Digital payoff at GPO: More content, 2008 costs
- By William Jackson
- Mar 26, 2013
A shift in focus from traditional printing to digital content management has produced a leaner Government Printing Office, with a growing number of digital products and delivery systems, according to the agency’s annual report for fiscal 2012.
Overall overhead costs for 2012 were at 2008 levels and the GPO appropriation request for fiscal 2013 was held to 2012 levels, at $126.2 million. Employee-buyouts last year reduced staff by 11 percent to the “leanest staffing level in more than a century,” with a savings of $24 million. At the same time, the amount of information being made available is growing, with more than 800,000 files available online through the Federal Digital System (FDsys) and 150 government titles available through major electronic book distributors.
“With about 97 percent of all content born digital, we are managing content as well as producing it in print,” said CTO Ric Davis. “Agencies work with us to produce files, and we manage that content. And from time to time we make renditions of it, either as e-books or in print.”
This has involved a significant and ongoing shift in the way GPO works that began in 1962 when it started using computer-based composition. Databases generated by the composition system formed the basis for the GPO Access website, which went online in 1994 and which has been replaced by FDsys. (GPO Access was taken offline in 2012.) FDsys not only has the ability to handle XML files, but also includes digitally signed documents to assure their authenticity.
In fiscal 1980 the agency began replacing hot metal typesetting with electronic photocomposition. The annual Congressional Printing and Binding Appropriation then was $91.6 million, the equivalent in today’s dollars of $255.9 million. The 2012 Congressional Printing and Binding Appropriation was $90.6 million, a reduction of nearly 66 percent when adjusted for inflation.
In 2012, GPO began accepting and displaying on FDsys House bills for the 113th Congress in XML format, which allows the document to be downloaded and repurposed for digital and print uses by third parties.
GPO is keeping up with the growth in mobile computing by developing mobile applications, including the Congressional Member Guide, the Congressional Record, the Budget of the U.S. Government, Presidential Documents and the 2012 Plum Book listing of government policy and support positions.
“That’s something that wasn’t on our radar several years ago,” Davis said of mobile apps. The agency’s greatest challenge today is “maintaining the increasing pace of change in general,” he said.
Current initiatives include improved maintenance of preservation copies of electronic files that GPO archives to ensure their future availability, Davis said. Files now are maintained in TIFF, the Tagged Image File Format. Thought is being given to using the JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) 2000 image compression standard, which provides better compression without compromising functionality.
The agency also wants to leverage its FDsys platform by offering it to other agencies, Davis said. “We’ve done this for the National Archives and Records Administration,” hosting recently released audio recordings of President Nixon’s grand jury testimony and tape recordings of radio communications between the White House and Air Force One following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. GPO is in discussion with several other agencies for new hosting opportunities, Davis said.
GPO’s goal is not to just make information accessible by the public, but also more usable by offering it through new channels in more formats, Davis said. “That’s important for government transparency.”