Since 1813, people
seeking federal government information have relied on depository libraries.
In the earliest days, government documents were deposited in selected university
and other libraries. The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was
established in its current configuration in 1865. The notion of readily
available government information for people has a long tradition that has
delivered value to the people through the partnership of 1,300 depository
libraries and the FDLP. Depository libraries spend hundreds of thousands
of dollars to process, house, maintain, and disseminate online government
information and documents in print and microform.
of Documents, an official of the U.S. Government Printing Office, is responsible
for the distribution of government documents through the FDLP, as well
as sales through government bookstores and directly to the people. In FY
2001, the Superintendent of Documents distributed more than 30.1 million
publications through sales and the FDLP. In addition, there were more than
355 million downloads of documents from GPO Access.
U.S. Code Title
44 section 501 states, "All printing, binding, and blank book work for
Congress, the Executive Office, the Judiciary, other than the Supreme Court
of the United States, and every executive department, independent office,
and establishment of Government, shall be done at the Government Printing
Office (GPO)." For more than 20 years, various administrations have challenged
the GPO "monopoly" on printing under the guise of saving money. The money-saving
arguments have rarely addressed fully, or at all, issues related to the
costs of printing and methods of distribution and dissemination of information
to the taxpayers who have paid to have the information created and published.
The proponents of decentralized printing have neglected to acknowledge
that agencies will incur extra costs administering a printing program carried
out in-house or through contracts with private printers. Distribution through
the FDLP and the sales program and critical issues of preservation and
access usually are ignored when the cost-cutting arguments are being made.
A May 12, 2002,
memo to executive departments and agencies from Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr.,
head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), represents the latest
attempt to decentralize printing and publication. In the memo, Mr. Daniels
directed agency heads to select "printing and duplicating services based
on the best quality, cost, and time of delivery." A footnote in the Daniels'
memo stated that government agencies "shall continue to ensure that all
government publications" be made available to the FDLP through the Superintendent
of Documents. It is not clear how this requirement will be enforced.
Mr. Daniels' memo
neglected to address sales of documents. Most agencies do not have authority
to sell documents and recover some costs. The Superintendent of Documents
is authorized to sell documents and realizes some cost recovery through
sales. Business and industry rely on the Internet and the sales program
for documents, such as congressional and agency reports and congressional
hearings. Downloading and local printing may not be the most efficient
way for a business to acquire documents of more than 15 or 20 pages.
Separation of Powers
So how can a federal
agency directive override statutory law?
One argument made
in favor of shifting printing to executive branch agencies is based on
the separation of powers embodied in the U.S. Constitution. The GPO is
responsible to the Congress, the legislative branch, not to the President,
the executive branch, though the Public Printer is appointed by the President
subject to Senate confirmation. The Public Printer appoints the Superintendent
of Documents. Exceptions to the Title 44 mandate to use the GPO for printing
may be made by the Joint Committee on Printing on a case-by-case basis.
Section 501 (2) states that JCP may grant waivers to agencies to print
in house or procure printing by contract. While the JCP determines how
publishing will be done by the executive branch, the President determines
who will manage the GPO and the government's printing activities.
indicated in his memo that he would recommend that the Federal Acquisition
Regulation (FAR) Council amend the Code of Federal Regulations to reflect
the proposed policy change. The FAR amendment process requires that "Views
of agencies and nongovernmental parties or organizations will be considered
in formulating policies and procedures." Interested and affected parties
should be given the opportunity to comment. Clearly, the public would be
affected by these changes. It is not clear whether Mr. Daniels intends
that the FAR Council will seek public comment. At presstime, a draft of
the new FAR implementing Daniels' directive had a rumored release date
in the Federal Register of mid-August.
Frances J. Buckley,
Superintendent of Documents, pointed out in a telephone conversation that
the appropriate way to address the issue is to amend Title 44 or obtain
a judicial decision that the current law is unconstitutional. Amending
the FAR does not mean that it will be in concert with the law. Even an
authoritative ruling on its constitutionality might not remove the statutory
requirement. The grounds of argument used by the OMB focus on the management
structure by which Congress supervises GPO, rather than on the legitimacy
of GPO performing its statutorily mandated tasks.
Save Money, Stop Monopoly
The May 12, 2002,
OMB memo indicated that when the private sector can provide the best combination
of cost, quality, and timely delivery, agencies should contract with the
private sector. Mr. Daniels estimated that $50-70 million would be saved
by each agency contracting with private printers. He did not preclude the
use of GPO if its costs, quality, and timely delivery were acceptable.
The memo did not acknowledge the increased costs of having approximately
600 departments each responsible for writing bid specifications for printing,
managing the bid process, negotiating terms, and analyzing performance.
The GPO uses a
competitive bid process involving more than 10,000 private companies. Many
GPO bidders are small businesses. If these businesses had to deal with
roughly 600 departments, each with different specifications and standards,
it is doubtful that small businesses could compete. In addition, the GPO
already outsources the majority of its printing to a network of printers,
including many small businesses.
Same Song, New Performer
Both the administrations
of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton used cost cutting as an excuse to remove
printing from the GPO. In 1981 Reagan's budget office halted production
of magazines, pamphlets, books, and audio-visual materials by 38 agencies.
The goals were to reduce costs and "consolidate, modernize, and streamline
the Government's printing operations."1
In 1983 the Reagan administration claimed that savings of $30-50 million
would result through reduction of printing operations in 130 departments.
At the time there were about 1,000 printing facilities in departments and
agencies. The projected savings would result from the difference between
the cost of in- house printing and the cost of private printing. Earlier,
OMB targeted 2,300 publications for elimination. At this stage the GPO
was considered a bargain compared with in-house agency printing2.
By 1990 the issue
evolved into the "privatization" of federal government information with
private vendors selling taxpayer-funded information back to the taxpayers.
The "privatization" included electronic databases as well as printed documents.
The price of a subscription to the Congressional Record increased
during the 1980s from $45 to $225, or 400 percent. Circulation fell by
almost one-third. Most of the cancellations came from non-profits and voluntary
groups that could no longer afford the price. Lobbyists and others who
could pass on the cost to their clients retained their subscriptions3.
These activities represented an attempt to let the market determine the
value of information without consideration of how federal government information
supports business, education, accountability, and other activities. The
danger in these arrangements was that only lobbyists or companies able
to pass on the cost of information could afford to acquire it. This policy
ignored the public interest and the obligation to make information available
to the public.
joined the cost reduction parade in 1993. The National Performance Review
proposed busting the GPO monopoly in printing by having printing done by
private industry. The Review did not allow for the extra costs associated
in writing specifications, negotiating, and monitoring performance, nor
did it address the needs of people for access to government information.
"The Clinton administration's review made a politically popular point of
emphasizing improved customer services, such as faster, more accurate responses
from the Internal Revenue Service and better performance by the U.S. Postal
Service." 4 Despite good intentions,
customer service at the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Postal Service
is far from the Nordstrom level. The Review ignored the erosion in customer
service that would result from the increased cost of government information
to the user and the high probability that government information produced
by the private sector would not be distributed to depository libraries.
No administration that has taken on the "GPO monopoly" has acknowledged
that 75 percent of GPO printing is done by private contractors.
Fleeing and Fleeting Documents
of agency-based printing ignore the problems associated with fleeting and
fleeing documents. Fleeting documents are printed by agencies in quantities
sufficient for internal distribution and perhaps a few outsiders. If printed
by GPO, these documents must stand muster. They are cataloged, made available
to depository libraries and the public, and archived.
Fleeing or fugitive
documents are published and difficult to find. These documents are not
cataloged by the GPO, not distributed to the FDLP, and not made available
for sale. While some agencies pay lip service to the mandate to distribute
to the depository libraries, recent administrations appear unconcerned
about fulfilling the mandate. Francis Buckley stated that he doubts that
agencies will contribute documents for distribution to the libraries because
of the poor performance in FDLP document delivery by agencies currently
holding waivers from the requirement to have all printing done at the GPO.
OMB's proposed policy provides no incentive to agencies to obey the mandate
to distribute through the Superintendent of Documents.
the Public Printer, in his JCP testimony, cited a 1998 review of the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) printing that "found that 78 percent of NIH's
publications qualifying for depository distribution were not being provided."
NIH currently holds a GPO waiver. Given the importance of NIH research
activities for the health and well-being of the nation's citizens, the
need for physicians and researchers to have quick access to NIH material,
and the enormous and increasing amounts of money spent by NIH, it should
be held accountable for making research results available to all through
or fleeing documents is a horrendous task, especially when one does not
know the issuing agency. Depository librarians can tell many stories about
people seeking government publications with little information about the
issuing agency. The librarian has the challenge of finding the document
among the thousands published online and in print each year. The search
cannot be carried out with a few keystrokes on GPO Access. Searchers can
search FirstGov or agency by agency. Either technique can prove frustrating.
FirstGov deals only with electronic documents and is based on keyword indexing.
This type of system can yield hundreds of hits. FirstGov is efficient if
keywords are not common. For example, a FirstGov search for "toxic substances"
yielded more than 1,000 hits. A search for imports of scotch whiskey yielded
The GPO performs
valuable services in cataloging, preserving, and archiving documents. GPO
assures citizens that our history will not be destroyed. If fleeing and
fleeting documents vanish, we will have lost part of our history and penalize
will support the idea of efficient government and reduction of expenditures.
Often it is difficult to see what happens to funds allegedly "saved" by
cost-cutting efforts. Recent headlines about "creative" accounting and
increased expenditures for a variety of government programs make $30-50
million seem like a raindrop in the ocean. When considered within the context
of millions of people seeking and using government information, OMB's proposal
does not make sense. The proposal, if enacted, will not save money. It
is likely that costs will increase due to the costs associated with 600
departments writing specifications, managing bid processes, negotiating,
and analyzing performance of private contractors.
The cost to users
of government information will increase significantly. Users will consume
more time in finding needed documents to answer questions, learn about
an issue, help a business, or judge the performance of government. William
Boarman, vice president of the Communications Workers of America, stated
this concern: "By far, the most significant damage resulting from OMB's
proposal would be the effect it would have on GPO's ability for ensuring
citizen access to government information. For GPO, dissemination of government
documents is a nonpartisan, virtually automatic process, which has been
enhanced in recent years by expanded reliance on the Internet and other
new technologies. That function is consistent with constitutional ideals,
democratic principles, and the purposes and functions of Congress."
Cost cutting is
popular among politicians in both major parties. They like to brag about
how much they have saved the taxpayers. They usually fail to tell the whole
story. In the case of printing and disseminating government information,
politicians are not likely to reveal that cost cutting is a sham that will
bring more harm than good to the nation and its citizens.
David Shribman. "Government's Publications List to Keep Shrinking," New
York Times, September 4, 1981.
David T Cook. "Reagan Cost Cutters Take Snip at Printing Costs," Christian
Science Monitor, November 2, 1983.
Rowe. "Federal Data Go Private," Christian Science Monitor, September
Ann Devray and Stephen Bare. Washington Post, September 10, 1993.