United States federal, state and local governments, the governments of foreign countries, and international agencies all fund research and technology development. This government sponsored research is largely unpublished except in the production of technical reports on the final results. About a third of these reports are the result of work done under direct government supervision, through field installations run by government employees, government owned and contractor operated facilities, or non-profit contract research centers such as the RAND corporation.
Government laboratories may work exclusively for one agency, or for several; be a joint venture of any agency and one or several universities and be operated as a distinct organizational entity; do fundamental research tied closely to an agency's mission; or even carry on work which is not closely tied to any agency mission. One example is the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which acts as an agent for other agencies, trade associations, and small-batch manufacturers. Another example is the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and operated by a consortium of universities. There are more than 1700 federal information systems maintained by U.S. federal agencies alone, most of whom produce technical reports.
Two-thirds of federal research is carried out by contractors of federal agencies, including corporations, universities, organizations, and individuals. Most government agencies require, as part of the contract, a written report of final research results. Some contracts also stipulate that interim or progress reports be submitted to the sponsoring agency.
Most contract reports are submitted to the National Technical Information Service, which serves as a clearinghouse for the federal reports, and for reports prepared by state and local governments, as well as many government research organizations in foreign countries. Up to to a third of all reports submitted to NTIS are from foreign sources.
Technical reports which emanate from private companies engaged in industrial research for their own purposes are usually considered proprietary and are not readily distributed outside of the company. They are generally internal reports, and may be described as idea records, correspondence, technical memoranda, project plans, patents, market analysis reports, financial documents, drawings, and plans. United States anti-trust and patent laws foster competition in our free enterprise system, thus encouraging companies to guard information about both techniques and basic scientific discoveries.
The internal publication system of many large companies gives scientists within the company the prestige and peer recognition that would otherwise be satisfied by publication in scientific journals. The technical reports produced by private companies are among the most difficult to obtain and in fact may be available only from the company, if at all. See for an example the IBM web site, which aims to "provide the scientific community with access to technical reports written by members of the IBM Research community." Technical reports that are subsequently published elsewhere, in scientific journals, for example, are removed from the IBM technical reports database.
This guide was created by Ellen Calhoun, a former government documents and map librarian in Rutgers University Libraries. The guide is based on her 1991 article.