Commentary & Analysis
FREE Special: Seeking a Permanent Fix: PIA Pushes for Broader GPO Reform
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 31, 2002
Ben Cooper, Executive Vice President/Public Policy for the Printing Industries of America, has officially weighed in on the Government Printing Office debate. As detailed in our special report, Reforming GPO: A Multi-Billion Dollar Opportunity, the Bush administration is attempting to significantly change the print procurement process of federal agencies.
Cooper, the industry’s lead lobbyist, stated his initial reaction in our report but wanted to gather more information about the proposed changes before stating PIA’s official position.
On Wednesday, Cooper sent a letter to Mitch Daniels. Daniels is the Director, Office of Management and Budget and President Bush’s point man on federal spending. The letter is an attempt to “move together toward greater efficiency and productivity in federal printing and information policy.”
The letter indicates that PIA will take a leading role on GPO reform and federal print procurement by facilitating a unified, permanent plan. A plan good for the Administration, government print buyers, GPO, printers and tax payers.
May 29, 2002
Mitchell E. Daniels
Director Office of Management and Budget
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
17th and Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20503
It was a pleasure seeing you at the Fiscal Responsibility Coalition Steering Committee meeting last Tuesday at the Chamber of Commerce. We appreciate your leadership in the President’s efforts to hold the line on federal spending.
Your recent memorandum regarding the federal printing procurement program at the Government Printing Office has stimulated a great deal of interest and discussion at the Printing Industries of America and among its members. I thought it might be helpful if I outlined some of the issues of concern with the memorandum in an effort to help us move together toward greater efficiency and productivity in federal printing and information policy. We have already had excellent discussions with your staff on this issue.
While the government printing procurement program has declined in recent years, it remains a significant source of business opportunity for a number of our members. These members compete for over $400 million in contracts through the GPO. We are also aware that there is an additional $1.5 to $2 billion in Executive Branch printing that is extremely difficult to account for since it is not always contracted out. Obviously, in a tight economy, these issues have greater importance.
We are concerned about the changes you proposed regarding the printing procurement process in the Government Printing Office. The proposed suggestions, absent other changes, may actually result in increased costs and less competition than you desire. However, we believe if this proposal is part of a broader reform effort, your goals can be achieved. While many aspects of the GPO are antiquated and inefficient, the printing procurement program actually has received high marks from the industry and many federal agencies. It is our opinion that the GPO is generally able to buy printing at the lowest possible price. While we have concerns about the fees they charge and have expressed these concerns to the current Public Printer, it is possible that the fees combined with the actual printing charges may still represent the lowest price for the federal government.
More important than this issue is the broader issue of the management of printing and information by the Executive Branch of government. We have several recommendations for your consideration that we believe will enable the Executive Branch to reform the procurement program and significantly reduce total Executive Branch printing costs.
Reduce In House Printing By Executive Agencies
Your recent comments about the federal government having more vehicles than Hertz struck a familiar chord with us. While we do not think the federal government owns more printing equipment than the private sector, we think you may be surprised at how much you own. We cannot say for sure how many pieces of printing equipment the federal government owns, but it is our belief that OMB also cannot provide that number. One thing is for certain, the federal government has a major commitment to the print manufacturing process. While we recognize that federal agencies just like private companies should have internal copying capacity, the federal government goes well beyond that level. We believe many of these pieces of equipment are not purchased or approved as printing equipment but as office equipment or are purchased in other categories that prevent easy identification.
We urge a thorough audit of federal printing and copying services to determine the level at which the federal government is competing with the private sector. It should be the goal of this audit to identify the facilities that need to be eliminated and have the work contracted out.
The Executive Branch Needs to Develop Printing and Publishing Plans as Part of the Federal Budget Process
It is common in private industry to develop communications plans to accompany program budgets. We cannot find any evidence of such planning in the federal system. With such communications plans, the federal government could determine what its needs are and develop a program to meet those needs. For better or for worse, the federal government (including the Executive and Legislative Branches) has made a major commitment to a printing facility at the Government Printing Office. However, we do not know from one year to the next what printing services will be expected in the following year. In theory, GPO could be grossly overstaffed or under-staffed. Likewise, Executive agencies purchase printing equipment without a plan.
A communications plan would not only identify the printing needs of the agencies, but it would also assure the OMB that agencies are taking advantage of newer technology. Agency Chief Information Officers could use such information to coordinate the development of information tools within their agencies and identify similar programs in other agencies to reduce overall federal communications costs.
Such a plan could also be beneficial for the Superintendent of Documents and the Federal Depository Library System in that they could identify the items that need to be in the system and those which may have escaped.
Develop a plan for printing procurement within the Executive Branch which assures fair and open competition but which also captures the best elements of the industry.
The Government Printing Office has developed a printing procurement system that enables a large number of companies to compete for a significant number of government contracts. We believe it is the strongest small business procurement program in the federal government. Any decision to shift the procurement program from the GPO to the Executive Branch will have to be done in a manner that will retain the fairness that has been created by that system. Having said that, there are other issues in the GPO system that need to be addressed.
The printing industry is changing. Perhaps the most dramatic technological change is in the growth of digital printing. This change to digital printing is significant in that it enables the customer to have more control over the output and the quantities printed. Much more customization is possible in a digital printing environment. Print-on-demand is also an important part of this newer technology. These newer technologies offer greater opportunities for federal information products.
Another change in the industry is in the very nature of printing. "Printers" are far more engaged in information products than simply "ink on paper" printing. Printers have always managed mailing lists for customers but now they are developing websites and other media. In many cases, the printer is now the "one stop shop" for information management. Unfortunately, many of the contracts awarded through the existing system are based strictly on the lowest bid. While these may still be valuable to the customer and the printer, it is possible that a printing company could present proposals to an agency for an information management system that would afford greater efficiency and coordination with other information products. We refer to these as "best value" contracts. We think such contracts should be expanded to ensure that the skills of the modern printing industry are being used by the federal government. Further, we believe the federal government may benefit from the use of best value contracts that enable an agency to choose a company that may not have the lowest bid but may ultimately be the best vendor for the agency.
These proposals may seem beyond your original intent but we believe the overall changes must be part of Executive Branch printing reform. Otherwise, the reform will be piecemeal. In fact, addressing the procurement system alone, in our opinion, will result in increased costs of government printing due to reduced competition.
The steps are fairly simple: audit your internal assets, plan for the future, reform the system based on the plan.
We hope you will consider these proposals and continue to work with us toward our mutual goals of providing the taxpayer with the best government at the lowest cost.
Benjamin Y. Cooper
Executive Vice President/Public Policy