Tags: tom coburn | government | waste | search | google

Coburn: Replace Government Service With Google Searches

Sunday, 18 May 2014 10:22 PM

By Greg Richter

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn is well known for his "Wastebook," which annually details what he believes to be instances of government waste.

One of entries in his 2013 edition was the National Technical Information Service, which Coburn believes to be irrelevant and unneeded in the age of Google.

Coburn has wasted no time attempting to quash the service, introducing a bill titled "The Let Me Google That For You Act of 2014." After all, Coburn argues, Internet search engines provide information for free that the NTIS charges good money for.

The federal government created the NTIS in 1950, long before the Internet was even a thought. Its purpose was to catalog government and academic research and provide it to anyone who needs it. Since the agency is required by law to be self-funding, it charges for the information.

In a story for NPR's "Weekend Edition," Coburn demonstrated the ease with which a free document could be found as he sits at his office computer and looks up a 1996 hazardous waste characteristics scoping study.

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"There it is," Coburn told NPR. "There's everything you want on it. There's the appendices, and here's the characteristics of the study. I can print it out now. I don't want it, but I could print it out right now on my computer and have it in two minutes."

The NTIS sells the same study on its website. An electronic file is $25, and a paper copy is $73.

The EPA website where Coburn found the study charges nothing.

Judith Russell, an NTIS advisory board member, says the agency still provides a vital service, but Coburn is unmoved. He says the NTIS still loses money, and most of its sales go to government agencies which are funded with tax dollars.

Coburn's bill has support, but with Majority Leader Harry Reid stifling bills that don't fit the Democrats' 2014 agenda, it has as much chance of passage this year as Alta Vista has of becoming most people's default search engine.

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