Government Printing Office Reform: A Plan of Mismanagement of Information
Press release from the issuing company
August 8, 2002 -- (Reprinted with Permission from OMBWatch.org) -- The Government Printing Office (GPO) has operated as the sole clearinghouse and manager of most federal documents for years. The GPO is responsible not only for overseeing the printing of the multitude of documents produced by the federal government each year, much of which is contracted out to private printers, but also for ensuring that the documents are properly archived with federal depository libraries. However a recent order from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has instructed all 130 federal departments and agencies using the GPO to arrange their own printing beginning September 1.
The stated reason behind this directive is cost savings. According to OMB, the move, which will cost GPO 1,500 jobs -- half its workforce -- and two-thirds of its annual $712 million in revenue, may save taxpayers money, as much as $50 million a year. In other words the plan might shave almost 40 cents off each of the nearly 130 million individual tax returns currently being filed in the United States.
Little is mentioned about what this plan may cost the American people. Indeed some claim that the plan will waste money and cost taxpayers more as each department is forced to duplicate the GPO’s expertise in contracting out private printing work. The largest printing trade association, Printing Industries of America, opposes OMB’s directive, complaining that bidding to every agency individually will put smaller printers at a serious disadvantage.
Looking past the issue of tax dollars, this plan could make our government less transparent. It is possible that the decentralization of printing and management of federal documents will make it even more difficult to trace government documents. The move could mean that even fewer government documents would be publicly available. Many of the major librarian associations openly oppose the plan for just these reasons.
The issue has become a highly political struggle between the executive and legislative branches, especially since GPO is a legislative branch agency. Congress has shown its disapproval of the plans in three recent reports accompanying the Senate Legislative Branch appropriations bill and the Senate and House Treasury, Postal Service, and general government bills. There has even been talk that the matter may require going to the Supreme Court for a solution.
However, as political wrangling over cost and control continue, the most important issue -- access to government information -- risks getting lost in the shuffle. The GPO has done more than just print government documents over the years; it has acted as a critical point in the dissemination of information to the public and in increasing the accountability of the federal government. No price can be put on the importance of that role, certainly not 40 cents.
The Watcher August 5, 2002, Vol. 3 No. 16
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