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Not Coming Soon: The Federal Register

Spending law that ended shutdown hitched ride on bill to cut paper deliveries

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman wrote the Senate version of the printing legislation (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman wrote the Senate version of the printing legislation (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The legislation that ended the recent shutdown not only turned the government’s lights back on, but also took a small step toward that most elusive of goals: the paperless office. 

That’s because the vehicle for the continuing resolution that funds the government until Feb. 8 was legislation that prohibits the Government Publishing Office from distributing free printed copies of the Federal Register to congressional offices or other government employees, unless specifically requested. When congressional leaders needed a vessel to move their spending cargo, they hitched it to this otherwise innocuous bill. 

The average Federal Register has 300 pages and costs $4.50 to produce and distribute, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The CBO estimated in February 2017 that eliminating those free copies of the Federal Register would reduce spending by $1 million annually.

“This common-sense bill will save taxpayer dollars and make the federal government more efficient and effective. I am pleased that the president signed this measure into law,” Sen. Rob Portman said in a statement, which noted that the Ohio Republican sponsored the Senate version of the legislation.

The Federal Register has been available online since 1994, and advocates of the measure, including Oklahoma GOP Rep. Steve Russell, say searchable digital access satisfies the needs of congressional offices, rendering the paper copies obsolete.

House lawmakers backed an amendment by Russell and Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal barring the delivery of free Federal Register copies to House offices when considering the Legislative Branch appropriations title of a fiscal 2018 spending package in August 2017.

The same amendment was attached with little fanfare to the fiscal 2017 Legislative Branch bill in the House.

“There are too many million-dollar expenditures that happen in this government that are overlooked and unnecessary because they are not maybe big enough for folks here to take time to pay attention to,” said Kansas GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder, chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.

The Federal Register is produced daily by the GPO and compiles and organizes thousands of rules, regulations, executive orders, presidential documents and notices generated by federal departments and agencies.

Flashback: A Woman’s History Month Talk With the First Female GPO Director

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