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Commentary & Analysis

Update on GPO Reform: Revisions May Not Allow Agencies to Buy Print

In May of this year,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: September 16, 2002

In May of this year, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued Memorandum M-02-07, setting forth a policy allowing agencies to buy printing directly, without having to go through the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). That Memo requested the FARC to issue proposed changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) removing the requirement that agencies procure their printing through GPO, and allowing agencies to buy their printing directly from the private sector. The OMB memo does not discourage agencies from using GPO for their print procurement, but simply says that they are no longer required to do so.

After the Memo there were complaints form Congress and GPO based on the fact that 44 U.S.C. 501, which has not been repealed, requires all federal printing, with few exceptions, to be procured through GPO.

Some printers avoided the legal issue, and requested that OMB delay implementation of the regulations to allow printers the opportunity to "gear up" to provide services to hundreds of agencies groups instead of one central print procurement system operated by the GPO, and to allow agencies time to set up a plan and rules for print procurement.

Printing Industries of America also requested that OMB add a requirement for publication of government opportunities by departments or agencies, so that printers would continue to have the open access to job opportunities that they have historically enjoyed through the GPO’s system of open competition.

While making these requests, industry representatives and printers made it clear that they strongly support OMB Director Daniels’ policy that printing should be bought based on the best value, considering not only price, but also past performance relating to quality and on-time delivery, and technical capabilities or other factors relevant to the job.

Some Agencies were enthusiastic about being able to buy their print in the near future—but many others, including several of the largest ones, said they simply do not have the staff to replace GPO’s spec writing, procurement, and contract management functions.

The Library community opposed allowing Agencies to go around GPO to buy print, and wanted regulations that would restate and reinforce requirement that a copy of all government publications be sent to the GPO’s Superintendent of Documents, who makes government information accessible to the public through 1,500 depository libraries and on the web at http://www.gpo.gov/su_docs/index.html

OMB has been considering the positions of Congress and the stakeholders. While it declined to indefinitely delay implementation of a new regulation, it abandoned the self-imposed August 30, 2002 deadline to publish the proposed regulation in order to complete its review. Whenever the proposed regulation is published, a 30-day period for public comment will precede final adoption.

Insiders expect that this careful consideration of stakeholders’ needs will result in a less dramatic change than that originally expected. The proposed regulation may not allow Agencies to go around the GPO and buy their own printing. But no one will know until the proposed regulation is published. Two things seems certain: 1) the regulation will require "best value" buying decisions, which were the foundation for OMB Director Daniel’s original memo; and 2) the regulation will contain a requirement that Agencies send a copy of all government publications to the Superintendent of Documents.

In the end, we may have a far more "cooperative" proposal than was expected—and that will be good for all the players.

Changes at GPO

For over a year before the OMB Memo, GPO has offered a Simplified Purchase Agreement (SPA) contract vehicle under which agencies can buy printing directly from any printer on the SPA that offers the best combination of price, quality, on-time delivery, and service. This program has been universally praise by printers and agencies who use it. The major problem with the GPO SPA program is that it is limited in scope, only applying to specific agencies that request GPO to grant them authority to buy on a SPA.

Recently, GPO extended the transition to a "best value" consideration of factors other than price when making contract awards. Very shortly, the GPO Term Contracts Division will be issuing Program (annual Term Contracts) that notify the bidders that the contract will be awarded based on evaluations of price, past performance, quality, timely delivery, etc. This is a major departure from the GPO’s long-standing low-bid-wins system. Agencies have confirmed that the change will likely avoid the unfortunate situation where they and the GPO are "stuck" with a low bidder who does not provide the desired quality and service for an entire year. The expectation is that the Formal Jackets (one time jobs over $50,000 in value) will follow suit, with some, many, or all of them being awarded on some type of "best value" basis, as opposed to low-bid-wins.

It is no coincidence that the change at GPO followed the OMB memo directing agencies not to buy printing unless they consider price, past performance, quality, on-time delivery, etc. in order to obtain the "best value" for the taxpayer’s dollar. Whatever the reason for the change at GPO, it appears to be welcomed by GPO’s agency customers and good print vendors.

If and how the GPO intends to apply factor other than price in awarding small purchases (one time jobs under $50,000) remains to be seen. However, senior GPO management is considering an automated system that will check the vendor’s past quality and on-time delivery record and consider those factors together with the bid price when issuing an award recommendation.

GPO will not change its policy of publicizing all printing job opportunities in order to obtain a high level of competition.

The changes at GPO seem to be philosophically aligned with the private sector printing and business background of the Public Printer nominee, Bruce James. James is still awaiting approval by the Senate prior to assuming the Public Printer position.

 

 

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