NTIS expands free access to federal science and tech studies

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The National Technical Information Service has upgraded its research database, giving the public free access to a trove of documents related to federal science and technology research.

Earlier this month, the NTIS rolled out a soft launch of its updated National Technical Reports Library, allowing the public to download more than 800,000 documents free of charge. With the upgrade, the NTRL also created a number of different subscription models that allow individuals and institutions deeper access and better features to the entire NTIS library.

Run under the Commerce Department, NTIS holds more than 3 million documents across 350 technical and business topics and does not receive funding from Congress. Since its inception during the Truman administration, NTIS has developed fee-based services involving the cataloguing, collecting and repackaging of documents for other federal agencies.

NTIS said when an individual or institution wants digital access to the remaining 2.2 million documents, it will charge a fee. The fees will cover digitization costs, since the remaining documents were published before 1995 and stored on microfiche. However, once a document has been digitized, it will become free for public access.

While the plan to upgrade the NTRL had been in the works for the past year, NTIS Director Bruce Borzino told FedScoop a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held in July that challenged the agency’s purpose “incentivized” his team to push the upgrade.

NTIS Associate Director Don Hagen said during the agency’s advisory board meeting Friday, the early feedback on the upgrade has been positive, with vendors reaching to express their support.

“It’s interesting that the vendors are supportive of this,” Hagen said. “They are not saying, ‘Oh, wait a minute, you are competing on my turf. Stop doing this, please.’ That’s not what we are hearing.”

The free service provides access to a basic search and five downloads a week. A premium individual subscription runs $200 per year and features an advanced search, 20 downloads per session and a range of personalization features. An institutional subscription, which has a price range determined by IP licenses, includes on-demand digitization of five reports per week and an option to receive research data for free via a CD/DVD file.

NTRL also gives individuals a chance to access those raw data sets, but they must be purchased. Hagen said the service would be working toward eliminating the need for CD-ROMs in the future, allowing people to gather the data straight from the site.

“[Prior to 1995], a lot of data that was pulled together, the only approach was to do it on CD,” Hagen said. “The direction forward is clearly not that.”

FedRAMP Ready?

The system upgrade was only one of a number of tech projects NTIS has been focused in the past few months. NTIS Chief Information Officer Keith Sinner said the agency is very close to being granted a FedRAMP agency authorization, which would allow NTIS to offer cloud services — primarily Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) — to other agencies. Sinner expects the authorization to take effect by mid-November.

On top of the FedRAMP process, Skinner said NTIS has also revamped a number of in-house services, including a warehouse management system, the majority of a new bibliographic system and a website redesign. This was on top of joint venture products the agency contributed to, including an e-recruitment service for the Agriculture Department and a customer engagement center for Citizenship and Immigration Services.

All three systems went live at the beginning of October, with only a few glitches in the warehouse system that have since been ironed out. Borzino commended Sinner for the transition during the advisory board meeting.

“I’ve spent 30 years in this business,” Borzino said. “This was probably one of the best, if not the best, system implementation I could be a part of.”

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Bruce Borzino, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Departments, Don Hagen, FedRAMP, Keith Sinner
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