The Government Printing Office (GPO) oversees production and distribution of reports and other information products and services for all three branches of the federal government. Many of the country’s most important government publications, such as the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, are produced by the GPO. The office utilizes multiple offices and printing facilities, including its main printing complex in Washington D.C.—one of the largest information processing, printing and distribution facilities in the world. During the first term of President George W. Bush, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) attempted an end-run around the GPO by declaring federal offices could contract out their printing needs to private companies. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled that federal offices had to first use the GPO when seeking out printing work, and when it came time to print the 2004 federal budget, budget office relented and gave the job to the GPO after it underbid all private vendors for the project. In 2007, the GPO underwent a $29 million technological overhaul to meet the demands of the digital age. The agency sought to expand its presence on the Web and decrease paper use and to eventually provide electronic copies of historical documents that are not yet in the system. In March 2007, the GPO produced its first online edition of the Congressional Record. In 2009, the GPO began using only recycled paper.
The GPO first began operations on March 4, 1861, the same day as President Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration. The GPO set up shop in a printing plant originally built by Cornelius Wendell, a longtime contract printer for Congress. Located at the corner of North Capitol and H Streets NW, the facility was the largest printing plant in Washington and one of the largest in the U.S. at that time.
The first head of the GPO was John D. Defrees, an Illinois newspaper publisher, politician, and friend of President Lincoln. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the GPO grew rapidly to keep pace with military and civilian printing needs. In 1864, GPO employees participated more directly in the war when Company F of the Interior Department Regiment, comprised of GPO printers and pressmen, marched into Northwest Washington to help repel Confederate forces under General Jubal Early.
In 1866, the GPO purchased a Bullock press, what was then an example of cutting-edge print technology. Installation of the Bullock was the printing office’s first step in a series of technological changes that vastly expanded the volume and quality of its printing work.
In 1876, the head of GPO became known as the “Public Printer,” according to new federal law that also specified that the public printer be “a practical printer, and versed in the art of bookbinding.”
As of 1895, the GPO was given responsibility for producing materials for all three branches of the federal government. The Printing Act of 1895 also called for the dissemination of government publications for sale and for deposit in congressionally designated libraries nationwide.
The GPO opened a new facility (Building One) in 1903, and the following year, it began using Linotype and Monotype typesetting machines, which revolutionized government printing operations. The new technology shifted the formula for typesetting from minutes-per-line to lines-per-minute.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt instructed Public Printer Charles Stillings to adopt simplified spelling for 300 common English words as recommended by a distinguished panel of language experts commissioned by Andrew Carnegie. The spelling of “thru” for “through” and “fixt” for “fixed” immediately drew the wrath and ridicule of citizens and newspapers across the country, and Congress terminated the experiment by the end of the year.
As a result of World War I, which interrupted the importation of printing supplies, the GPO began making its own ink and marbled papers, and it expanded its recycling of type metal.
Workers at the GPO gained the ability to bargain with management as a result of the Kiess Act of 1924. Under Public Printer George Carter, employees enjoyed the opening of a new employee-managed cafeteria and recreational activities, including a bowling alley, shuffleboard court, and a modern auditorium named for President Warren G. Harding (who was known as the “Printer President” because of his background in newspaper work). In addition, an employee orchestra serenaded during lunch hours with popular hits of the day, and many sports teams and clubs flourished among employees, providing a break from “The Big Shop.”
During the Great Depression, the GPO produced an enormous volume of printing for President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and its Apprentice Training Program provided employment for printing apprentices. In 1935, Congress authorized two new buildings: Building 3, replacing the original GPO building at North Capitol and H Streets NW; and Building 4, a paper warehouse adjacent to Union Station intended to accept deliveries of paper and other supplies by rail.
When Building 3 opened in 1940, the GPO assumed the physical appearance it retains today. From 1941 to 1945, the office continued to produce printed publications during World War II, and kept employee morale high with Saturday dances in Harding Hall and recreational activities.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the GPO accelerated its use of commercial contracting in order to keep pace with the tremendous growth of government programs and the onset of the Cold War. As machine typesetting replaced handset type, the printing office purchased new technology, such as the Linotron, the agency’s first venture into computer typesetting. This new technology resulted in GPO abandoning machine typesetting by 1983, which reduced printing costs, in some cases by more than two-thirds for congressional publications.
In the early 1990s, the GPO went online with its Web site, www.gpo.gov, which became one of the federal government’s largest and most heavily used sites. Congress passed the U.S. Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act (pdf) in 1993, which requires the printing office to provide electronic access to federal information. In June 1994, it launched GPO Access, which provided online access to information from all three branches of the U.S. government. It was shut down in March 2012 and was replaced by the Federal Digital System (FDsys), which allows online search and downloading of federal government publications.
The GPO began an extensive overhaul in 2007 in order to keep up with the digital age. The agency was allotted $29 million for technological advances and as of 2007, 92% of everything it published was available electronically. In September 2009, the GPO produced the Congressional Record on 100% recycled paper for the first time. The GPO still remains committed to paper…until Congress directs it to do otherwise.
In 2011, the GPO partnered with the Library of Congress to digitize a number of historic U.S. documents, including a Senate analysis of the U.S. Constitution.
For the future, the GPO has outlined its 10-point Strategic Plan for the years 2011 through 2015.
The Government Printing Office (GPO) is the federal government’s centralized resource for publishing all kinds of printed materials. It is responsible for printing and distributing information products and services for the executive branch, Congress, and the federal judiciary.
The GPO Federal Digital System provides free electronic access to approximately a quarter of a million titles produced by the federal government. For example, the GPO made the official government edition of the 9-11 Commission Report available through GPO Access. Other government reports and printed materials can also be found through the online catalog of publications. In February 2009, the GPO launched its Federal Digital System, which took over the release of searchable information from GPO Access.
Examples of other published materials available to the public include the 2006 United States Code; http://www.gpoaccess.gov/constitution/index.htmlhttp://www.gpoaccess.gov/pictorial/111th/newmems.html2007 Privacy Act Issuances; The Plum Book (United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions): 2008 Edition; http://www.gpoaccess.gov/serialset/creports/browse.htmlhttp://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy09/pdf/09msr.pdfhttp://www.gpoaccess.gov/statutes/index.htmlhttp://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy09/pdf/09msr.pdfhttp://www.gpoaccess.gov/statutes/index.html US Government Manual 2009-2010; http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy09/pdf/09msr.pdfhttp://www.gpoaccess.gov/statutes/index.htmlhttp://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy09/pdf/09msr.pdfhttp://www.gpoaccess.gov/statutes/index.htmlhttp://www.gpoaccess.gov/statutes/index.htmlhttp://memberguide.gpoaccess.gov and Guide to House and Senate Members.
In October 2009, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the GPO would begin using only recycled paper. She said the switch to 100% recycled paper would eliminate 1.4 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually. The GPO said it had been spending roughly $850,000 to buy the paper used for the Congressional Record. According to the GPO, the switch to recycled paper has not raised costs.
The Security and Intelligent Document Unit (SID) enables the production of secure government documents including U.S. passports, federal breeder documents, travel documents, immigration forms, credentials, and official tickets and checks.
The Office of Congressional Publishing Services serves as the liaison for print and electronic product requests between GPO and Congress. The office works directly with the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the scheduling, processing, and monitoring of all bills, reports, documents, laws, and miscellaneous publications produced by Congress, plus the hearings and committee prints generated by Senate and House committees.
Agency Strategic Teams are comprised of 10-12 technical experts who focus on the particular requirements of a federal office’s printing needs.
Acquisition Services (AS) obtains all equipment, supplies (paper, software, etc.), and services needed by the GPO from outside sources. In addition, AS provides support for other federal agencies, all warehouse and office space leasing, and surplus and scrap item disposal.
The Office of Audits and Inspections releases all Issued Reports, conducted by the Inspector General of the GPO. These reports are organized by fiscal year and are available for download as a .pdf file free of charge.
The US Government Bookstore is a site that allows you to browse and purchase all publications produced by the U.S. government. Purchases can be mailed directly to your home or work address.
The Doing Business with the GPO section of the Web site allows potential contractors to register with the GPO, as well as provides information on upcoming bids, and updates for current bidders. This section also contains all of the forms and standards necessary to do business with the GPO.
Official Journals of the Government oversees all of the print and electronic requests of the Congressional Record and the Federal Register. It also processes the work for the Senate and House bills, reports, hearings, documents, laws, and other congressional publications.
The GPO’s central office is located in Washington D.C., and it maintains 15 other offices across the country.
From the Web Site of the Government Printing Office
Each year, the federal government spends more than $1 billion on printing and publishing services, with the Government Printing Office (GPO) procuring a variety of products and services to many businesses and contractors from the private sector. The GPO provides bid result information via the Internet on contracts awarded to businesses.
The GPO spent upward of $462.6 million on the more than 1,700 print suppliers it contracted in FY 2010. The agency spent $223 million on its 50 top suppliers that year.
According to Printing Impressions World, more than 1,371 print suppliers obtained GPO jobs during the second quarter of calendar year 2011.
The top 10 suppliers and the amount of their contracts during that period were:
RR Donnelley $17,959,441
NPC Inc. $4,924,688
Gateway Press $4,446,410
Monarch Litho $3,114,990
McDonald & Eudy $1,437,615
3 Dimension Graphics, Inc. $1,321,253
Gray Graphics $1,286,143
United Book Press $1,025,824
In 2007, top contractor R.R. Donnelley was awarded a multi-year $49.7 million contract by the GPO to produce documents and provide consultative, supply chain management and other services in support of the 2010 Census. The company produced and coordinated the mailing of census questionnaires to more than 120 million households throughout the United States.
Stop the Overprinting
As part of its efforts to reduce government spending, House Republicans in 2011 adopted the Stop the Overprinting Act. The resolution called for the Government Printing Office (GPO) to stop printing copies of bills and resolutions for members of Congress. Instead, bills and resolutions would be made available online.
Under existing procedures, the GPO prints at least five copies of a proposed bill or resolution for each original sponsor. The legislation would not have interfered with the office’s printing of bills and resolutions for other audiences. Supporters said the proposed change would save money, but did not provide a specific figure. As of August 2012, the Stop the Overprinting Act was still awaiting consideration in the Senate.
Transparency at Risk in Budget Debate (OMB Watch)
H.R. 292, the Stop the OverPrinting (STOP) Act (Washington Watch)
GPO Accused of Making Excessive Profits by Overcharging State Department
In 2008, the GPO made an unexpected profit that attracted the attention of both the public and investigators. The profits were recorded due, in large part, to selling blank passports to the State Department at more than twice the cost through the GPO’s Security and Intelligent Document unit. The GPO increased revenues sharply in 2006 generating $775 million worth, $888 million in 2007, and just over $1 billion in 2008. An investigation began in April 2008 after the disclosure of excessive profits. The investigators found improper accounting practices by GPO financial managers and excessive profits by passport sales. The GPO eventually repaid $51 million to the State Department for overcharges from the sales of blank passports. According to former GPO CEO Robert Tapella, the repayment of $51 million is not unusual since the GPO passport manufacturing increased more than 27%, bringing the GPO into over-recovery. The GPO brought the over-recovery to the attention of the State Department and thus, worked out a deal.
Passport Printer Repays $51 million; Investigation Prompt Refund (by Bill Gertz, Washington Times)
Former GPO CEO Tapella Commissioned $11,000 Portrait
The profits generated by overcharging the State Department inspired further inquiries by reporters, who discovered that much of the profit allegedly went to large bonuses, trips to Paris and Las Vegas, and an official photo of Robert Tapella that cost $11,500. The GPO claimed that the bonuses were a part of the 2005 plan to reward employees based on “goal-based performance,” and that domestic trips allow them to stay up to date with new technology, research, and innovation.
As for the photo of Tapella, the purchase order came out to $8,900 for the portrait and an additional $2,600 for photos taken during Tapella’s swearing-in ceremony. The GPO said that the portrait’s high price tag came from securing copyrights for five photos from the photographer, adding that other government agencies pay similar prices for such portraits.
GPO Profits go to Bonuses and Trips; Nearly $10,000 Spent on Portrait (by Bill Gertz, Washington Times) (pdf)
Bush Administration Tried Unsuccessfully to Bypass GPO
The GPO won a dispute with the Bush White House in 2003 over the printing of the President’s 2004 budget. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had published a proposed rule that would permit each federal department and agency to contract directly for printing services, bypassing GPO. The OMB had done so as part of its campaign to end what it called GPO’s monopoly on government printing. The Bush administration also said a law requiring executive-branch agencies to submit all their printing jobs to the GPO was unconstitutional.
But when it came time to print the federal budget, the GPO placed a bid that was lower than those of private contractors. The OMB said GPO’s winning bid of $387,000 was 23% below what it charged for printing the budget in the previous year. By accepting the GPO bid, the OMB bypassed a potential showdown with Congress, which ordered the administration to have the GPO print the budget.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled in 2002 that federal agencies cannot use appropriated funds to purchase printing services without first going through the GPO in most cases.
GAO Backs Printing Office in Dispute with White House (by Brian Friel, Government Executive.com)
Robert C. Tapella (2007-2010)
William H. Turri (Acting, 2007-2007)
Bruce James (2002-2007)
Michael F. DiMario (1993-2002)
Michael F. DiMario (Acting, 1993-1993)
Robert Houk (1990-1993)
Ralph E. Kennickell, Jr. (1984-1989)
William J. Barrett (Acting, 1984-1984)
Danford L. Sawyer, Jr. (1981-1984)
Samuel Saylor (Acting, 1980-1981)
John J. Boyle (1977-1980)
Thomas F. McCormick (1973-1977)
L.T. Golden (Acting Deputy, 1973-1973)
Harry J. Humphrey (Acting, 1972-1973)
Adolphus N. Spence (1970-1972)
James L. Harrison (1961-1970)
Felix E. Cristofane (Acting, 1961-1961)
John M. Wilson (Acting, 1961-1961)
Raymond Blattenberger (1953-1961)
Phillip L. Cole (Acting, 1953-1953)
John J. Deviny (1948-1953)
John J. Deviny (Acting, 1948-1948)
Augustus E. Giegengack (1934-1948)
George H. Carter (1921-1934)
Cornelius Ford (1913-1921)
Samuel B. Donnelly (1908-1913)
John S. Leech (1908-1908)
Capt. Henry T. Brian (Acting, 1908-1908)
William S. Rossiter (Acting, 1908-1908)
Charles A. Stillings (1905-1908)
O.J. Ricketts (Acting, 1905-1905)
Frank W. Palmer (1897-1905)
Thomas E. Benedict (1894-1897)
Frank W. Palmer (1889-1894)
Thomas E. Benedict (1886-1889)
Sterling P. Rounds (1882-1886)
John D. Defrees (1877-1882)
Almon M. Clapp (1876-1877)
A California native, Robert Tapella began serving as the CEO of the Government Printing Office on October 4, 2007. At the age of 12, he learned the art of calligraphy, illumination and bookbinding. Two years later Tapella became a freelance designer with The New Scribes in San Jose, CA. He built his own design business that included work in print brokering, direct mail, corporate communications and strategic planning, before attending California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where he graduated in 1991.