Great data available, but only if you pay up


One of the little-publicized gems on comes to us from the Commerce Department’s National Technical Information Service.

This office is a clearinghouse of government-funded scientific, technical, engineering and business-related information that provides access to 3 million publications covering 350 subjects. In January, the service added its database to, with a description that reads: “The Database represents billions of dollars in research. The electronic file dates back to 1964. NTIS adds approximately 60,000 new records per year to the Database, most records include abstracts and are available in full text. Contents include research reports, computer products, software, video cassettes, audio cassettes and more.”

Sounds great. But our attempts to download the XML file proved to be an exercise in futility. I tried to download the data five times in Firefox and IE, and each time, it crashed my browser. When I called the office for help, I was told that the database I was trying to download is only a bibliography of all the data available by the NTIS.

“You can find out what is there, but if you want what is there, then it costs something,” a friendly employee at the NTIS said. “We’re a cost-recovery agency.”

The National Technical Information Service’s mission is to support Commerce in promoting economic growth by providing access to Information that stimulates innovation. Written into the section of the U.S. Code that authorizes its existence is the authority for NTIS to charge fees for its products and services and to recover all costs through such fees.

NTIS used to charge for its bibliography too, but it was made freely “available” on in January. So while the release is an improvement, NTIS has basically matched in allowing users to browse its wares for free.