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Industry Insight

Boarman Public Printer Confirmation Hearing Raises Questions

Earlier I wrote a blog posting about the seemingly under-

By Cary Sherburne
Published: May 26, 2010

Earlier I wrote a blog posting about the seemingly under-the-radar approach being taken in the confirmation process for the President’s nominee for the 26th Public Printer at the Government Printing Office (GPO).

The Senate Rules Committee confirmation hearing took place on May 25th as scheduled, and the public has five days to comment or add to the record.  If you didn’t watch it live, it would be well worth watching the replay.  It took less than an hour and produced interesting insight.

I was also interested in what the Printing Industries of America might be doing to monitor this process that determines the future of a government agency so important to our industry, since they are our lobbying arm, so to speak.  When I was finally able to contact Michael Makin, CEO, he responded with a very brusque, “We have no comment on this.”

Two of the most interesting parts of the hearing, in my opinion, were Boarman’s responses to Senator Warner’s questions relative to electronic versus printed documents.  In one question, Senator Warner asked, “As more documents are viewed electronically, and with increasing pricing pressure in the printing industry, how will you balance the needs of the workforce versus technology versus the pressures the GPO is under?”

Boarman’s response focused on his concern that the next fiscal year (2011) would be a deficit year for the GPO and believed he could mitigate that by expanding the GPO’s secure printing operation, which now prints passports and secure cards, to offset loss of ink on paper.  A good idea that should definitely be pursued, but it seems to miss the boat a bit.  The bigger issue, in my opinion, is how the GPO can continue to enhance the Federal Digital System (FDsys), about which I have written on WhatTheyThink many times during its development over the years.  This system provides an ideal base for making even more government documents accessible to the public, many of which do not need to be printed, or perhaps are printed but consumers of the documents would like to access authenticated digital copies for various reasons.

The second question along these lines from Senator Warner, who seems to have a good handle on the stresses our industry is undergoing, was: “The Federal Depository Library Program has a requirement to safeguard the public’s ability to know what is going on in the government.  Some depository librarians feel that the GPO is not meeting the needs of its users.  What can the GPO do to allow the FDLP to meet these goals?”

Boarman’s response was interesting: “95% of all federal documents are born digital today and never end up in the depository library program.  Everything we do to put ink on paper can be created digitally as well.  The walls are bulging with the books, but the law has to be looked at to modernize and look at the issue of so many documents being born digitally.  We can’t do it by ourselves; we need to work with Congress on changes to the law.  I don’t think we ought to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  It is a great program [FDLP], making sure people are informed about what their government does, but there are some things we can do to make it easier on the libraries.  I would meet with the librarians first, and then come to Congress with suggestions for resolution.”

Huh?  The work on FDsys was begun under the tenure of Bruce James, the 24th Public Printer, and continued by Bob Tapella, the current (25th) Public Printer.  The system is up and running and makes authenticated government documents available electronically to the FDLP and the public.  For example, the Congressional Record, which is produced daily when Congress is in session, is posted to FDsys before the presses start rolling to create the printed version for delivery the following morning.  Both James and Tapella have worked closely with the FDLP to ensure that the system meets their needs.  It includes an electronic catalog with a robust search feature.  One would have thought that this significant and important investment on the part of the GPO would have at least been mentioned in Boarman’s answer. It is so clearly a part of the solution.

Interestingly, in GPO’s 2009 annual report, the Public Printer offered to make FDsys available for broader use in a letter to President Obama, including:


  • Position GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) as the official repository for Federal Government publications;

  • Enable and support Web2.0 functionality through FDsys to support comments on pending legislation;

  • Establish a demonstration project to apply Web2.0 features to rulemaking documents;

  • Participate in and lead efforts to standardize electronic publishing formats; and

  • Link the White House Web site to FDsys for public searches of Government documents.


So far, no response … but this surely would fit nicely in the whole promise of transparency that the President touted in his campaign.  One hopes that if Boarman is confirmed, he will spend time gaining a good understanding of the system and the investment requirements necessary to keep it current and functional, as well as to continue to add functionality.

Relative to the campaign contributions to the senatorial campaign of Arkansas Lt Gov. Halter and the purported “bundling” of contributions in an attempt to unseat a sitting senator of his own party (discussed in my earlier post), Boarman claims he had nothing to do with the bundling, and simply made a $250 contribution online (on March 17, 2010) and immediately forgot about it.

I have not spoken with Mr. Boarman personally, and feel it is unlikely he will speak publicly during the confirmation process, which is probably as it should be. But should he be confirmed, I would welcome the opportunity to speak with him frequently, as I have with the two previous Public Printers, in order to keep our industry informed on developments at the GPO.  However, after listening to the hearing, one wonders if this isn’t just another one of the paybacks to the union referenced in a May 15, 2010, Wall Street Journal article entitled “Obama’s Union Favors.”

The public has five days to comment on the nomination and you can find instructions for doing so on the Senate Rules Committee web site.  I encourage you to listen to the replay and provide your comments, pro or con, to this nomination.  Get involved! Let the Senate know what you think.

Cary Sherburne is a well-known author, journalist and marketing consultant whose practice is focused on marketing communications strategies for the printing and publishing industries.

Cary Sherburne is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us.

Please offer your feedback to Cary. She can be reached at cary@whattheythink.com.

 

Discussion

By Michael Josefowicz on May 26, 2010

Thanks for the post. I wanted to ask if you've seen anything about a notion to allow printing on demand of Federal Documents.

I noticed recently that Pedia press has partnered with Wikipedia to allow English language versions to be delivered in the form of either paperbacks or hard cover books. I would think it would be possible to integrate that ability into the Government site.

 

By Cary Sherburne on May 27, 2010

Michael, this is an interesting question. On my last visit to the GPO, I asked whether FDsys has resulted in printing fewer copies of the Congressional Record and Federal Register, and was told no, people still want their printed copies. Nonetheless, the GPO has added digital printing and a DI press to accommodate shorter runs. The very nature of FDsys means that certain documents may only be posted electronically with print on demand happening by user downloads and desktop printing. If it were allowed to continue developing to its full potential, which will require ongoing innovation and investment, I am sure more of this would happen -- more print on demand by users, and perhaps an ecommerce-like model that allows people to order other types of documents they need, on demand, printed by the GPO or its contractors.

With current GPO management, these options are being explored. We can only hope that the next public printer is as dedicated to keeping the GPO on the leading edge of this type of transformation.

 

By Lithoman on May 27, 2010

Mr. Boarman was chosen for one reason only, he's a union boss. His agenda will be to promote unionized labor. If you are a non-union printer and do GPO work, that business will be in jeopardy. Mr. Boarman will bend existing rules and create new ones that force the GPO to purchase from union labor printers. There are hundreds of better qualified candidates for this position. His appointment is the president's payback to the unions. His appointment is purely political.

They need to start asking Boarman about his union agenda.

 

By Jim on May 27, 2010

Apparently someone did not listen to the nomination hearing very well. Mr. Boarman clearly stated he had no intention on pushing union rules onto the vast array of print providers the GPO uses nationwide. As a matter of fact, I'd say more than 85% of the work these civilian contracters do for GPO are non-union. Most are, like Mr. Boarman said in his testimony, small mom and pop businesses that sorely depend on what the government gives them. And trust me, the mark-up for a winning bid to a government contract is much less than they could get selling to another non-government entity. I think the fact that Mr. Boarman has been involved in the printing business for 40 years, has advised the Public Printer since the mid-70s and actually knows the business, will greatly benefit GPO, the printing industry and most importantly the American taxpayer.

 

By Dave on May 27, 2010

I notice a couple weeks ago that GPO was so proud to have made a profit of $1 million of sales of almost $1 billion.

A 0.1% profit is good? And thats AFTER taxes. And they pay no taxes.

Abolish the GPO. Farm out the jobs to the printers that have to compete for these jobs.

 

By Jim on May 28, 2010

Hmmmmmm! Since the GPO funding is appropriated and they still return a profit, not bad for a government agency! Also, over 65% of the printing done for the government actually goes to printers who compete for the work. The printing at GPO in Washington is mainly the "quick turn" printing required by Congress and other government agencies within the beltway.

 

By Sean on May 28, 2010

Dave,

You are ignorant. See Title 44 of the US Code. GPO is allowed only cost recovery, not making a profit. Also, GPO is not allowed to compete directly with the private sector. As the largest printer in the Western world, GPO has tremendous economies of scale, and ultimately saves the Government millions of dollars in printing costs. To print the Federal Register every night and onto every Congressman's desk by 9 am, the agency runs a third shift. When the FR run is not large, excess capacity in the plant allows GPO to print some jobs in house (mostly stationery, letterhead, bills and the like). GPO gets very little of its money from appropriations (only for Congressional work and the FDLP). The vast majority of its revenue is passports and procurred work.

Do you think it makes sense for your tax dollars to be spent on research and studies and analysis and then not have that information be made available to the public? The GPO keeps America informed.

 

By Michael Josefowicz on May 28, 2010

Cary,
Thanks for the response.

I thought "On my last visit to the GPO, I asked whether FDsys has resulted in printing fewer copies of the Congressional Record and Federal Register, and was told no, people still want their printed copies." is just one more data point for all those who think that e media is going supplant Print.

Given the expense of housing and distributing, my hunch is that sometime soon the GPO will issue an RFP for distribute and print.

There are already so many choices out in the field: the recently announced collaboration with HP,Canon(Oce) and FedexKinkos; the massive footprint of an outfit like Consolidated Graphics; the most recent developments at Mimeo or perhaps AlphaGraphics or Lulu.com.

A robust distribute and print ability - what I've been calling the Printernet - would solve so many problems at once it's hard to believe it won't get on their radar.


"Nonetheless, the GPO has added digital printing and a DI press to accommodate shorter runs."

 

By William Gindlesperger on Jun 03, 2010

For 35 years our firm has represented many printers before the GPO. We are proud of our achievements.

GPO for its part has solicited bid competition among qualified printers through a fair rotation of its vendor list, through public posting and through the availability of its GPO Bid Subscription Service (GPO BSS). It was in 1982 that we negotiated with GPO the establishment of the GPO BSS in which GPO provides, at its cost, access to bid solicitations, results and other procurement information. It is the GPO BSS that we obtain, add value to, and provide to our clients. This has had positive results for the government, tax payers, GPO and the printing industry. It has allowed printers to bid on jobs for which they are qualified in a GPO controlled professional procurement environment.

We are particularly proud of the exclusive endorsement for our GPO related services that we have received from PIA. To our knowledge no other organization has ever received such an endorsement. Under that mantle we have worked tirelessly in our support of the GPO, its procurement initiatives and the printing industry who benefits mightily from professional GPO procurement.

PIA does a miraculous job of representing printers before government entities. The PIA Government Affairs Department is well respected on Capitol Hill and has made many influential friends going back to the first PIA Government Affairs Vice President, John Grant, his successor, Ben Cooper, and today, Lisbeth Lyons.

Unfortunately, many printers who are members of PIA do not understand the relationship between filling downtime with work won in a GPO competitive environment and improvement in their bottom lines. Many choose to allow their equipment to sit idle rather than lowering their prices to obtain filler work. The result is that when PIA surveys its membership regarding the most important government related issues members face, time after time after time, GPO concerns rank at the bottom of the list.

Perhaps this is the result of complacency among those printers who rely on GPO to stay alive. Perhaps this is the result of our natural instinct to let sleeping dogs lie. Or perhaps this is because PIA members have often looked to our firm for their GPO representation.

The truth is that printers – both PIA members and those that are not – are dependent on GPO for their livelihoods, yes, even those that do not want anything to do with the GPO. The reason, of course, is that GPO fills the holes in production schedules. Everyone from RR Donnelley to Joe’s Print Shoppe – all 10,000 printing companies that have registered to do GPO business look for the opportunity to improve profitability. In this down economy, which has been poison to the printing industry, GPO work looms large. It is the very lifeblood of thousands of printing companies. Without it, our printing industry would further deteriorate.

For example, if your competitor is filling its downtime with GPO work, and you are not, and that GPO work goes away, guess whose work your competitor will be going after to fill its now available downtime. That effects and hurts you whether you are doing GPO work directly or simply benefiting because your competitor is not chasing your accounts.

The real issue has to do with make or buy. How much printing will the GPO buy or how much will the GPO place in its already expanding in-plant operations? Mr. Boarman has testified that he intends to maintain the procurement operation. We believe he will. Mr. Boarman is a sophisticated and well referenced professional business person – even though his business has been unions. This does not make him a potentially bad candidate for the job of Public Printer. Prior Public Printers have also been supportive of the GPO in-plant production operation and of its unions and, yet, have done a wonderful job in boosting procurement initiatives.

Where the challenge lies is in a different place. This is a subject seldom discussed or clearly understood. It is waivers. Waivers are issued by the GPO and its governing body, the Congressional Joint Committee on Printing. These waivers allow federal executive agencies to handle their own printing in-house rather than to submit their printing to the GPO in compliance with the legal requirements of Title 44 of the U.S. Code.

The federal government is a multi-trillion dollar operation. Yet, only about 1 billion dollars total in printing is produced or procured by GPO. Estimates have been made over the years as to how many billions of dollars escape GPO. No one really knows, because no one has kept close control over waivers, or, for that matter, has a full list of all of the waivers granted. One estimate is that there are over 25,000 federal in-house printing plants doing upwards of $20 billion in printing. Think what GPO control over this printing could do for the federal government, the tax payers, the GPO, and, very importantly for all of us in the printing industry. If there is less than $100 billion in commercial printing available, add in $20 billion in federal work and bingo – tens of thousands of private sector printing jobs would be saved – enough perhaps for the White House to crow about.

If Mr. Boarman is confirmed and becomes the Public Printer, he will face a complex problem not of his making. The GPO, like the U.S. Postal Service, is losing big money. The difference is that the U.S. Postal Service falls under the Executive Branch and appropriations to underwrite its operational costs can be buried in a massive budget. The GPO, on the other hand, is a Congressional (not Executive) agency. Monies appropriated to underwrite GPO operational shortfalls are reflected as increasing costs of the Congress itself. Increasing Congressional costs is not a message Senators and Congressmen want to send to the voters back home.

So, where is Mr. Boarman going to look for cuts in costs? We guess it will not be through negotiation with GPO union employees for a reduction in labor rates. We believe Mr. Boarman will have only one bite at this apple. Everyone wins if he is successful in driving more work to fill downtime in the GPO in-plant production operation while, at the same time, dramatically increasing income from the GPO cash cow – called procurement. This new work is readily available through the cancellation of waivers. It also reduces Executive agency costs, while getting these agencies out of the printing business, which is not where they belong nor is it where their core competencies reside.

Mr. Boarman has a relationship with the White House and with the majority party in Congress. He is well positioned to get something done. I would urge my fellow printers, regardless of their political affiliation or union feelings, to support Mr. Boarman with the hope and understanding that Mr. Boarman will partner with the printing industry as he has partnered over many years with the unions, and by his serving as a bridge, we can together bring success to all involved.

 

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