Federal Report? ‘Let Me Google That’ — $48 ‘Wastebook’

A congressional staff with a poster of the 'Wastebook 2013' after a news conference on Dec. 17, 2013 on Capitol Hill.

Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images

A congressional staff with a poster of the ‘Wastebook 2013′ after a news conference on Dec. 17, 2013 on Capitol Hill.

“Why does the federal government have an office that sells reports that are available for free on-line?”

Sen. Tom Coburn, the soon-retiring Oklahoma Republican who has made a name for himself in rooting out federal government waste, says this is one of the questions on his mind today as his committee calls out the people in charge of this office for testimony..

The sponsor of the annual “Wastebook” calls it the “Let Me Google That For You Office.”

The National Technical Information Service, an independent bureau within the Department of Commerce, is tasked with collecting and distributing “government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information” and reports. They charge for their services.

Coburn’s office says they even sell his Wastebook for $48 — despite the fact that it’s available for free on his office website. (The cover portrays Superman, aka “Wasteman,” carrying an overflowing garbage truck.)

“No federal agency should pay NTIS for a report, when conducting a simple Internet search would produce the report in mere seconds,” Coburn’s office says in an email that was circulated for free today. “And, the government should not be charging private citizens for access to reports they can easily access online.”

The `’Google that for you” office has 179 employees, Team Coburn reports, and 42 make over $100,000 a year. While during eight of the last 11 years the office has recorded net revenues, and it ended fiscal year 2011 with $7.4 million in unobligated balances, he notes, the General Accountability Office “has repeatedly pointed out the office’s money-losing business model. Also, 85 percent of NTIS annual revenue comes from other federal agencies.”

Coburn recently asked the office for its 20 most requested reports from its database of over 2 million last year.  In less than 30 minutes,using Google.com, three college interns in his office were able to locate all but five of the 20 most requested reports online for free.

Coburn and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri — the “show-me state” — are cosponsors of a bill, the “Let Me Google That For You Act,” to abolish the office.

Copies of the bill are available for free here.

And that hearing of the Financial and Contracting Overnight subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was going live today, at 2:30 pm EDT — for free.

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