James Juggles Present, Future at Printing Office

Posted March 5, 2004 at 5:54pm

Sitting in a black leather armchair in his eighth-floor suite at the Government Printing Office headquarters, Bruce James reels off an extensive list of projects his agency will tackle in the coming months.

The Public Printer explains a variety of technology-based programs, then goes on to touch on the agency’s business plans and even real estate as GPO is contemplating a move out of its longtime North Capitol Street home.

If it seems as though James, sworn in as head of GPO a little more than a year ago, is attempting to complete simultaneous sweeping changes on all fronts, perhaps it’s because he knows he is working against a deadline.

“The agency would not benefit from me being here more than five years,” James states matter-of-factly. “You need the next generation. I’ll get the transformation set up, I’ll get it going in the right direction. But then it will require a slightly different kind of person, it won’t require all the upset that I bring.”

In response to speculation that the one-time Republican Senate candidate could seek a Nevada office following his GPO service, James responded: “Yes, I have people who regularly come in here from Nevada to meet with me and say, ‘Why don’t you run for the Senate, why don’t you run for the governor, why don’t you run for these things?’ But as I say to them, this is not the right time to talk about it, I don’t have an interest right now in doing anything like that. I’m here to get this job done. When I go home I’ll talk about it.”

During his 14 months at the printing agency, James has often noted that he wants to run GPO “like a business,” in part reflecting his long career in the printing industry.

The agency is moving toward James’ vision, in part, through a multiyear process that will produce its new business management plan.

Although the printing agency is nearing completion of the “fact-finding” stage, the initial step in creating its new business plan, James said GPO will wait for a related General Accounting Office report before moving ahead.

“We’ve done a very good job, I think, of getting out there and talking with folks and getting ideas from virtually every one of our stakeholders: We’ve talked with our unions, we’ve talked with the printing industry, we’ve talked with the information industry, we’ve discussed it with the library industry, and with Congress,” James noted. Under Title 44 of the U.S. Code, GPO is responsible for the printing and information-dissemination needs of Congress, as well as nearly 130 federal departments and agencies.

The GAO’s report, requested by the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, is expected in late March or April.

In the meantime, James said he sees success in other changes at the agency — “I am absolutely surprised at the progress we’ve made,” he admits — including an internal reorganization initiated shortly after his arrival. That move created GPO’s first-ever chief operating officer post, allowing the Public Printer to take on the role of chief executive officer.

“The reorganization is taking hold and everybody is moving forward, working well together as a team,” asserted James, who credits numerous individual staff members, but also support from GPO’s labor unions, with that success.

Those initial steps have won praise from Joint Printing Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who said recently James has prompted “great changes” at the printing office.

“Finally, it’s going toward the actual modernization of GPO,” said Ney, who also said he will hold a hearing intended to showcase the agency’s transformation. “This isn’t Gutenberg’s [printing] press anymore.”

Additionally, James pointed to the popularity of a voluntary retirement program, which drew 600 applications for only 300 spots. In response, the agency will offer a second buyout for another 250 workers (52 percent of GPO’s employees were eligible for retirement in early 2003).

“My concern here has been to get the net employment down because we have more people that we need with the current technologies,” said James. Once both programs are complete, the 2,300-person agency will have trimmed its payrolls by 500 employees.

Too Old, Too Big

In a related move, GPO officials recently announced an effort to relocate the printing agency from the North Capitol Street facility it has occupied for 144 years.

The four-building headquarters — a 1.5 million-square-foot facility — was sufficient for GPO’s one-time staff of 8,500 employees, James said, but it has simply become too large for the agency’s current needs.

“When I came in the door here and walked around this plant, I was sort of staggered by how old it was and how expensive it is to maintain it,” James said. GPO estimates show it will cost between $275 million and $530 million over the next five to 10 years to maintain the facility. “I look at all these elevators, elevators everywhere, old elevators, some 100 years old that require almost full-time attention to keep them operating.”

Efforts to relocate GPO date back to the 1960s, James noted, but he expects a “very hot real estate market” to play an integral role in the latest attempt.

“In the past they’ve not looked at this — the land and buildings that we have — as an asset that can generate the resources to do something new,” James said. “And they’ve gone to Congress and asked for appropriated funds to do this.”

Under a plan outlined by James, GPO would maintain ownership of its buildings and land, located five blocks from the Capitol, while leasing the property to developers on a long-term basis. It would use profits from the arrangement to fund a new facility in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

“We should receive sufficient money to build a new headquarters for GPO and equip it exactly the way I want it equipped for the future,” said James, who would like to see GPO move into its new building by 2007.

Tackling Technology

In searching for a new headquarters, James will focus on smaller facilities that better fit GPO’s move toward digital information, rather than a hulking structure designed for traditional ink-on-paper printing.

With increasing amounts of material “born digital” — electronically created documents which may not be intended for print — issues of preservation and authentication have moved to the forefront of GPO’s agenda.

“We realize that we’ve got to increase our capacity and improve the way that we deliver information on the Internet,” James said. Currently, GPO’s Web site registers 1 million document downloads a day. “That amounts to billions of pages a year downloaded through the GPO gateway.”

In the area of authentication, being able to verify the legitimacy of a digital document, James acknowledged: “We’ve got much work to do.”

Currently, GPO’s Office of Innovation and New Technology, which focuses on preservation, authentication and “versioning,” is working with the National Archives Administration and the Federal Register to examine methods of authentication.

“We need to do more experimenting, more understanding of the whole process of authentication, particularly with documents where a person might want to download a portion of a document rather then the entire document,” James added.

Both the issues of authentication and preservation, James asserted, will also require work in the area of “information standards,” which include an alphanumeric character set, coding of data for paragraph and sentence form, as well as so-called metadata, information on the document and its creator.

“We’re going to find it necessary to create standards for the government,” James said, noting that while some federal agencies have created their own criteria, a more universal standard is needed.

In its fiscal 2005 budget request, GPO is seeking a $25 million “technology investment,” intended to focus on several of those issues, which James categorized as “next-generation government information systems.”

“It’s likely the government will require the record of America to be more extensive than what we’ve done in the past,” James said.