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More Information at a Lower Cost?
Posted On June 16, 2003
On his last day in office, June 6, 2003, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Mitchell Daniels and Bruce James, public printer and head of the Government Printing Office (GPO), reached an agreement allowing government agencies to deal directly with private printers while obeying the mandates of U.S. Code Title 44. Daniels resigned his post to run for governor of Indiana. Bruce James assumed his position in January 2003.

U.S.C. Title 44 specifies that all government printing be done through the GPO. In May 2002 Daniels sent a memo to agency heads directing them to choose "printing and duplicating services based on the best quality, cost and time of delivery." (See "Cost Cutting or Access Control: OMB Dismantling GPO?" Searcher, Oct. 2002; "Government Printing Tug of War Continues," NewsBreak,

The Daniels memo continued the practice of agencies using their own in-house printing plants as well as enabling them to directly seek services from printers in the private sector. The memo ignored the provisions of Title 44 and created doubts about how documents would find their way into the Federal Depository Library Program and the GPO sales program. Director Daniels claimed that the new procedures would save money for taxpayers and increase the availability of information. The alleged cost savings were based on the 7 percent surcharge added to orders by the GPO to cover the costs associated with GPO procurement and other printing related services. The memo did not deal with the costs of operating in-house printing plants or the added costs necessitated by the bid process, negotiating printing contracts, or ensuring quality control.

The Agreement signed on June 3 calls for a demonstration project to be carried out in FY 2004 ( At the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, GPO will develop a demonstration print procurement contract for an agency or department chosen by OMB. The program will feature an online system that allows federal agency GPO customers to use a one-stop and integrated system for print ordering and invoicing. Any printer registered with GPO could bid on any job placed in the system. The agency or department would select the printer based on how well submitted bids met its criteria and specifications. GPO will continue to offer additional services related to printing procurement on a cost recovery basis. Agencies and departments will deal with performance issues related to quality, timely delivery, and other issues. Payments will be routed through GPO.

The demonstration project is expected to continue throughout FY 2004. This time will be used to debug and refine the process as needed. It will be extended to all government agencies and departments in FY 2005. The Federal Acquisitions Regulation Council is expected to proceed with a proposed regulation reflecting the new procedures. The Federal Acquisitions Regulation System (FARS) was established to provide uniform procurement policies and procedures for federal agencies.

Before vendors can be paid they will be required to submit one electronic copy in a format acceptable to GPO as well as two paper copies of every document to GPO. The Superintendent of Documents will use those copies to distribute material to the Depository Libraries and the sales program. It is expected that the requirement to deposit copies with GPO and the reduction of in-house printing by agencies will help reduce the fugitive document problem that results in libraries and the sales program not having important government information available to the public.

Patrice McDermott of the American Library Association said: "The Association supports the printing agreement because the agreement, particularly the crackdown on agencies' in-house printing, will help make sure libraries get government documents. ‘This really begins to address the fugitive documents issue and it moves us a good way toward ensuring better public access to government information.'" (Friel, Brian. "Printing Office to Retain Monopoly Power." Government Executive, June 10, 2003)

Director Daniels commented: "the agreement is a victory for the American Taxpayer. Federal agencies will now be empowered to select printers that provide the best deal for the taxpayers' dollar."

Bruce James stated: "It frees federal agencies to competitively choose their own printers and creates a system to provide the American public with better access to more government information than ever before. The government is now moving the way private sector has been moving, relying increasingly on electronic information technology to create and disseminate information products. The agreement we've reached with OMB recognizes this trend by using technology to increase public access to information while providing a system for efficiently managing the buying of the government's declining printing needs, within the framework of the current law."

One of the main sources of fugitive documents is in-house printing in agencies and departments. The agreement states: "the Executive Branch will substantially limit the circumstances where agencies may rely on in-house or other Executive Branch printing operations." This area offers the greatest potential for taxpayer savings and the greatest potential for ensuring that all nonclassified government information is made available to the public.

Will the compromise work? Will the agreement result in substantial taxpayer savings? Will more information be available at lower cost? Keep reading.

Miriam A. Drake was professor emerita at the Georgia Institute of Technology Library.

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