Earlier I wrote a blog posting about the seemingly under-the-radar approach being taken in the confirmation process for the President’s nominee for the 26th Public Printer at the Government Printing Office (GPO).

The Senate Rules Committee confirmation hearing took place on May 25th as scheduled, and the public has five days to comment or add to the record.  If you didn’t watch it live, it would be well worth watching the replay.  It took less than an hour and produced interesting insight.

I was also interested in what the Printing Industries of America might be doing to monitor this process that determines the future of a government agency so important to our industry, since they are our lobbying arm, so to speak.  When I was finally able to contact Michael Makin, CEO, he responded with a very brusque, “We have no comment on this.”

Two of the most interesting parts of the hearing, in my opinion, were Boarman’s responses to Senator Warner’s questions relative to electronic versus printed documents.  In one question, Senator Warner asked, “As more documents are viewed electronically, and with increasing pricing pressure in the printing industry, how will you balance the needs of the workforce versus technology versus the pressures the GPO is under?”

Boarman’s response focused on his concern that the next fiscal year (2011) would be a deficit year for the GPO and believed he could mitigate that by expanding the GPO’s secure printing operation, which now prints passports and secure cards, to offset loss of ink on paper.  A good idea that should definitely be pursued, but it seems to miss the boat a bit.  The bigger issue, in my opinion, is how the GPO can continue to enhance the Federal Digital System (FDsys), about which I have written on WhatTheyThink many times during its development over the years.  This system provides an ideal base for making even more government documents accessible to the public, many of which do not need to be printed, or perhaps are printed but consumers of the documents would like to access authenticated digital copies for various reasons.

The second question along these lines from Senator Warner, who seems to have a good handle on the stresses our industry is undergoing, was: “The Federal Depository Library Program has a requirement to safeguard the public’s ability to know what is going on in the government.  Some depository librarians feel that the GPO is not meeting the needs of its users.  What can the GPO do to allow the FDLP to meet these goals?”

Boarman’s response was interesting: “95% of all federal documents are born digital today and never end up in the depository library program.  Everything we do to put ink on paper can be created digitally as well.  The walls are bulging with the books, but the law has to be looked at to modernize and look at the issue of so many documents being born digitally.  We can’t do it by ourselves; we need to work with Congress on changes to the law.  I don’t think we ought to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  It is a great program [FDLP], making sure people are informed about what their government does, but there are some things we can do to make it easier on the libraries.  I would meet with the librarians first, and then come to Congress with suggestions for resolution.”

Huh?  The work on FDsys was begun under the tenure of Bruce James, the 24th Public Printer, and continued by Bob Tapella, the current (25th) Public Printer.  The system is up and running and makes authenticated government documents available electronically to the FDLP and the public.  For example, the Congressional Record, which is produced daily when Congress is in session, is posted to FDsys before the presses start rolling to create the printed version for delivery the following morning.  Both James and Tapella have worked closely with the FDLP to ensure that the system meets their needs.  It includes an electronic catalog with a robust search feature.  One would have thought that this significant and important investment on the part of the GPO would have at least been mentioned in Boarman’s answer. It is so clearly a part of the solution.

Interestingly, in GPO’s 2009 annual report, the Public Printer offered to make FDsys available for broader use in a letter to President Obama, including:

  • Position GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) as the official repository for Federal Government publications;

  • Enable and support Web2.0 functionality through FDsys to support comments on pending legislation;

  • Establish a demonstration project to apply Web2.0 features to rulemaking documents;

  • Participate in and lead efforts to standardize electronic publishing formats; and

  • Link the White House Web site to FDsys for public searches of Government documents.

So far, no response … but this surely would fit nicely in the whole promise of transparency that the President touted in his campaign.  One hopes that if Boarman is confirmed, he will spend time gaining a good understanding of the system and the investment requirements necessary to keep it current and functional, as well as to continue to add functionality.

Relative to the campaign contributions to the senatorial campaign of Arkansas Lt Gov. Halter and the purported “bundling” of contributions in an attempt to unseat a sitting senator of his own party (discussed in my earlier post), Boarman claims he had nothing to do with the bundling, and simply made a $250 contribution online (on March 17, 2010) and immediately forgot about it.

I have not spoken with Mr. Boarman personally, and feel it is unlikely he will speak publicly during the confirmation process, which is probably as it should be. But should he be confirmed, I would welcome the opportunity to speak with him frequently, as I have with the two previous Public Printers, in order to keep our industry informed on developments at the GPO.  However, after listening to the hearing, one wonders if this isn’t just another one of the paybacks to the union referenced in a May 15, 2010, Wall Street Journal article entitled “Obama’s Union Favors.”

The public has five days to comment on the nomination and you can find instructions for doing so on the Senate Rules Committee web site.  I encourage you to listen to the replay and provide your comments, pro or con, to this nomination.  Get involved! Let the Senate know what you think.