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Blistering Report on the GPO Issued by Nader’s Center for Study of Responsive Law

August 30, 2012
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• 94 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 were internet users, while only 41 percent of Americans 65 years or older were.

In the past few decades, the GPO has moved much of the information it provides online, printed less, and outsourced more of its printing work. This has resulted in fewer employees, lower sales, fewer physical document requests, and consumers were confronted with skyrocketing prices for print publications. Some costs have increased five-fold.

While much of this is attributable to advances in technology, it is also indicative of a federal government moving increasingly away from physical printing of documents, and that the GPO’s authority as government and public printer has been consistently undermined:

• In the early 1970s, GPO had 8,572 employees. Today, it employs just 1,900.

• In FY 1993, the year GPO’s online dissemination authority was enacted by Congress, GPO’s annual sales were $84.1 million. Today, GPO’s annual sales are just over $11 million.

• 85 percent of government printing during the 1950s was performed in-house. In FY 2011, GPO reported that about 73.2 percent of its printing work, costing $392.8 million, was outsourced.

• In 1979, an annual subscription to the Congressional Record was $75. Today, it costs $503.

“The Peoples’ Printer” report makes important recommendations to improve the Government Printing Office’s role in “keeping America informed:”

• Increase funding for the Government Printing Office. The GPO is woefully underfunded to achieve the admirable goal of “keeping America informed.” The GPO needs adequate funding to reestablish a robust print operation as well as to expand and improve its online presence.

• The GPO should reevaluate its print procurement procedures. The current system rewards outsourcing to companies that exploit low-cost labor, creating the façade of efficiency. The GPO should institute a pay equity clause in government contracts to ensure equal pay is provided for equal government work performed in both the public and private sector.

• The Joint Committee on Printing, the GPO’s oversight body in Congress, has been stagnant, ineffective, and unmoving. To change this, the independent annual appropriations for the Joint Committee on Printing, chaired by Congressman Gregg Harper and vice-chaired by Senator Charles Schumer, should be reinstated. Public hearings should be scheduled on more frequent intervals to assess the performance of the GPO in meeting the needs of the government and the public.

• GPO publications are expensive in part due to low demand for print materials caused by online access and abysmal GPO promotion and marketing. GPO should extend its sales beyond the online bookstore and implement a need-based acquisition approach that allows those with lower incomes adequate access to printed government publications.

• The GPO should use print to ensure essential archives are safe from unexpected failures or technological obsolescence.

• GPO should embrace a document disposal policy that ensures the protection of valuable government publications.

“This vision emphasizes the vital role that the Government Printing Office could play in keeping all of America informed, not just those with online access. There are great benefits in making information available online; but if we shift in this direction oblivious to the unintended consequences, we risk losing an invaluable resource,” concluded Nader.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded as a PDF. Printed copies are also available for $10 plus postage.

Source: Center for Study of Responsive Law.

 
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