GPO Mulls Name Change in PR Offensive

Posted March 18, 2011 at 5:59pm

When William Boarman took his post as the public printer in January, he stumbled right into the hot seat. 

Just when President Barack Obama put him at the head of the Government Printing Office through a recess appointment, Members looking to cut spending were threatening to ax the legislative agency entirely and bashing its paper-based mission as a waste of taxpayer dollars. 

Several months later, Boarman is fighting back and fortifying a defense for his agency. He’s cautiously eyeing fiscal conservatives but hopes that education about the GPO’s mandate and perhaps an agency name change will restore the printing office to good favor.

It’s an uphill battle for Boarman, who until recently has limited his public comments in hopes of avoiding negative attention. He is, after all, still awaiting Senate confirmation.

But keeping quiet is no longer an option for the former senior vice president of the Communications Workers of America as pressure on the GPO has grown.

The Stop the Over Printing Act — a bill that would end a requirement that the GPO print hard copies of Congressional bills and resolutions — passed the House unanimously in January. A companion Senate bill is sitting in committee. 

Before that, Rep. Jack Kingston wondered aloud whether the GPO was even a necessary agency.

“Do we still need a Government Printing Office?” asked the Georgia Republican, the former chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, which oversees the agency’s funding.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) similarly proposed elimination of the GPO in January.

Such proposals are unwarranted in the public printer’s eyes. He’s taking his case to the Hill, trying to swing favor his way by framing the GPO as more of an information agency. 

“It’s not always clear what we do,” Boarman said Thursday during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. “We’re not just a printing agency. We are the digital platform for the entire federal government.”

The bulk of the GPO’s costs lie in digitizing, he said, not printing. Using the Congressional Record as an example, Boarman said 70 percent of production cost is used to digitize legislation, schedules and other federal records, while less than 30 percent is used to print hard copies. 

Subcommittee Chairman Ben Nelson  said the agency’s name gives the impression that the bulk of the GPO’s work is manual printing. That perception, the Nebraska Democrat added, is the reason many of his colleagues have attacked the GPO’s budget, saying it wastes tax dollars on unused paper. 

But Boarman said the agency’s “outdated” name may soon be swapped for a title that more accurately reflects the GPO’s mandate and role in the digital age, a change he hopes will lessen pressure from fiscal conservatives. 

“Clearly the GPO is no longer a government printing office,” he told Roll Call. “It’s more of an information office or a publishing house or something like that.” 

While that’s in the works, Boarman’s chatting with Members on the House and Senate Appropriations committees and the GPO oversight panels to discuss the agency’s mission.

His appeal takes on a debunking tone. He tells Members that the GPO has slowed paper printing drastically, including copies of the Congressional Record, which has declined from 20,000 copies a day in 1994 to 3,700 copies today.

He tells them that the GPO has also shrunk its workforce from 8,000 to 2,200 employees over the past 25 years. He shares the cost difference between pages printed by staffers in-office and those mass-produced by the agency — 7 cents compared with less than a penny per page.

Mostly Boarman focuses on the GPO’s electronic mandate. All online PDFs of the federal budget, committee hearing discussions and testimonies, proposed bills, presidential speeches and orders, and more come from the GPO, making it invaluable, he said. 

“Congress can’t operate or open its doors without us giving Members the materials and resources they need to legislate,” he said.

As for printing, Boarman said the GPO will stop printing when Members and committees do. If people read reports from their computers, the GPO wouldn’t have to print anything, he said. But he doesn’t think that’s realistic, and when committees print their own copies, they end up wasting more money.

Boarman said that most Members receive him positively and that he’s certain “once our story is told,” animosity toward the agency will decrease. 

“Things are getting better,” he said. “There will always be people who say, ‘Let’s get rid of GPO,’ but we have a lot of friends in the Congress. We certainly expect that we’ll be funded at a fair level, and we’ll be around for a long time.”