NTIS hiring freeze eases up
- By William Matthews
- Nov 14, 2000
A yearlong hiring freeze that threatened to cripple the National Technical
Information Service has begun to thaw.
The information-handling agency has permission to hire "a small number"
of information technology workers, NTIS' parent, the Commerce Department,
The approval to hire follows an October warning that the NTIS staff
had dwindled to the edge of ineffectiveness. The agency — which warehouses
and sells government-funded scientific, technical, engineering and business-related
information — has shrunk to about 200 employees. It had about 320 employees
Commerce spokesman Jim Plante said NTIS will be allowed to make "a small
number of full-time hires in critical areas." He identified the jobs to
be filled as IT positions but said he did know how many "a small number"
Easing the freeze came after members of a national commission warned
Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta last month that NTIS "is rapidly falling
below the minimum satisfactory level of staffing needed to sustain it as
an effective program to support federal research and development information
dissemination to the public."
The U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science warned
that continued shrinkage of the NTIS staff would hurt federal agencies,
libraries and private companies that rely on scientific and technical information
that NTIS stores and sells.
But hiring just a few IT workers may not be enough to restore the agency,
said Woody Horton, a consultant at the commission. "If it's just information
technology people, it's not going to do the job. What they are losing are
experienced professionals who know about content and databases and all the
things NTIS does."
NTIS is supposed to be self-supporting, but in 1999 its financial status
looked bleak. In August 1999, then-Commerce Secretary William Daley declared
that the agency was no longer needed. Proponents of closing it argued that
the Internet made it possible for federal agencies to quickly and easily
disseminate their own research reports.
However, members of Congress blocked efforts to shut down the 55-year-old
NTIS. Later, the General Accounting Office reported that if NTIS were shut
down, its function would have to be taken over by some other agency.