Congress and OMB Continue to Spar over GPO
Thursday, October 03, 2002
October 3, 2002 -- (WhatTheyThink.com, Special thanks to Frederic G Antoun Jr. for his insight into this topic.) -- In late August 2002, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) pulled publication of a proposed Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) section that gave Agencies the option to buy their own print. At the same time, the Government Printing Office (GPO) announced it would begin the transition to "best value" type awards, responding to OMB’s May 3, 2002 demand that factors other than price be considered on print purchases. In September, a seemingly reliable rumor surfaced: OMB’s new regulation was not going to give Agencies the option of going around GPO and buying their own print. This seemed reasonable, since GPO was transitioning to best value, as OMB desired, and since GPO buys only after open competition now favored by OMB, and since GPO is already structured to award most of its contracts to small business, in keeping with OMB’s goal of increasing small business’ share of Federal purchases. Insiders expected a new FAR Section that would require best value type print procurement, not discuss GPO, and require Agencies to furnish an electronic copy of all "government publications" to GPO’s Superintendent of Documents, to make libraries and open access people happy. But no new proposed FAR Section was published. So just in case it was wrong about where OMB was going, Congress felt it had to get some "follow the law and use GPO" provision into the Continuing Resolutions that fund the government until the Appropriations bills are passed. Section 117 of the Continuing Resolution (H.J. Res. 111) introduced September 25, 2002 by Rep Bill Young, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, reads: Sec. 117. None of the funds made available under this Act, or any other Act, shall be used by an Executive agency to implement any activity in violation of section 501 of title 44, United States Code. This apparently made OMB angry. Amy Call, OMB Spokesperson, said Agencies could ignore Section 117. That made key House members angry. If this sounds like a trivial dispute, consider that the President of the United States issued a ‘Signing Statement" when he approved H.J. Res. 111, stating: The longstanding position of the executive branch, memorialized in a May 1996 opinion by the Department of Justice, is that this language [the law requiring Agencies to buy print through GPO] violates the constitutional principles of separation of powers and therefore is not binding on the executive branch. Despite the re-heating of this longstanding dispute, GPO continues to move ahead on best value type award procedures, under a verbal commitment to do so irrespective of any new FAR revision. It will review and discuss best value type award transition with Agency customers at the InterAgency Council meeting on October 17. GPO upgrades and modernization will no doubt continue at full speed under the capable direction of Bruce James, whose Confirmation as Public Printer will be the subject of a Senate Rules Committee Hearing on October 3, 2002. We also expect that after the heat dies, OMB Director Daniels and his staff will concentrate on providing the best print procurement system for Federal Agencies and small businesses—and, right now, that is the "new" GPO. This report was submitted to WhatTheyThink.com by Frederic G Antoun Jr.