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An Opportunity to Eliminate Unnecessary Federal Agencies

Thursday April 20th, 2017   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:18am PDT   •  

The new White House director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, is looking for help to create a list of federal government agencies that can be either eliminated or have their budgets greatly reduced because they do things that have become unnecessary.

Whether it’s because the agencies have obsolete missions or because their activities are duplicated by other government agencies, Mulvaney’s invitation offers to ordinary Americans a rare opportunity to make their voices heard. The OMB launched a special website last week to collect their input.

“Give us your ideas and help us fix your government so that it serves you, instead of the other way around,” Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney implores Americans in a new White House video.

Standing in a room full of regulations created by the federal government in just the past two years, Mulvaney pleads with citizens to “Help me fix it” as he introduces a new White House webpage where Americans can suggest specific ways to “eliminate unnecessary agencies” and “drain the swamp.”

At the White House’s “Reorganizing the Executive Branch” webpage, Americans have until June 12, 2017 to tell the Trump Administration:

  • Which agency, board or commission to reform,
  • How to reform it,
  • The benefits of that reform,
  • Which agencies, boards, commissions, and programs should be eliminated,
  • Management reform suggestions, and
  • Any other suggestions (and/or links to full proposals)

That’s an opportunity that I couldn’t afford to pass up, so today, I’m nominating as a candidate for elimination what is perhaps the most useless federal agency on the government’s books: the National Technical Information Service (NTIS).

The agency bills itself as “the official source for government-sponsored U.S. and worldwide scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information,” which sounds like it might be useful, and may certainly have been so back in the 1950s when the agency was first created. However, multiple Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports in recent years have confirmed NTIS to be wasteful, ineffective, and obsolete.

In years past, the NTIS operated as a single-stop clearinghouse for making U.S. government research and information available to the public. Unfortunately for the agency and its 102 bureaucrats, who on average earn over $88,835 per year, about 95% of the information it provides can be easily found for free on the Internet using modern search engines like Google.

In fact, there have been bipartisan calls to eliminate the NTIS, and a number of U.S. senators have even specifically proposed bills aimed at eliminating the agency, with names like the “Just Google It” Act and the “Let Me Google That for You” Act.

And yet, the NTIS has continued to survive, in no small part because it appears to allow federal bureaucrats in other government agencies with the means to get around having to comply with the accountability rules specified by the Federal Acquisition Regulation, as U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill indicated was happening in a 2013 congressional hearing.

NTIS offers services such as Web hosting and database management, but McCaskill said it has employed third parties to do the actual work for government agencies. That approach allows federal agencies to get around the FAR’s contracting rules, she argued.

In his testimony, Borzino said NTIS provides information services for federal agencies, including distribution and fulfillment, scanning and digitization, e-training and knowledge management, as well as Web services and cloud computing.

A perplexed McCaskill asked how much the agency relied on private contractors to fulfill some its services. The General Services Administration “offers most of the services you offer….We can’t find any IT services that GSA doesn’t offer.”

That overlap with the GSA’s functions suggests that there’s little, if any, valid need for the NTIS — and certainly not at anywhere near its current level of funding. Eliminating the agency altogether would save U.S. taxpayers over $50 million per year. No one will likely even notice, other than federal bureaucrats at other agencies who are looking to circumvent IT-related federal accountability rules.

In terms of savings, elimination of the NTIS would remove only a proverbial drop in the bucket of government spending, but it’s far from the only agency worth eliminating. You can nominate your own entries at the OMB’s Reorganizing the Executive Branch web site.

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April 2017