Rethink What You Think You Know About GPO
With a history of constant adaptation and growth dating to the dawn of the Civil War, the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) is a giant among federal government institutions. It is also one of the most misunderstood. However, GPO holds tremendous opportunities for the U.S. printing industry. Gaining insight to GPO and recognizing how today’s GPO differs from that of the past are helpful in better understanding its opportunities. Clearing the air of two general misconceptions is as good of a place as any to begin.
Misconception: The Government Prints All of Its Own Materials
Prior to GPO opening its doors on the day Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861, each department secured its own printing on the local market. Printing — the only vital form of mass communication at the time — was still a very manual and varied art. Transportation constraints limited procurement to Washington, DC print houses. Consistency and local marketplace production capacity were some of the real and rational fears of the time leading the government to become its own printer. Thus begins the misconception that the federal government does not buy from the public sector. But that was a century and a half ago.
World War I led GPO to turn back to the private sector — now more mechanized and less limited by transportation — to satisfy additional wartime need. 1929 saw Congress authorize GPO to procure specialty items like tabulating punch cards. World War II opened the floodgates for outsourcing with everything from training manuals to campaigns for the draft and war bond efforts. Over time, GPO developed complex, but effective, processes and guidelines to ensure the same consistency, quality and timeliness across internal and private sector resources. By GPO’s 100th anniversary, private sector sourcing had become the major function that it continues to be today.
GPO is a tough customer and sometimes the bureaucracy can be challenging. This can be daunting and it adds to the misconception of incompatibility between GPO and the private sector. But like any customer, once you learn what makes it tick, GPO can be very lucrative for private sector printers.
Misconception: The Government Is No Longer Interested in Print
As you already know, GPO has been constantly evolving for more than a century and a half. It will continue to do so as long as visual communication itself evolves. While GPO certainly still produces a lot of its own print, it hasn’t been strictly in the business of manufacturing print for decades. Aside from its role of interacting with the private sector as the government’s print buyer, GPO provides, data, design, distribution and many other services for hundreds of federal agencies. Like many private sector printers, GPO has also branched into other forms of visual communication. Back in 2014, to reflect the fact that it provides services related to, but well beyond, print manufacturing, GPO announced it was dropping the word print from its name and replacing it with publishing.
GPO is no longer the U.S. Government Printing Office but rather the U.S. Government Publishing Office. Naturally, GPO press releases made a big deal about digital products and mobile apps. The fact of the matter is, is that the government, like most customers, may be excited about shiny new things, but it’s not abandoning print. Also like most customers, the print products that GPO buys are changing but it is still buying plenty of print. In fact, during the 2015 calendar year, GPO bought over $270 million worth of printing from the private sector.
Future GPO Playbook articles will, among other topics, take deeper dives into government printing itself, navigating the complexities of GPO and the ongoing evolution of the print it buys. In the meantime, you can rest assured on two things: the government is far from abandoning print and it will continue to need more printers like you as print continues to evolve.
When most kids in the neighborhood ran to the sandlot for ball games, Rich Scotti ran to his collection of graphic arts tools to create parodies of ads, magazines and catalogs. Some even saw publication thanks to illicit use of the middle school mimeograph machine. In spite of the fumes, Scotti has succeeded in a sometimes unorthodox communications career spanning more than 20 years.
As communications director at Government Print Management, Scotti combines his passion for print and storytelling to help printers find their own success in printing for the federal government. Email Rich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit governmentprint.com for more information on winning GPO work.