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More GPO Work to Private Sector Printers or Not?

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On its Facebook page, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) recently posted: “In the 1960s, the amount of work GPO procured increased as the Joint Committee on Printing redirected printing work handled by federal agencies themselves to GPO for procurement to the private sector printing industry.”

That is actually in compliance with U.S. Code, Title 44—Public Printing and Documents, which states that all federal printing, with a few exceptions, is to be channeled through GPO. If, in practice, this were happening, GPO work awarded to private sector printers would be a boon to an industry that very much needs a shot in the arm.

At one time, more than three quarters of GPO’s print work was awarded to the private sector for an annual revenue flow to the industry that easily exceeded half a billion dollars. With the advent of digital and other technology and the online culture in which we now live, it is understandable that the printing of some documents is falling by the wayside.

Disturbingly, however, the flow of GPO work to the private sector has been dropping steadily over the years. In 2010, the total value of GPO work awarded to private sector printers was $358 million. This year, it appears to be on a course to be less than $300 million. This is troubling because the livelihoods of at least 50,000 men and women are at stake.

In a Comment posted to an article I wrote (“One Bite at the Apple-- An Opportunity for the New Public Printer”), Public Printer William Boarman stated, “GPO’s procurement revenue last year was about $500 million, or about 40 percent of these direct obligations, leaving a balance of about $800 million that did not come through GPO. Our sense is that it most likely represents work produced in-house by Federal agencies.

“That’s a significant volume of printing which, if opened up to GPO’s procurement program where costs could be reduced by as much as 50 percent compared with agency plants, represents a potential annual savings of up to $400 million for the taxpayers. More private sector jobs will be needed to handle that additional volume of work flowing through the procurement program, which will help our Nation’s economic recovery,” Boarman concluded.

That said, why does GPO’s “Strategic Plan for 2011 through 2015” (PDF) only include a passing reference to private sector printers? And why does it state that the GPO needs to invest in employees and technology to create first-rate, system-wide solutions?

It would seem that if GPO is serious about channeling more federal printing to the private sector, its strategic plan would place more emphasis on redirecting the $800 million being done by agencies to independent it was directed to do in the 1960s.

The plan does say in its “Statutory Foundation – Title 44 U.S.C.” section that the GPO will identify and pursue federal print jobs not now being done by GPO. What it does not say is whether that work will be going to private sector printers or will it be done at enhanced GPO facilities.

Even a quarter of the $800 million now being done by federal agencies would bring GPO work for private sector printers back to the half-billion-dollar level.

There seems to be a disconnect when comparing Mr. Boarman’s Comment with the current GPO strategic plan. What is GPO’s true intent? More work to private sector printers or not?

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