The Government Printing Office is requesting the biggest percent increase of any legislative branch agency for fiscal 2008, but a GPO-themed appropriations hearing Tuesday focused on something not included in that budget proposal — a new building.
GPO officials have long advocated a move from their massive industrial-era complex on North Capitol Street to a smaller facility that would better address the needs of a 21st century print shop — a move officials said could save the government about $35 million a year.
Their goal is to either sell or lease the facility and use that money to pay for the costs of a new building, with no additional appropriations needed from Congress.
But to make that possible, Congress must pass legislation to make sure the money from a sale or lease is not given directly to the Treasury, agency officials testified.
“We need specific legislation in order to keep the money,” said Bob Tapella, the GPO’s chief of staff.
Led by then-Public Printer Bruce James, GPO officials spent much of the 109th Congress working with Members on the Joint Committee on Printing to come up with proper language for a bill, Tapella said. (A May 2006 report conducted by the Congressional Budget Office found that such a move could cost up to $320 million.)
But such legislation never was introduced, and the new panel is made up of different Members from that Congress. Tradition dictates that the joint committee would need to be the body such a bill comes out of, Tapella added.
“It’s a significant priority,” Tapella said. “This will be one of the first things we bring to the committee.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, gave her initial support for a move, telling GPO officials that “it would be a shame if another Congress goes by” and something isn’t done.
She pledged to talk to Democratic Members on the Printing Committee about the issue and asked her ranking member, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), to talk to those on the Republican side.
When the agency last thoroughly examined building sites a few years ago, 23 sites within the metropolitan Washington, D.C., region were found, Tapella said. Of those, nine were inside D.C., an important factor because GPO officials would like to stay within the capital.
It will take the agency approximately three years to make the transition to a new facility, Tapella testified, adding that officials are not sure if they would buy or lease a new building.
Wamp suggested the agency look into employing a hybrid between leasing and owning whatever facility becomes its new location. That would lessen certain responsibilities such as building maintainence while also ensuring the agency has a long-term home, Wamp said.
A similar method was undertaken by officials at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in his home state of Tennessee, for example.
“Once you get off the campus of Capitol Hill, that’s the way to do it,” Wamp said.
In the meantime, GPO officials are asking for money in their 2008 budget to repair their current facility.
Acting Public Printer William Turri told appropriators the agency needs about $4 million for building fixes, including funding for new elevators and roof repairs.
“When it rains, we know it’s going to leak somewhere,” Turri said. “We just don’t know where.”
In all, the agency is requesting $182 million, about a 48 percent increase over fiscal 2007 funding. The bulk of that money — about $110 million — will go for Congressional printing and binding needs, Turri said.
“It’s the work that we do for Congress everyday,” Turri said, adding that wage and material increases, coupled with Congress’ moving to a five-day-a-week schedule, has created added costs.
“Whether Congress has the ability to pay us or not, we do the work,” Tapella added.
Other funding requests would help update the agency’s equipment, a move that potentially would save money in the long-run, Turri testified.
He also pointed out that the total appropriations request amounts to only 20 percent of the agency’s total budget — officials expect the GPO to bring in about $880 million in revenue this year.
Wamp asked the GPO officials if it is possible for them to cut printing costs in any way.
Such cuts wouldn’t come directly from the GPO, Tapella said, but rather Members themselves.
“You need to look at the legislative process and the traditions of the House,” he said, explaining that from the time a bill is introduced to when it becomes a law, the GPO deals with the legislation in one way or another at least 10 times.
While Wasserman Schultz praised the management of the agency, she said appropriators would have a difficult time funding their entire request. At the end of the hearing, she asked GPO officials to give the panel a list of their mandatory costs, along with a two-page fact sheet on new buildings and the Congressional action needed.
“We’re going to have a hard time putting this puzzle together,” Wamp added. “There are more pieces to the puzzle than there are size and frame.”
Wasserman Schultz also took an opportunity to jab another legislative branch group at the hearing.
When Wamp asked Turri how much additional work he had taken on since becoming acting public printer, Turri responded that he has managed fairly well.
“Can you give the Architect a lesson?” Wasserman Schultz replied, referencing acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers, who has come under fire from the chairwoman and others in recent weeks.