GPO 2012 funding reflects shift to electronic publishing

Total funding for the Government Printing Office for the remainder of the fiscal year in the Omnibus Appropriations Act awaiting the president’s signature would be $126 million, down 6.6 percent from the previous year, the GPO announced.

Slightly more than 70 percent of that, $90.7 million, is for the preparation of electronic files used for both digital access and for printing paper documents. This funding reflects the shift to electronic handling of documents that began about 40 years ago, said GPO spokesman Andrew Sherman.

In 1994, when GPO Access went online, 20,000 copies of the Congressional Record were printed each night. Today, that number is down to fewer than 3,000 copies and most readers access the documents through the new online Federal Digital System (FDsys).

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There have been similar shifts in the production of the Federal Register and the bills, records and reports that the GPO regularly publishes.

“The financial impact of that has been tremendous,” Sherman said. In the mid-1970s, before its shift from hot metal type to electronic photocomposition, GPO was getting about $80 million a year for congressional printing, about the same amount it gets today for the same purpose, although inflation would have roughly tripled that figure. Electronic printing and publication are responsible for much of the efficiency.

Development of FDsys is funded largely through the GPO Revolving Fund, which will receive just $500,000 for the current year, down 70 percent from fiscal 2011. This reduction has been offset by improvements in the collection of outstanding payments owed to GPO by agencies dating back to 2005.

By the end of the calendar year, the GPO will have collected about $12.5 million in charge-backs for printing services for agencies, about one third of the outstanding payments due. Much of this will be invested in expanding the storage capacity of FDsys.

GPO's tech legacy

The shift to electronics has been one of the greatest changes in the 150-year history of the GPO, Sherman said. The first big change in technology came around the turn of the 20th century with the introduction of the Linotype machine, which significantly reduced the cost of preparing documents for the printing presses.

The second change came in the late 1970s with the move from hot type to photocomposition, which has helped to cut the cost of congressional printing by about two-thirds. Twenty years later, the shift to digital publishing began with GPO Access, which has since been replaced with FDsys. This provides permanent digital access to authoritative documents that have been electronically signed by the public printer.

At one point GPO employed about 1,000 typesetters, which has been reduced to fewer than 300.

Additional cost savings have come through early buyouts, which are expected to reduce the number of GPO employees by about 330 positions.

“Combined with the cost-saving measures we have carried out this past year, including reducing our workforce through a buyout and sharply reduced spending on overtime, travel, and other nonessential overhead expenses, the funding level for fiscal year 2012 will enable us to continue supporting the information needs of Congress, Federal agencies, and the public,” said Public Printer Bill Boarman.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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