FOIA Post (2002): NTIS: An Available Means of Record Disclosure

August 30, 2002

NTIS:   An Available

Means of Record Disclosure

All agency Freedom

of Information Act personnel should be familiar with the role played by the

National Technical Information Service (NTIS), a component of the Department

of Commerce, in the dissemination of federal records and information to interested

parties. NTIS operates as a central source to the public for obtaining federal

government scientific, technical, and business information -- and it is available

for the efficient dissemination of other types of federal records and information

as well.

In relation to

the FOIA, NTIS occupies a special status as established by the Freedom of Information

Reform Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-570 (1986). Under a statutory provision enacted

as part of those FOIA amendments, subsection (a)(4)(A)(vi) of the Act, the FOIA's

fee provisions can be "supersede[d]" by a fee schedule that is specified in

another federal statute for "particular types of records." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(vi).

The Office of Management

and Budget's Uniform Freedom of Information Act Fee Schedule and Guidelines

(OMB Fee Guidelines), which implement that particular provision of the Act,

specifically recognize NTIS's statutory scheme as qualifying under it. See

OMB Fee Guidelines, 52 Fed. Reg. at 10017 (Mar. 27, 1987). Those guidelines

advise that "agencies should ensure that when documents that would be responsive

to a [FOIA] request are maintained for distribution by agencies operating statutory-based

fee schedule programs . . . such as the NTIS, they inform requesters of the

steps necessary to obtain records from those sources." Id. at 10018;

see also Freedom of Information

Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview (May 2002), at 584-85 & n.85-86

(citing National Technical Information Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1151-57 (2000)); Wade

v. Dep't of Commerce, No. 96-0717, slip op. at 5-6 (D.D.C. Mar. 26, 1998)

(approving disposition of FOIA request under terms of NTIS's fee schedule).

Accordingly, several

federal agencies submit various categories of records, or what NTIS refers to

as "information products," to NTIS and then refer FOIA requesters to NTIS to

obtain them. The Department of the Army, for example, regularly submits a wide

range of military publications to NTIS and then refers requesters to NTIS for

the particular publications that are of interest to them. This is particularly

effective, of course, for records that are routinely disclosed in their entireties

under the FOIA.

Additionally, NTIS

handles "electronic products" as well as "paper products." For example, the

Internal Revenue Service provides NTIS with the Tax Practitioners Mailing File

for routine distribution to interested members of the public. NTIS also provides

mailing labels to requesters in the formats of computer tape, diskettes, or

paper labels.

NTIS is quite receptive

to such use of its services by other federal agencies. According to Thomas P.

Bold, Jr., Director of its Office of Agency Liaison, NTIS welcomes any "reminder

to FOIA officers on how to make best use of NTIS's services in the Internet

era." NTIS suggests that all agencies:

• Evaluate

the categories of records regularly requested from them under the FOIA, determine

whether they should be submitted to NTIS as an efficient alternative and, if

so, submit them to NTIS for that purpose.

• Ensure that

significant information products that are posted on their Web sites are sent

to NTIS electronically, which can be done through transmittal to the following

electronic address: Input@NTIS.gov

• Place links

on their Web sites to NTIS using the following URL (http://www.ntis.gov),

so that requesters may order information products in paper form from NTIS in

any instance in which they might prefer not to download and print or whenever

they need an official copy for legal proceedings.

NTIS also is available

to assist agencies in "customizing" certain types agency records and information,

most particularly electronic data, in order to meeting unique requester needs.

The use of NTIS's services in such cases, in conjunction with a cooperative

working relationship with a FOIA requester, can be beneficial for all parties

involved.

Agencies interested

in pursuing this available aid to FOIA administration should contact Jeanette Young-Reese, Agency Liaison Specialist, at (703) 605-6536, or at JYoung@NTIS.gov, for

further information and assistance.   (posted 8/30/02; supplemented 9/23/02)

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