The State of the Office of Scientific and Technical Information
January 14, 1998
Walter L. Warnick, Ph.D., Director
Today, I will address the state of OSTI: where we are, where we have been recently, and where we hope to go soon. Specifically, I will talk about our FY 1998 and FY 1999 budgets, our accomplishments in 1997, and what we hope to achieve this year.
Borrowing from Charles Dickens, the title of this talk might be "The Best of Times and the Worst of Times." FY 1998, as we all know, is a painfully tough budget year for us at OSTI. Allow me to review the history. About a year ago, the Executive Branch formulated a budget proposal and requested about $12M from Congress for OSTI for FY 1998. That was about the same budget we had in FY 1997. That budget was considered by the Senate, which essentially approved the $12M; however, when that budget request went to the House of Representatives, the Subcommittee that deals with our appropriations, as affirmed by the full House Appropriations Committee and then by the full House, cut our budget to $8M, a 33% cut.
The next thing that happened was that the Deputy Secretary of Energy ordered us and all other DOE organizations similarly affected by budget cuts to initiate a reduction in force (RIF) to identify the positions to be eliminated at the House mark. Going through this painful process, as directed, we identified over 50 OSTI positions that would have to be eliminated at the House mark.
Our final budget in FY 1998 ended up not quite so bad. Each year, the Senate and House get together to reconcile their budget deliberations. This is done by the Conference Committee. The Conference Committee gave us an FY 1998 budget of $10.1M, which, while not as draconian as the House mark, was still a sizeable reduction of 16%--on top of a 25% budget cut we sustained in FY 1996. The FY 1996 budget cut remained important because there was no fat left in the OSTI budget, which meant that the FY 1998 cut had to come out of lean.
All of us--Chuck, the Assistant Managers, Resource Management staff, and I--struggled to save as many positions as could be saved. In the final analysis, 17 people were RIF'd from OSTI on top of 8 voluntary retirements. Even with that, we are not entirely out of the woods for FY 1998.
The picture in FY 1999 is a bit complex. The Executive Branch has defined its budget request, but the precise numbers are embargoed until the President delivers the budget to the Congress a couple of weeks from now. In brief, while our totals are slightly down even from FY 1998, the amount we have for salaries in FY 1999 should be a little higher than what we have for FY 1998. This is a very tight budget proposal, which, if approved, will hold us to the staffing and contracting levels we have now on board and will challenge all of us to fulfill OSTI's mission.
Keep in mind that this is a proposal to Congress which Congress can reduce, if it chooses. Next, we will go through the same process as we did last year where the Senate and House consider our budget, and, if there is any difference in their individual determinations, the Conference Committee will resolve it. We have no way of knowing how all this will turn out, but we hope and pray that, unlike last year, we will not be cut.
There has been a lot of pain around the Department as a whole. OSTI has been affected at least as badly as others, if not worse, on a proportionate basis. This leads to the logical question, is there a message in these cuts? As far as anyone can tell, the answer is no. When the House made its drastic cut for FY 1998 when we went from $12M to $8M, there was no rationale or explanation offered, or obtainable. Nevertheless, just in case there might have been some lack of appreciation for what we are doing at OSTI, we are doing everything we can to communicate at every level all the things we are accomplishing, why they are important, and the disruptive and painful dislocations that are caused by the cuts.
Now let's turn to our accomplishments in 1997. I'd like to say in summary, that this was a record of tremendous accomplishment, and a lot of people outside of OSTI recognize this, too. This is the part of this talk which might be called "The Best of Times."
We did the Scientific and Technical Information Program plan in June of 1997 where we called together the stakeholders from across the agency to produce a plan for the future for how STI should be collected and disseminated around the agency. We got buy-in by the whole agency--not a trivial accomplishment--and absolutely essential if DOE as an agency is to transition into the Information Age. Part of that plan called for a re-chartering for a group called the Scientific and Technical Information Coordination Group (STICG), which is a group of leaders from the R&D program offices in DOE HQ.
On September 5, we unveiled the Information Bridge which is a collection of 23,000 reports coming out of the DOE R&D program. Each R&D principal investigator is required, upon completion of his or her project, to issue a report which is sent to OSTI. The Information Bridge is essentially the sum total of DOE output since January 1996. What's especially exciting about this is that we have made a deal with GPO to make the Information Bridge available to the public; everybody that has internet accessibility will be able to see the Information Bridge in April 1998.
Consider for a moment what the GPO agreement means for researchers. Their world is changing. While researchers have long had to produce their reports, many of them, especially on the basic research side of DOE, did not consider their reports as a primary mechanism for getting their information out. They looked upon DOE reports as an unwelcome burden. However, beginning in April 1998, because of the Information Bridge, researchers reports will be accessible in 10-20 million households all across the country--to everyone who has Internet access. I think that full-text availability in a quick, convenient, no-cost, and searchable format like the Information Bridge will cause a change in attitude among researchers about their reports, as the Information Bridge becomes known
Another accomplishment in 1997 was a pilot for electronic journals now available at HQ. We have all the journals of the American Physical Society online and available to everybody at headquarters. This is especially important because severe budget cuts to the libraries at HQ have eliminated paper journals from the shelves. Jeff Mandula, a program manager in ER, has written to me applauding our making APS journals available to DOE HQ. He feels that most scientists will switch over to this electronic version as their primary source for journal literature as electronic journals become available. He wrote that our initiative could not have come at a more opportune time.
Another accomplishment in 1997 was unveiling Energy Files, an energy virtual library. Significantly, we have received buy-in from our STI partners at the DOE labs. They agree this is a worthwhile project to which they will contribute, and we are working hard to cement collaborations with them.
Time does not permit me to describe all of OSTI's accomplishment in 1997. In June, we unveiled DOE R&D project summaries, for which we received an award from the IM Council headed by Woody Hall, the Chief Information Officer for DOE.
Neither does time allow me to describe our tremendous accomplishments in Work for Others projects, such as the R&D Tracking system for the CFO, and the Openness Initiative project where we have made 350,000 recently declassified reports available electronically via the Web for NN. Time does not permit me to list of all the things we have done, but it is a very impressive list.
This is the best of times--being able to accomplish so much.
In 1998, we are going to continue with the transition into the Information Age. Actually, we are going to accelerate our transition into the Information Age, an orderly transition having been made impossible by budget cuts. We're proceeding with electronic journals--we will have more titles up, and we will be seeking cost compensation from customers that use the electronic journals.
Another project we have is the Federated Collections, which is the next generation of the Information Bridge. Federated Collections will allow users to search not only the STI collections at OSTI, but at the labs as well. When Federal Collections comes online in 1998, it will replace the current Information Bridge and become Information Bridge II, or some similar designation.
We are also continuing our Work for Others, such as peer reviews for program offices in HQ (a new line of work for OSTI), and we are promoting closer collaborations with lab partners.
All this is leading up to, and this is what I think is particularly exciting, establishing a National Llibrary of Energy Science and Technology. If OSTI successfully completes projects already begun, the only function that OSTI would not be performing that the three existing National Libraries perform is having a reading room open to the public. With everything done electronically, however, we will have virtual reading rooms everywhere there is an Internet connection.
While we here at OSTI are convinced that our role of collecting, preserving, and disseminating STI, (i.e., the key product coming from the DOE R&D enterprise), is very important, one thing I hope to accomplish in the next year is to get others outside OSTI to better appreciate the central role that STI plays in the health of the DOE. DOE is very much in the information business. DOE no longer makes weapons, promotes nuclear energy technology, nor has a significant regulatory role. Today, the main function of DOE is R&D, and essentially the only thing that comes out of R&D is information. DOE's primary business is producing STI.
DOE needs its information to be used, visible and praised to demonstrate the usefulness of DOE. I recently read an editorial in a Washington newspaper calling for the elimination of DOE, and not once did the critic even mention DOE's R&D program. The conclusion is inescapable that the public simply does not know that DOE is an R&D agency or that STI is our primary product. One way to announce to the public that DOE does R&D is to create the National Library of Energy Science and Technology. The mere existence of a National Library announces that the parent agency does R&D of which the agency is proud. That is a central message for DOE not now appreciated by the public, and public support is a prerequisite to the survival of the agency.
To actually establish a National Library requires Congressional action. Many hurdles remain, however, before the creation of a National Library can be seriously contemplated by key decision makers either in the Executive Branch or the Congress. Addressing the hurdles is a multi-year endeavor, but OSTI has already laid the foundation for the National Library. If the Library becomes a reality, one day we will be known as the founding fathers and mothers of that Library.
While OSTI, like any organization in government, can be knocked down by forces beyond its control, the true measure of an organization is how it responds. OSTI is an organization that has got back up--fighting again to produce and achieve.