continuation will adversely impact their missions," wrote commission
chairwoman Martha Gould Oct. 10.
Corporate and federal libraries that require access to scientific and
technical information are also increasingly concerned, she said.
So far, Mineta has not replied.
NTIS, which boasts that it is the "nation's largest central resource
for government-funded scientific, technical, engineering and business-related
information," has lost about 40 percent of its staff, according to Woody
Horton, a consultant at the National Commission on Libraries and Information
The staff of about 340 has shrunk to about 200, he said. The agency
is "losing key people with experience and professional skills" that will
be difficult to replace.
If the hiring freeze continues, the NTIS is likely to become "so dysfunctional
that revitalizing it would be extremely daunting, if not impossible," Gould
That might be what Commerce has in mind. In 1999, the department announced
it wanted to shut NTIS down or transfer it to the Library of Congress. Now
that agencies can post their scientific reports and statistical data online,
the NTIS is no longer needed, officials at Commerce argued.
Besides, the NTIS is losing money. Since 1988, the agency has been required
to earn at least enough money through report sales and other revenue-generating
activities to support itself. But in recent years, sales and income have
Last summer, however, the General Accounting Office urged Congress not
to shut the NTIS down. If the NTIS disappears, some other agency will have
to do its work, the GAO said. Whether the NTIS remains part of Commerce
or is transferred elsewhere, the hiring freeze should be lifted, Gould told
Mineta. "I urge you to take swift action" before the agency's condition