A Printer Makes His Mark: GPO Has Been Transformed, Thanks to the Indelible Leadership of Bruce James

By Fillichio, Carl A. | The Public Manager, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

A Printer Makes His Mark: GPO Has Been Transformed, Thanks to the Indelible Leadership of Bruce James


Fillichio, Carl A., The Public Manager


Some people take up golf when they retire. Others head for a warmer climate and collect a monthly pension. Bruce James had a different idea. In 1993, at age fifty, he "retired" from business to devote his time to public service in the government and nonprofit sectors in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The next year, he founded Nevada New-Tech, Inc., which invested in technology-based new enterprises throughout his home state.

Less than a decade later, President George W Bush nominated him to the position of Public Printer of the United States. He was confirmed by the Senate on November 22, 2004. During his tenure, he transformed the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) into a state-of-the-art enterprise and the epicenter of technological change. Not exactly your typical retirement.

As the nation's twenty-fourth Public Printer, James serves as the chief executive officer of GPO, one of the oldest and most venerable federal agencies. He oversees production and distribution of information products and services for all three branches of the federal government. Many of the country's most important information products, such as the Congressional Record and Federal Register are produced at GPO's main plant located five blocks from the Capitol. This 1.5-million-square-foot complex is the largest information processing, printing, and distribution facility in the world.

Since its inception in 1813, GPO has offered Congress, the courts, and federal agencies a set of centralized services to enable them to easily and cost-effectively produce printed documents according to a uniform set of federal government specifications. In a nutshell, GPO is at the center of everything. And today, it's the center of major innovation, and heralded as an agency that achieves real results. But that wasn't always the case.

When James took over, he inherited a $100 million deficit from the previous five years, out-of-date printing technology, and, worse still, an outmoded management culture. Customers were unhappy, and so were those in Congress who oversee GPO. He had his work cut out for him. Negotiating with his unions, he cut GPO's workforce by 30 percent, a huge cost savings.

But according to James, formulation of a strategic plan was the linchpin to GPO's success. To construct the strategic vision, officials consulted with representatives of the agency's multiplicity of stakeholders, including Congress, government publishing agencies, the printing industry, libraries, and GPO employees and unions. The result was a vision for the future that was supported across GPO's constituencies. James also revamped GPO's management structure, a move central to realizing its vision.

One key element of the plan was preparing GPO's workforce to manage a newly equipped and modern facility. James and his team developed the internal talent to utilize best business practices to achieve strategic goals and objectives, and provided training that focused on managing across boundaries and taking innovative approaches to measure results in the public interest.

As part of GPO's professional development focus, the agency in 2003 sent a cohort of high-performing, non-Senior Executive Service managers through The Council for Excellence in Government's Fellows Program (www.excelgov.org), a year-long leadership development opportunity geared to developing the next wave of focused, results-oriented public servants. Since 2003, more than thirty GPO managers have gone through the program. James uses these graduates as special advisors, for a cross-section sounding board, and on special project teams.

Earlier this year, James announced his intention to retire from GPO. On September 26, 2006, he gave a remarkable speech at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)--his alma mater--which reflects on his tenure and leadership style. We are honored to share the speech with readers of The Public Manager.

From the Founding Fathers to the Digital Age: A Look at the Latest American Revolution

Bruce R. …

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