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Is Printing the Congressional Record Wasteful?

On a relatively recent visit to the Government Printing Office,

By Cary Sherburne
Published: March 31, 2011

On a relatively recent visit to the Government Printing Office, I was surprised to learn that despite the great work former Public Printers Bruce James and Bob Tapella have done with FDSys (the system that makes electronic versions of government documents such as the Congressional Record and Federal Register available to the government and the public), the GPO was still printing the Congressional Record--about 1,500 copies DAILY every day Congress is in session, I was told. (And the Federal Register, by the way.)  I questioned why that would be, since the information is available online before it is available in printed form.  Each issue can be hundreds of pages, depending on what went on in Congress that day.  I wondered what happens to all that paper.  Where is it stored? Does anyone ever look at it? Why is it even still being printed in those volumes? According to my tour guide, people still wanted the paper. And according to the release cited below, that number is actually 4,551 copies! (I thought 1,500 was low if it was going to everyone, multiple copies to each Congress person's office, etc.).

Today, Senators Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) introduced the Congressional Record Printing Savings Act of 2011, a bill they say would save taxpayers up to $8 million by requiring the Government Printing Office to limit excessive printing of the Congressional Record. According to the release, "The GPO annually spends over $8 million to print hard copies of the Congressional Record that are rarely used since these documents have been digitally available since 1994. Approximately 4,551 copies of the Congressional Record are printed daily [on offset web presses] at the cost of roughly $240 per original page. The Congressional Record Printing Savings Act would require that the distribution of the printed edition is limited to archival purposes and those copies explicitly requested by the Vice President or Members of Congress."

With digital presses and a DI press in the production mix, paper copies could certainly be produced on demand for archiving purposes or when needed. It is easier to search the electronic copy for the specific nugget someone might want to reference.  I can't imagine anyone curling up with a copy and reading it cover to cover, on a daily basis!

In general, I would support this type of approach, but it needs to be accompanied by a firm commitment to maintain and grow FDSys.  My sources tell me that all funding for maintaining/expanding FDSys have been cut.  Since Public Printer Bill Boarman (still not officially confirmed despite a recess appointment) refuses to speak to me -- and anyone else in the press if my sources are correct -- I can't validate this.  However, it would seem that the Senators who put forth this bill should attach a requirement that FDSys continue to be funded at a level that is reasonable to ensure continued access to these valuable documents in perpetuity, according to the mission of the GPO, and to continue to grow the volume of content available on the system as well as continuing to improve accessibility to said information.

Just my two cents worth.  More than happy to present Mr. Boarman's perspective if he would give me 30 minutes of his time for an interview!

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.



By John Zarwan on Mar 31, 2011

as the Congressional Record doesn't record what happens in Congress (most submissions are just that - submissions), one could question its relevance at all.


By Michael Jahn on Mar 31, 2011

It is amazing to me how slow it is for things like that to change. It is not like we do not have methods to distribute and search faster when the record is digital !

Another big problem is converting paper medical records.

- item 17 on ARRA

Provide patients with an electronic copy of their health information (including diagnostic test results, problem list, medication lists, and allergies) upon request

At least 80 percent of all patients who request an electronic copy of their health information are provided it within 48 hours.

More on that here;



By Noel Ward on Mar 31, 2011

Ahh, our tax dollars at work!

The Congressional Record should PRIMARILY be available digitally, but NOT printed in volume. If someone has to have a hard copy --or just a few pages--they can print it out locally.

Not everything that can be printed should be printed.


By Cary Sherburne on Mar 31, 2011

John, you are not accurate about the Congressional Record. It is a record of the proceedings (sort of). The caveat is that congress people get to edit things before they go into the final record, published at the end of each session. There is also a section that contains speeches, tributes and other extraneous words that were not actually uttered during open proceedings of the full Senate or of the full House of Representatives. These mostly come from the house, not the senate.


By 印刷 on Apr 28, 2011

I think it is safer for the congressional record in paper form than in digital form .FDSYS is just datas that stored in the computer ,we can not touch it and it can be damaged by careless or by other hackers. When we print it out ,we can keep it forever and no worry about its being damaged.


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