James Pursues His Vision of GPO’s Future

Posted January 20, 2005 at 1:05pm

To get a sense of just how massive the Government Printing Office facility on North Capitol Street is, the aging eight-story building could fit two and a half Capitol Visitor Centers with space left over for a good-size Congressional caucus room.

In the days of floor-to-ceiling printing machinery and a GPO staff that numbered close to 10,000, the 1.5 million-square-foot facility was a necessity. But that was the 1980s. Today, as printing moves into a new age of computer generation and digital production — and with the GPO’s current staff level of about 2,400 employees — agency executives are the first to admit that the cavernous facility has simply become inefficient for the government’s current and future printing needs.

Officials say they can do their job better and cheaper in a smaller facility designed to meet the challenges of an industry that has been completely transformed by the Internet in the past decade.

But simply moving into a new building is only part of the answer. After two years on the job, Public Printer Bruce James is ready to push ahead with several sweeping changes to the 140-year-old agency.

“I told the White House that I would be here for three to five years, that I didn’t think it was possible to transform the organization in less than three years and if it took more than five they picked the wrong person,” said James, who sat down with Roll Call to discuss GPO’s just-released “Strategic Vision for the 21st Century.”

In an age where 50 percent of all U.S. government documents are published on the Internet and are never printed by the federal government, James sees it as his mission to set a new course for the agency responsible for the printing and information-dissemination needs of Congress as well as nearly 130 federal departments and agencies.

As he begins his third year with his “Strategic Vision” in hand, James says he is “right on schedule, right where I expected to be.”

Going Digital

The basis of all the changes James foresees at GPO is the development of a new digital information content system, which will be a single authoritative source for all federal documents. The content management system will authenticate all material and allow users to easily search for specific information and be used in the digital production of those documents.

“What we’re looking at now are systems that start with a roll of paper at one end and end up with a complete bound book at the other end where there’s no human intervention, and the imaging part of the system would be digital so that every page can be unique within the system,” James said. “That’s true digital production, that’s what we’re looking at building into the next iteration of the GPO.”

After a $25 million request for technology investments in the agency’s fiscal 2005 budget was turned down by lawmakers last year, James is looking to get permission to reprogram funds from previous years that have not been spent toward building the new system.

Reprogramming funds from previous years is “a common practice … and another way to switch funds from one account to another” for agencies looking to spend unused funding from previous cycles, said Jennifer Hing, spokeswoman for Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch. The reprogramming would only require permission from the committee before it could happen, she said.

“What we’re seeing here, as we become more efficient, is we need less of that money that was appropriated in the past, so what we’re doing is asking if we can use that in a slightly different way,” James said. “We could wait until after we entered the redevelopment cycle of the building, but that will be more than three years down the road and I don’t want to wait that long. I don’t think we have that long to wait.”

It’s a need, James said, that he thinks Congress understands. To create a printing operation for tomorrow he needs the investment in technology to be made today.

Office Space Available

James foresees that future work done in-house by the GPO (the agency contracts out some 90 percent of the government printing requirements it receives each year) would take place at a factory “designed for the work of the future,” requiring less than a third of the current space.

James’ vision of the new GPO includes a one-story manufacturing and processing plant — where all work can be done in one continuous line without having to move between floors, as is now the case at the North Capitol Street complex. That facility would be attached to a multi-story building housing digital computing work and office space. The connector building, James says, would most likely contain a cafeteria, medical facilities and other shared services.

The Dallas-based real estate firm Staubach Co. has already identified several potential sites for a new GPO facility in Maryland and Virginia in addition to the District of Columbia, although James said the agency would like to remain in D.C. if it can. An architectural firm is looking at each location and identifying specific space requirements for the GPO’s new operation, which will help the agency determine the actual footprint for the building. James says he hopes to have a footprint and location identified by this spring, “probably April,” and hopes to occupy the new building by 2007.

In addition, GPO is already in the process of planning a second printing and manufacturing facility at the Nevada Test Site, located near Mercury, about 60 miles north of Las Vegas. That facility would serve as a West Coast distribution center and backup to the Washington site.

“The idea being that if for some reason we couldn’t occupy Washington we could continue to produce materials at the second site,” James said, adding that he’d like to see that facility open in July 2006

To finance the moving process, James has come up with a plan to lease most of the North Capitol Street building to developers on a long-term basis. The plan is for GPO to keep its executive offices there and develop what James calls a “working museum” that would showcase the history of American printing.

Once his agency gets into its new facility, James says GPO will begin to reduce its annual appropriations from Congress, possibly by as much as 30 percent by 2009.

“I’m not sure that many other agencies are talking about reducing their appropriations, and I don’t know of any other agencies that have reduced their employment by 20 percent in two years either,” he says.

Growth Spurt

While the “Strategic Vision” outlines six major business groups around which the new GPO will be restructured, James notes that the two largest and fastest growing sectors will be the Security and Intelligent Documents and the Digital Media Services divisions.

Within five years, James projects that security documents will account for half of all the value added of the manufacturing done by GPO. From incorporating microchips in newly minted passports to printing the tickets to inauguration ceremonies, this group will work with federal agencies to assist in the design, production and distribution of highly secure documents. While much of the agency has seen a decline in staffing needs, this 40-person division is expected to quadruple in size by 2007.

The Digital Media Services division, a 25-person group expected to grow to some 300 people by 2007, will be responsible for assisting federal agencies in working within the digital content system. One of the first tasks for this division will be to digitize every federal document, beginning with the Federalist Papers, and incorporating them into the GPO’s new system.

And as the new content system comes on line, GPO’s other new business groups — customer services, library services and content management, publication and information sales, and official journals of the government — will be phased in over a period of about two years.

“Every single day we’ve got new things that we’re implementing here that are making it easier for our customers,” said James, who gives himself three more years to accomplish his goal. “This is not a career for me. I came here to accomplish a task, and I want to get that task done in a prompt and efficient way and then move on with my life. … What I’ve said is that within three years that the job will be completed in terms of transforming this into a digitally based production organization.”