WASHINGTON — In late 2012, Sen. Tom Coburn released a report about Pentagon programs called “Department of Everything.”
That report is readily available on the senator’s website to read or download for free. Or you could pay an obscure federal agency $48 for it.
That agency, the National Technical Information Service, which is part of the Department of Commerce, sells other Coburn reports, including his annual Wastebooks. However, it doesn’t offer his Wastebook from this year, which cites the agency as an example of wasteful government spending.
On Thursday, Coburn went a step further than criticizing the agency by offering legislation — the Let Me Google That For You Act — with three other lawmakers to eliminate it. The Muskogee Republican said most of the reports sold by the agency could be obtained for free with an Internet search.
“Nearly all of the reports being sold are already available for free on other government websites, including my own,” Coburn said. “NTIS is selling at least six of the oversight reports issued by my office, such as the annual Wastebook, which details outrageous Washington spending and mismanagement.”
Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, a co-sponsor of the bill, said, “Only the federal government would attempt to sell what you can get for free, make no money, then subsidize the failure.”
The agency — which did not respond Thursday to a request for comment on the legislation — was included last year in a Government Accountability Office report on duplication in the federal government.
The GAO — Congress’ auditing arm — said 74 percent of the reports added to the NTIS repository from 1990 through 2011 were “readily available from other public sources.”
From 1995 to 2000, the GAO reported, the office sold only 8 percent of its 2.5 million reports and has lost an average of $1.3 million over the last 11 years.
Citing the GAO report, a House committee told the Department of Commerce last year to propose changes in the agency’s business model.
Coburn also sent a letter to the agency’s director requesting that the reports written by Coburn’s office be given to the public for free. He asked that the agency provide information about previous sales of the reports.
“Thank you for working to remedy this ridiculous situation,” Coburn wrote.
“It is inappropriate to charge taxpayers and federal agencies for these documents, which are posted online for all to view at no cost.”
According to the agency’s website, its mission is to “promote American innovation and economic growth by collecting and disseminating scientific, technical and engineering information to the public and industry, by providing information management solutions to other federal agencies, and by doing all without appropriated funding.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is co-sponsoring the bill to eliminate the agency, said, “I find it staggering that the agency is selling government reports both to the public and to other federal agencies that are widely available for free and easy to find with a simple Google search — and the agency is still losing money.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is also co-sponsoring the bill.