GPO: Government Publishing Office: What’s in a Name (Change)?
by Dawn Greenlaw-Scully
Though just signed into law in December 2014, GPO’s name change from Government Printing Office to Government Publishing Office has been “a long time coming,” says John Crawford.
“We’ve been moving in this direction over many years, especially for the last 20 years or so,” remarks Crawford, GPO’s managing director of plant operations, and a 49-year GPO employee.
Headquartered in an eight-story, 1.5 million-square-foot complex just five blocks from the Capitol Building in Washington, GPO is the country’s largest in-plant. And, now 154 years of age, it’s also one of the oldest. Over the years, GPO has published numerous important documents, such as the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation, The Warren Commission report and The 9-11 Commission Report, to name a few.
Ever since legislation was enacted in 1993 to enable GPO to upload databases to the Internet for dissemination, the office has been steadily increasing the amount of digital publishing it does. “The last 10 years have been particularly exciting,” says Crawford, “and today, we do as much electronic publishing as we do printing.”
The name change was proposed by GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks and introduced into legislation a year ago. The first female to oversee the GPO, Vance-Cooks was also the last to hold the title Public Printer, a position also renamed by the legislation.
What has not changed, though, is GPO’s essential purpose: “To create the information products and services required by Congress and federal agencies and distribute them to the public.” The office’s official tagline is “Keeping America Informed”; however, the distribution and dissemination vehicles GPO uses to keep America thusly informed have expanded far beyond print to include e-books, digital publishing, online access, mobile apps and social media.
Crawford, who’s been in the printing trade since 1958, has experienced the evolution of the industry and the GPO first-hand. “We’ve made so many changes—to the positive,” he declares. “If we hadn’t, GPO wouldn’t be relevant anymore.
“Now, we’re cutting-edge almost everywhere, getting everything online so people can have that access,” Crawford continues. “For example, when we printed the [Congressional] Record this morning, we already had it up online before we even took copies up to the Hill.”
Although quantities are decreasing overall, print still has its place, Crawford emphasizes. “People still like copies in their hands, too,” he says. The key is to ascertain and print what’s needed at maximum efficiency with minimum waste.
For example, in years past, GPO printed 20,000 copies per day of both the Congressional Record and Federal Register; today, it prints 2,500. In the same time span, GPO went from printing 100,000 copies of four volumes of the annual federal budget to a yearly print run of 20,000.
“Back then, print was the only way people could get the federal budget,” Crawford points out. “Today, they can access it online, as an app, or on a CD-ROM.” He notes that GPO now gets 500,000 online hits for each budget and that a mobile viewing app, launched a few years ago, has reached 50,000 downloads.
As a result of technology, a federal budget that once took four to five weeks to produce now takes three or four days, Crawford reports. GPO works closely with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to procure files and facilitate production.
“They understand what we can do,” he adds wryly. “This year, we didn’t get everything until [the week we were scheduled to go to press], because they know how quickly we can turn it around.
“We never miss our deadlines,” Crawford asserts. “When we had 50˝ of snow here a few years back, but had to get a Record out, all of our employees showed up. For the ladies and gents up on the Hill, we measure the delivery of the Records by minutes.”
Overall, GPO print volumes are still in the millions annually. Toward ultra-efficient production and ultra-fast turnaround of Congressional Records and other jobs, the office recently invested in a Timson ZMR (Zero Makeready) web press that can accommodate a 6x9˝ format. Operators can replace plates while the press continues to run at full production speeds, with plate changes taking about three minutes. Waste is substantially reduced.
“This press is amazing,” Crawford declares. “Right now, we have three presses running the same type of work over three shifts, so by nine crews. Once the new press is up and running, it will do the work of those three [presses], allowing us to cannibalize one and keep the other two as back-ups.” The pressroom will continue to operate its other presses, including several Heidelberg units.
GPO has a 4.9-year, return-on-investment goal for the ZMR press, and Crawford thinks ROI “may turn out to be even less” than that. In addition, citing economic and service reasons, he is also looking at a new digital inkjet press to produce the House and Senate calendars, as well as some bills.
The shop has also enjoyed several upgrades to its bindery—new inserters, folders and case makers—as well as to its prepress and platemaking operations.
“Everything we’ve done has been for increased output, faster makeready and less waste,” Crawford says. Over four decades, technology and process improvement have also allowed GPO to downsize from 8,500 to 1,700 employees, the fewest in the past century. Since 1980, GPO has reduced its workforce by 74 percent.
“But what hasn’t changed,” he notes, “is that we still have human beings working here who are dedicated to and enthused about what they do, and who we value greatly. We’re still in the same location: four well-constructed buildings that take up a city block and a half, just a couple of blocks from the Capitol.
“And we’re still looking out for the needs and best interests of the government and the taxpayers,” he concludes.
Whether “P” stands for Printing or Publishing, GPO remains GPO. PI