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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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