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GPO Enters Test Period For New Printing Service

The Government Printing Office will take the first step toward an overhaul of its procurement program today by kicking off a pilot program designed to provide executive branch agencies more flexibility in obtaining printing services.

The result of a compact signed in June by GPO and Office of Management and Budget officials, the program will test an Internet-based system in which private printers register and compete for contracts.

“Agencies can set their own parameters for printing products and pick their vendors of choice based on the best value for the taxpayers and not [on] low price, as has been the tradition in the past,” said Jim Bradley, GPO’s managing director of customer services.

Through the program, executive branch agencies — starting with the Labor Department, which will serve as the guinea pig during the test period — will be able to negotiate such details as delivery dates and quality.

“We look forward to participating in this effort and we anticipate saving the taxpayers some money,” said Patrick Pizzella, the Labor Department’s assistant secretary for administration and management.

Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who chairs the Joint Printing Committee, echoed those sentiments: “This pilot program is a common-sense, good government measure that will save taxpayer dollars while increasing the efficiency of the federal government’s printing operations.”

While agencies will be able to make their own decisions on which printer to select, GPO will screen and register the private companies that wish to take part in the program, resulting in “a hybrid type of procurement,” Bradley said.

In its standard procurement process, the Government Printing Office works with 10,000 to 12,000 printers, and in the new system there will be no limit on the number of printers who may register.

Assuming there are no major difficulties with the new Web-based system, all executive branch agencies will begin using it on Oct. 1, 2004, Bradley said.

“We expect changes and modifications to be made as we go through this,” he said. “It is a test.”

Among the difficulties that GPO may encounter, Bradley said, is finding “commonality” among the variety of software and formats used in publishing.

The new program is also designed to reduce the number of fugitive documents (government publications that are not supplied to the Federal Depository Library Program), a concern previously raised by both OMB and GPO officials.

Through the June compact, OMB has agreed to shutter in-house printing plants at executive branch agencies except for work that requires a higher level of security or “convenience copying,” Bradley said. GPO has noted that documents printed in such facilities are sometimes never added to the depository library program.

“They’re going to have to review each one and decide which can really do the work in the private sector,” he added. “We don’t see closing the CIA printing plant. … We’re talking more administrative printing plants where the work could easily be done by the private sector.”

Additionally, printers taking part in the new program will agree to provide GPO with an electronic manuscript of each printing job.

“It gives us a lot more flexibility,” Bradley said. The electronic copy, something printers do not currently provide to GPO, could be used to disseminate information to 1,300 public libraries in the depository program or for use in the agency’s print-on-demand system.

During the pilot program, GPO will charge a discounted fee of 3 percent — less than half of its standard 7 percent fee — although officials have said that could be re-evaluated once the program is completed.

“We will not be doing as much of the labor, the processing cost, that will be done by the department,” Bradley said in explaining the discounted rate.

In 2001, the Bush administration issued an order seeking to eliminate requirements that executive branch agencies use GPO for printing services. GPO defended its authority, citing Title 44 of the U.S. Code, which gives the agency responsibility for the printing and information dissemination needs of Congress, as well as executive branch departments and agencies.

Public Printer Bruce James announced a settlement between GPO and the Congressional Budget Office in March.

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