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Commentary & Analysis

Boarman Out as Public Printer

On April 15, 2010, President Obama announced his intent to nominate William J. Boarman as the 26th Public Printer of the United States. Following that announcement, WhatTheyThink covered the long, and ultimately unsuccessful confirmation process, revealing a number of problems with the nominee. Apparently more problems have arisen and his nomination was returned to the President. Read more.

By Cary Sherburne
Published: December 19, 2011

In April of 2010, President Obama announced his intent to nominate William J. Boarman as the 26th Public Printer of the United States. As the confirmation process proceeded, numerous issues arose that brought significant questions about the nominee’s suitability for the position. WhatTheyThink covered this story in-depth throughout 2010, and you can read about some of the issues here and here or search for Boarman in the WhatTheyThink archives, in case you missed them the first time around. It is our understanding that these WhatTheyThink articles were widely circulated in the Halls of Congress.

Having failed to gain Boarman’s confirmation, the President ultimately asked the 25th Public Printer, Robert C. Tapella, who has remained in office during the confirmation process, to resign, and appointed Boarman as Public Printer while Congress was in recess. A recess appointment does not a confirmed nominee make, or so this story bears out. The nominee still has to be confirmed by the Senate.

One action Boarman took during his short tenure was to replace the Inspector General who had been investigating him after previously appointing an interim Inspector General in May of 2011. This may or may not have had impact on any ongoing investigation, since the Inspector General is supposed to be independent and objective.

Boarman, then, served as Acting Public Printer during 2011. With no Senate confirmation forthcoming, his nomination would have expired at the end of the year. Before adjourning for the holidays, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid returned the nomination to the President, saying on the Senate floor that new problems had arisen regarding Boarman’s nomination, effectively killing any chance Boarman had of maintaining his position. This, according to a story published in CQ Roll Call on December 17th, which did not specify what those issues were. Thus ends the sad saga of the 26th Public Printer. According to the CQ Roll Call article, Boarman will have to step down from the post sometime before year’s end.

During 2010 and 2011, WhatTheyThink tried unsuccessfully to gain an interview with Boarman and with key Senate committee members. Boarman kept a fairly low profile until recently, when he started surfacing on the speaking circuit. He appeared on NBC 4’s Viewpoint program in September of 2011. In addition, he addressed the National Depository Library Conference in October of 2011 and keynoted the sixth annual InterQuest conference targeting government and higher education in-plant printers in November of 2011.

Perhaps we should mount a Bring Back Bob campaign. Tapella, and his predecessor, Bruce James, did an outstanding job of bringing the antiquated Government Printing Office from the 19th Century into the 21st Century. Sure, Tapella is a Republican, but surely the President could reach across the aisle to bring back a proven candidate to run this important agency, responsible for some $1 billion in printing purchases.

WhatTheyThink will continue to follow this story as the President makes his next move.

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 David L. Zwang on Dec 19, 2011

Cary.. you and What They Think deserve a lot of credit for sticking with this. Unfortunately political appointments don't necessarily deliver us the right person for the job, for any number of reasons. Your dedication to this story and shining a light on it has proven to be a valuable gift to the industry and the country.


By SHAWN MAGILL on Dec 19, 2011

"Well done is better than well said." Ben Franklin


By Cary Sherburne on Dec 19, 2011

Thanks for the feedback. One of my sources has also informed me that because Mr. Boarman managed to remain on leave without pay for 30 years, all that time counts towards his retirement at 50%. Therefore, as I understand it, instead of getting the $2,000 in annual retirement he should get--4 years at about $6,000/year and one year at $179,000, he will receive a pension of $24,000 per year.


By Chuck Gehman on Dec 19, 2011

What a nice Christmas present! Thanks for all the great coverage Cary! Let's hope the next prospective appointee is less of a government/union bureaucrat and more of a business person. Perhaps someone WHO IS FROM THE PRINTING INDUSTRY.


By Noel Ward on Dec 19, 2011

Great point, Chuck. I hereby nominate Frank Romano as public printer.


By Cary Sherburne on Dec 19, 2011

Frank Romano it is! Who's going to call the President?


By Howie Fenton on Dec 19, 2011

I second the nomination ... all in favor raise your hands


By Dov Isaacs on Dec 19, 2011

Hear! Hear! I second the nomination!!!

Competence and humor on the job and certainly no “political correctness!”


By Mark Budd on Dec 19, 2011

Let me get this straight. This "government/union bureaucrat" who isn't a qualified business person has, in the last year, worked to reduce the GPO by 330 positions (union positions?) and took an agency that was running a deficit and turned that into a $5.6 million surplus. I may be wrong, but as a taxpayer I feel very well served by such ineptitude.


By HARVEY LEVENSON on Dec 19, 2011

Dear Cary,

Excellent coverage of an important development. Also excellent responses. Here is mine.

When the administration changed after the 2008 presidential election, I launched an industry-wide campaign to educate Barack Obama on the virtues and successes of Bob Tapella, and why he should be retained as Public Printer. Letters were sent to Diane Feinstein (who previously supported Bob's appointment) and/or Bob Schumer by the leadership and NPES, PIA, NAPL, Cal Poly's President, and by me. I have copies of these letters. The underlying premises suggested for retaining Tapella were included under the list that follows.

I am again asking that, perhaps, through your savvy that an attempt be made to convince the Obama administration to invite Bob Tapella to return to the GPO or, should Bob not be interested, to explore finding a candidate having Bob's qualities.

Best wishes,


Harvey R. Levenson, Ph. D.
Department Head, Graphic Communication
Interim Chair, Journalism
Cal Poly State University
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0381
Phone: 805/756-6151 or 1108
Fax: 805/756-7118
E-mail: hlevenso@calpoly.edu
Dept. Web Site: www.grc.calpoly.edu
Institute Web Site: www.grci.calpoly.edu


- While in the position for less than two yours, Bob has put together a management team to continue the efficient work of the GPO well into the future. Much has been invested in bringing to the GPO some of the best and brightest young thinkers, who are being groomed for long-term government service under Bob’s leadership.

- Bob is young and provides the opportunity for executive management longevity, something that the GPO has been lacking in its leadership over the past couple of decades.

- The important aspect of the position is knowledge of understanding high-level administration and management of large printing and publishing enterprises from a technological, procedural, and policy standpoint. Bob possesses all of this.

- Bob is responsible for helping to bring the GPO from 19th century management and technology to 21st century management and technology, while enhancing the efficiency of the organization.

- Bob assisted in streamlining the GPO and reducing costs. In the 1960s and 1970s, the GPO employed approximately 8,500 people. By 1980, it was reduced to approximately 5,500, employees. Under Bob’s leadership, the number is down to approximately 2,400 employees producing more products, more efficiently than ever before. Further, Bob has helped the printing industry maintain a certain level of vitality through the GPO outsourcing of projects that are more logically produced in the private sector.

- Bob has moved the GPO into the electronic age. The new passport, with enhanced electronic security protection, is but one example. Under Bob’s leadership, the GPO is sure to further increase the application of printable electronics to its products. This is a direction that world governments is moving in and one in which the GPO can play a leadership role.

- With the nation’s focus on sustainability, Bob has moved the GPO in that direction and will continue to do so—recycled paper, vegetable base and soy inks, lean management and reduced waste, electronic replacement of print where appropriate, and even plans for the GPO to develop a building that is completely sustainable and thereby becoming a model for the private sector to follow.

- The Public Printer position does not impact policy. Hence, political affiliation does not make any difference, but experience and savvy business practice does. Prior to becoming the Public Printer, Bob was Chief of Staff under former Public Printer Bruce James. Hence, Bob’s knowledge of the GPO’s infrastructure, issues, goals, and mission goes beyond his years as Public Printer. He understudied former Public Printer Bruce James who established the under girding upon which Bob brought the GPO to its present level of efficiency and effectiveness.

- Bob is one of the most visible and respected professionals in the printing and publishing industry, and will emit a positive image of the new administration.

- Finally, if Barack Obama runs the government the way he ran his campaign with so much technology savvy, he will want someone running the GPO who is equally savvy on matters of technology. Bob has that savvy.


By Cary Sherburne on Dec 20, 2011

This saga seems like one that will never end. Today, Boarman appointed Davita Vance-Cooks as Deputy Public Printer, the first woman ever to be appointed to that position. Prior, she was Chief of Staff to the Public Printer. While I am sure Ms Vance-Cooks is a talented individual, and I am happy to see a woman in this role, the bottom line is that she does not qualify for the position according to the law. Title 44, Section 301 states:

"The President of the United States shall nominate and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoint a suitable person, who must be a practical printer and versed in the art of bookbinding, to take charge of and manage the Government Printing Office.

His title shall be Public Printer."

Section 302 says:

"The Public Printer shall appoint a suitable person, who must be a practical printer and versed in the art of bookbinding, to be the Deputy Public Printer."

Ms. Vance is not a practical printer nor is she versed in the art of bookbinding, other than her exposure to same in her 5-year stint at the GPO.

What's more, my sources tell me that Mr. Boarman will stay on at the GPO as special assistant to the Public Printer.

My guess is nothing will change until well after the election. It seems that the White House just wants to put this whole thing behind it and move on. With no Public Printer in place, Ms. Vance-Cook will, in effect be the Public Printer until the White House (this administration or the next) chooses to nominate someone else. Which means Boarman will continue to run the agency, or at least have significant influence on how it is run, for the duration.

Well done, Bill ...


By Erik Nikkanen on Dec 20, 2011

"His title shall be Public Printer."

So does the law state that the person must be a man?


By Cary Sherburne on Dec 20, 2011

"His title shall be Public Printer." Erik, I let that one slip because I think this was written when Abe Lincoln was in office! Let's just consider it to be the generic, non-gender "His". Or should we say Its or his/her? Gets convoluted. More importantly, the person should know what the heck printing is with all of its beauty and worts, from first-hand, operational experience :-) Otherwise, change the law.


By Mark Budd on Dec 21, 2011

This raises an interesting question. Given todays realities, what should a relevant job description for the Public Printer read like and what would the minimum requirements be? Two of GPO's production units are ISO 9001 which requires this type of documentation. Looking at the people I know who run printing and binding operations I see an amazingly wide variety of experience, background and skills. The only thing I could definitely state that they all have in common is that they are all survivors.


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