Cost Cutting or Access Control: OMB Dismantling GPO?

By Drake, Miriam A. | Searcher, October 2002 | Go to article overview

Cost Cutting or Access Control: OMB Dismantling GPO?


Drake, Miriam A., Searcher


Since 1813, people seeking federal government information have relied on depository libraries. In the earliest days, government documents were deposited in selected university and other libraries. The Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) was established in its current configuration in 1865. The notion of readily available government information for people has a long tradition that has delivered value to the people through the partnership of 1,300 depository libraries and the FDLP. Depository libraries spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to process, house, maintain, and disseminate online government information and documents in print and microform.

The Superintendent of Documents, an official of the U.S. Government Printing Office, is responsible for the distribution of government documents through the FDLP, as well as sales through government bookstores and directly to the people. In FY 2001, the Superintendent of Documents distributed more than 30.1 million publications through sales and the FDLP. In addition, there were more than 355 million downloads of documents from GPO Access.

OMB's Proposal

U.S. Code Title 44 section 501 states, "All printing, binding, and blank book work for Congress, the Executive Office, the Judiciary, other than the Supreme Court of the United States, and every executive department, independent office, and establishment of Government, shall be done at the Government Printing Office (GPO)." For more than 20 years, various administrations have challenged the GPO "monopoly" on printing under the guise of saving money. The money-saving arguments have rarely addressed fully, or at all, issues related to the costs of printing and methods of distribution and dissemination of information to the taxpayers who have paid to have the information created and published. The proponents of decentralized printing have neglected to acknowledge that agencies will incur extra costs administering a printing program carried out in-house or through contracts with private printers. Distribution through the FDLP and the sales program and critical issues of preservation and access usually are ignore d when the cost-cutting arguments are being made.

A May 12, 2002, memo to executive departments and agencies from Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), represents the latest attempt to decentralize printing and publication. In the memo, Mr. Daniels directed agency heads to select "printing and duplicating services based on the best quality, cost, and time of delivery." A footnote in the Daniels' memo stated that government agencies "shall continue to ensure that all government publications" be made available to the FDLP through the Superintendent of Documents. It is not clear how this requirement will be enforced.

Mr. Daniels' memo neglected to address sales of documents. Most agencies do not have authority to sell documents and recover some costs. The Superintendent of Documents is authorized to sell documents and realizes some cost recovery through sales. Business and industry rely on the Internet and the sales program for documents, such as congressional and agency reports and congressional hearings. Downloading and local printing may not be the most efficient way for a business to acquire documents of more than 15 or 20 pages.

Separation of Powers

So how can a federal agency directive override statutory law?

One argument made in favor of shifting printing to executive branch agencies is based on the separation of powers embodied in the U.S. Constitution. The GPO is responsible to the Congress, the legislative branch, not to the President, the executive branch, though the Public Printer is appointed by the President subject to Senate confirmation. The Public Printer appoints the Superintendent of Documents. Exceptions to the Title 44 mandate to use the GPO for printing may be made by the Joint Committee on Printing on a case-by-case basis. …

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