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GPO Seeks Radical Overhaul

Last Thursday’s “industry day” at the Government Printing Office brought out most of the private sector’s heavy hitters when it comes to building and maintaining digital systems.

Lockheed Martin, Kodak, Xerox, Google, Hewlett Packard and representatives from some 75 other companies from across the United States were on hand to learn about the GPO’s concept and requirements for its next generation information management system.

It’s an ambitious undertaking. The new digital system will not only be a single authoritative source for a digital version of every government document from the Federalist Papers forward, but it also will be a 21st-century authentication and access control system. And most importantly, backers of the effort say, the new system represents the foundation for a new way of doing business in an industry that has been completely transformed by the Internet in the past decade.

Roughly a year ago, the GPO released its “Strategic Vision for the 21st Century” in which the almost 200-year-old agency laid out a plan for keeping America informed in an age when an estimated 50 percent of all government documents are “born” digital, published on the Web and are never actually printed by the federal government.

That vision spells out the need to create a new digital content system, build a more efficient printing and digital information factory, train the GPO’s work force in new digital information skills and reorganize the GPO around business lines to make the agency a more efficient and customer-driven agency. It’s a process that when he joined the GPO in November 2002 Public Printer Bruce James said would take three to five years.

But the GPO can’t accomplish these major transformations on its own. The agency’s Congressional oversight committees will have to grant approval on a number of changes called for in the strategic vision proposal, not the least of which is a plan to move the agency to a new location off of Capitol Hill. And that oversight may have an affect on James’ timeline.

“Yes, legislation would be necessary for the GPO to move as described in Bruce James’ strategic plan,” said Susan Irby, spokesperson for Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who is chairman of both the Joint Committee on Printing and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which both have oversight of the agency.

Irby said both committees “are thoroughly reviewing this very complex plan. There are a lot of significant issues that need to be resolved and, as a result, it will likely not be something that can be fast-tracked and will likely require hearings.”

But last week’s “industry day” marked a major milestone as the GPO moves forward with those aspects of the strategic vision it can accomplish on its own.

“We are looking at how we will accomplish our mission using 21st-century technology,” James told industry representatives last week. “This is a big undertaking on our part and we want to draw on the most knowledgeable people in the country to get this done.”

After last week’s presentation on the GPO’s requirements, the agency will spend the rest of the month collecting feedback from the private sector on the digital content system project and hopes to release a formal request for proposals by Dec. 1. An ambitious timeline follows in which the GPO plans to award a contract on the project by February 2006 and establish core functionality of the new digital system by July of that year. Public access to the system could be established as early as January 2007, with final functionality planned for July 2007.

The entire project is expected to cost somewhere around $29 million, with a $5 million yearly sustainment cost. It’s a price tag that the GPO expects to be able to cover after receiving authority from Congress this past summer to reprogram $20 million in funds from previous fiscal cycles toward the creation of the new system.

Meanwhile, GPO Chief of Staff Bob Tapella explained in a recent interview that several other changes called for in the strategic vision already are happening, one of the most important being new employee training programs. In the fiscal 2006 appropriation cycle, Congress granted the GPO $2 million of a requested $5 million for teaching employees new digital skills.

“Twenty-seven employees will begin training in digital convergent services in October,” Tapella said. “This $2 million is really geared toward training our work force in new digital skills. This is not training for general management or training for your existing job. This is a new way of doing business.”

Meanwhile, the GPO has been working with the Staubach real estate advisory firm — which is run by legendary NFL quarterback Roger Staubach — over the past year to lay the groundwork for moving the agency’s base of operations out of its eight-story, 1.5 million square-foot plant on Capitol Hill and into a more efficient one-story 200,000 square-foot plant in the D.C. metro area.

“Our goal is to stay in the District of Columbia,” Tapella said, but added “we’ve also looked at sights in Maryland and Virginia.”

In asking Congress for legislation to go ahead with the move, Tapella said the agency has proposed leasing out the current GPO site on North Capitol Street northwest to finance the new facility.

“What we are proposing to do rather than doing a fee simple sale of this building is that the government could retain title to the land and do a long-term lease,” probably in the area of 70 years, Tapella said. “My understanding from Staubach is that every major developer in this country has expressed interest in this site. This is possibly the single most valuable piece of urban real estate for redevelopment.”

Tapella said the building and moving process for the new facility would take about two years once a site was found and Congressional authority was granted. It is hoped that the building of a new plant in the Washington area would happen in conjunction with the creation of a second major GPO facility that would be serve as the main production center for many of the GPO’s most secure documents, such as passports, and would also act as a backup to the Washington site.

“I believe that this fall we will make a final decision on where we are looking at for an auxiliary facility,” Tapella said.

But in the meantime, “we are on track with training and we are on track as much as we can be with legislative authority. I’m amazed at just how successful we’ve been in just nine months” since the release of the “strategic vision,” Tapella said.

“We believe in a no-surprises rule,” he said. We’re being open and transparent as we transform this agency.”

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