The Government Battle over Printing: OMB versus GPO and Why It Matters to Libraries and the Public. (Leading Libraries)

By Helfer, Doris Small | Searcher, March 2003 | Go to article overview

The Government Battle over Printing: OMB versus GPO and Why It Matters to Libraries and the Public. (Leading Libraries)


Helfer, Doris Small, Searcher


The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), headed by Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., issued Memorandum No. M-02-07 entitled "Procurement of Printing and Duplicating through the Government Printing Office" (GPO) on May 3, 2002 (1). This memorandum called for amendments to the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) that would allow governmental agencies to procure printing outside of GPO. The proposed amendments were published in the Federal Register, Vol. 67, No. 219, November 13, 2002, 68914-8 (case 2002-011 and available online at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/gpo_proposed rule_revised.pdf) and requested that public comment be made by December 13, 2002.

In 1996, during the Clinton administration, the Department of Justice's Legal Counsel issued an opinion stating that executive agencies could ignore the law mandating the use of the Government Printing Office (2). Seems the current Bush administration has finally found one opinion of the Clinton administration that it liked. However, ultimately, the Supreme Court decides on the constitutionality of a law, not the Department of Justice.

Accessible government information is an essential principle of a democratic society a valuable public good created at taxpayer expense. James Madison, the founding father known as the "Father of the Constitution," was also the foremost advocate for openness and access to government information. He wrote, "The right of freely examining public characters and measures has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right." He also wrote in 1832, "A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both."

The Government Printing Office has been responsible for printing and distributing government documents since 1860. Tide 44, Section 501 of the United States Code states that all printing for Congress, the Executive Branch, all independent agencies and the Judiciary other than the Supreme Court shall be done by the GPO. The American public's primary source of free access to federal government information comes through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP). This program is administered by GPO and provides for the distribution of U.S. government publications to a network of more than 1,300 public, academic, law, federal, and other libraries covering every congressional district. These documents can be used by the public free of charge. Participating libraries serve an estimated 9.5 million people each year in the library, by phone, and electronically.

A new Public Printer, Bruce James, was nominated earlier this year by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate. Mr. James has a strong background in the printing industry and a visionary agenda for the GPO. He intends to do more with electronic information and will actively work on pursuing the goals that all depository librarians want, according to the outgoing Superintendent of Documents, Francis Buckley. Mr. James, replaced Michael F. DiMario. He has appointed Judy Russell, formerly the deputy director of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) as the new Superintendent of Documents, replacing Mr. Francis Buckley.

As one of his first acts as Public Printer, Mr. James set up a direct meeting with OMB's Daniels early in December 2002 to discuss the issues between the agencies. Although their conversation did not result in a resolution of the crisis, Mr. James did discuss and clarify issues with Mr. Daniels. Mr. James explained why GPO already gets good volume discounts and why it believes the OMB claims of being able to save from $50 to $70 million dollars is not accurate. Many differences between OMB and GPO represent ideological, philosophical, and control issues reflecting statements by Bush administration officials that government needs to become more efficient, like the private sector.

Electronic information dissemination has become a key component of the FDLP and now makes it possible to deliver more products to libraries and their patrons than ever before. …

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