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House Administration Committee Explores Rebranding, Reworking GPO

Rebranding the Government Printing Office as the Government Publishing Office is one strategy that could help the 152-year-old federal agency cope with a changing information landscape.

But a name change alone “just doesn’t seem like enough to me,” said House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., during a Wednesday hearing on the GPO’s future.

According to a report issued by the National Academy of Public Administration, the GPO will run out of cash it uses to offset its operating losses and maintain current investment levels in fiscal 2020 without significant changes to its operational structure — from the size and skills of its 1,900-person workforce to property management at its North Capitol Street headquarters.

Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks rejected those findings in her first testimony to Congress since being sworn in on Aug. 21, saying the academy — an independent, nonpartisan organization established by Congress to help public institutions face management challenges — was “presenting an acid test” that assumed worst-case scenarios and ignored staff reductions and cost-cutting initiatives that have reduced overhead expenses to 2008 levels.

But she sounded open to exploring a variety of other business changes, including leasing out office space, merging the agency’s security forces with another law enforcement agency and switching names.

“This name is limited,” Vance-Cooks said. “Our current name does not adequately describe who we are, it does not adequately describe what we do. We are so much more than that.”

Government Publishing Office would better convey the broad range of products and services the agency sells, including e-books, mobile apps, website designs and posting, to earn the bulk of its revenue, she said. Unlike other congressional agencies, only 16 percent of the GPO’s funding comes from congressional appropriations.

Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., pointed out that technology has dramatically changed consumer demand for federal documents.

“I’ve been in Congress now for five years and in that time my office has discontinued receiving print editions of the Federal Register, the Congressional Record, committee reports, as well as bills and public laws,” Harper said. “With that kind of fundamental change in demand from primary customers, I think we all understand the challenges that you and your organization face.”

House Administration ranking member Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., questioned Vance-Cooks on whether the agency could trim some of the costs associated with leasing its 1.5-million-square-foot headquarters. About 250,000 square feet of that space is unusable, and 100,000 square feet are being leased to other tenants.

The GPO hopes to lease out another 70,000 square feet in the near future, Vance-Cooks said.

“I know you don’t want to move,” Miller said in her closing remarks, before encouraging Vance-Cooks to “be more aggressive” in use of space.

“Technology has changed very rapidly, so physical space has changed very rapidly,” Miller said. She wagged her BlackBerry over the dais as an example. “What fits in the BlackBerry, 40 years ago probably would’ve taken up more than a quarter of this room.”

Miller also noted a rather large line-item in the GPO’s budget — about $6 million dedicated for security. The GPO has its own police force and that $6 million funds salaries and related expenses. Miller asked if the Capitol Police or another law enforcement agency could meet the agency’s needs, an idea that was also suggested in the mid-1990s.

GPO police officers have similar training and salaries to Capitol Police, according to Andrew M. Sherman, chief of staff for the GPO. The North Capitol Street headquarters also falls within Capitol Police jurisdiction, he said.

When the idea was raised on Wednesday, Vance-Cooks received it as she did nearly all recommendations for the transitioning agency. It’s a suggestion she said she is “open to discussing.”

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