The National Technical Information Service (NTIS), an agency of the U.S. government, serves as a repository and clearinghouse for scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information. The information that the NTIS collects and disseminates is generated by U.S. government contractors, U.S. and foreign governments, and various other foreign sources. Although the NTIS falls within the Technology Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce it is entirely self-supporting. In that regard the NTIS is a nonappropriated agency and all its costs are paid for through the sale of its products and services.
The NTIS was preceded by the Publication Board which was created by President Harry Truman's Executive Order 9568 in 1945. The Publication Board reviewed technical and scientific reports and literature generated by the federal government and decided which material could be shared with the public without compromising national security. The board also reviewed similar material captured from the Axis powers during World War II. The thinking that led to the creation of the Publication Board centered on the idea that dissemination of noncompromising government technical information to the private sector would stimulate industrial, economic, and technical growth. In 1950, pursuant to Public Law 776, the Department of Commerce became responsible for overseeing Publication Board activities. In 1970 the board was renamed the National Technical Information Service.
Since its inception the scope of subject matter gathered by the NTIS has continually expanded. In the 1950s NTIS began gathering business and statistical information. In 1954 the Comptroller General of the United States issued an opinion that "technical information" (the original purview of the NTIS) was any information deemed useful to business and industry. By the 1990s the NTIS was gathering information related to medicine, the natural sciences, computer science, and many of the social sciences. Under the American Technology Preeminence Act of 1991 all federal agencies are required to transfer to the NTIS all unclassified scientific, technical, and engineering information that results from research and other activities funded by the government. This information must be transferred to the NTIS in a timely fashion, within 15 days of it being made public by the originating agency.
Throughout its history there have been attempts to privatize the NTIS—but especially during the Reagan administration. In 1988, however, Congress passed the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Authorization Act. These acts kept the NTIS under federal stewardship (subject to Congressional review) and made the NTIS part of the Technology Administration of the Department of Commerce.
The NTIS has a collection exceeding 2.5 million items covering 375 technical and business-related subject areas. These items are available through the products division of the NTIS as are the approximately 75,000 to 100,000 new titles added annually. The NTIS has a staff of 370 information processing professionals who are responsible for indexing, cataloging, and abstracting this data. The information is then made available in various formats including printed reports, CD-ROMs, computer tapes and diskettes, online services, audiocassettes, videocassettes, and microfiche. Users of NTIS products and services can be broken down as follows: U.S. business (both large and small), 64 percent; foreign organizations, 20 percent; federal and state governments, 6 percent; academic and public libraries, 6 percent; and individuals, 4 percent. By policy, the NTIS charges federal government agencies for its services just as other users are charged.
In addition to domestic sources the NTIS gathers about 30 percent of its information from foreign sources. It has arrangements with 19 cooperating organizations in foreign countries to acquire information for U.S. distribution. These countries include: Austria, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. The NTIS also receives data from science counselors at U.S. embassies as well as military personnel and National Science Foundation personnel assigned to foreign countries. As a result of the Japanese Technical Literature Act of 1986 the NTIS acquires technical reports from approximately 80 Japanese corporations and various Japanese government agencies.
Since 1992 the NTIS has operated FedWorld, an electronic information service that operates through the Internet. FedWorld provides access to government documents, Federal online systems and services, and NTIS products. As part of FedWorld, the NTIS Preview Database displays all titles entered into the NTIS collection in the previous 30 days. FedWorld has been criticized for its awkward format but it has received praise for being a gateway to over 100 U.S. government bulletin board systems. The NTIS also offers various information services to federal agencies on a fee basis, including imaging and reproduction, fax management, virtual warehousing and inventory control, program management, and microfiche production and distribution.
[ Michael Knes ]
Antrim, Patricia. "NTIS (National Technical Information Service)." Warrensburg, MO: Central Missouri State University, 1997. Available from library.cmsu.edu/paa/ntis2.htm .
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Maxwell, Bruce. "The 10 Best Federal Government Internet Sites." Database 18 (August/September 1995): 42-47.
National Technical Information Service. "NTIS: National Technical Information Service." Springfield, VA: National Technical Information Service, 1998. Available from www.ntis.gov/ntishome.html .
National Technical Information Service. NTIS, National Technical Information Service: 40 Years, a Brief History. Washington: U.S. Department of Commerce, 1985.