A pair of U.S. Senators have introduced the "Let Me Google That For You" Act of 2014 to help reduce the cost of acquiring information from official government sources.
The National Technical Information Service, according to Bill S.2206, the "Let Me Google That For You Act" (seriously), "is tasked with collecting and distributing government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information and reports." But it was also established in 1950, decades before the advent of the internet, and according to a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office, 74 percent of the reports added to its collection between 1990 and 2011 were "readily available" from other public sources. Furthermore, it lost an average of $1.3 million per year over each of the preceding 11 years, leading to questions of whether its "basic statutory function of acting as a self-financing repository and disseminator of scientific and technical information is still viable."
That's problematic in the eyes of Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Claire McCaskill of Missouri for one simple reason: Government agencies have to pay to access information on NTIS, the vast majority of which could be had for free from other online sources. And while their solution to the problem has a silly name, the intent behind it is serious.
Intended to "streamline the collection and distribution of government information," the bill states that the NTIS has compensated for its declining revenues by "charging other Federal agencies for various services that are not associated with NTIS's primary mission," and points out that that mission will be rendered increasingly irrelevant in the future by ongoing technological advances. In light of that, it calls for any critical functions of the NTIS that aren't already being handled by anyone else to be transferred to another section of the Department of Commerce, after which the NTIS will be abolished.
"No Federal agency should use taxpayer dollars to purchase a report from the National Technical Information Service that is available through the Internet for free," the bill states.
The "Let Me Google That For You" Act was submitted to the United States Senate on April 3 and has been referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Correction: Senators Coburn and McCaskill were originally indicated as being from Texas. As the post now indicates, Coburn is an Oklahoma Senator while McCaskill hails from Missouri.