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GPO Goes Under Congressional Microscope

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Government Publishing Office faced congressional scrutiny Wednesday for its process for producing secure credentials for government agencies, and lawmakers appeared open to re-examining the agency's statute.  

"GPO certainly knows how to print, but do they have the capacity to innovate and provide reliably secure credentials?" House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked at a hearing. Chaffetz's panel  held  a full committee hearing to delve into how agencies select the GPO to issue secure credentials process. The GPO is tasked with printing secure documents, including U.S. passports and border crossing cards, but private sector vendors argued they are not able to compete with the GPO to secure contracts to create those documents. And after the nearly two-hour hearing, Chaffetz and the highest ranking Democrat at the hearing, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., said they were open to re-examining the statute that some agencies use to justify selecting GPO to print those documents, known as Title 44.  

"I wouldn’t go so far as to simply repeal Title 44, but I think what we heard here today was perhaps some agencies using the pretext of Title 44 to avoid the necessity of competitive biding otherwise," Connolly told CQ Roll Call after the hearing. "And my ears perked up when I heard that, because I don’t think that’s the intention of Title 44."  

The private sector vendors at the hearing argued that agencies who forgo a competitive bidding process and opt to use the GPO risk compromising security and innovation for the sensitive documents.  

“A lack of competition in the industry will have a direct impact on national security by dragging private suppliers and the innovations that they bring out of the business, and make it more difficult for America to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters and the would-be terrorists,” said James N. Albers, senior vice president of government operations for MorphoTrust USA, which produces the vase majority of drivers licenses.  

GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks countered that her agency works closely with the private sector when developing the cards, and has a competitive subcontracting process. She also noted it is an agency's choice to work with the GPO, and they often come to the GPO after having issues with current vendors.  

"Our customers are highly satisfied with GPO’s product performance, reliability, security and pricing,” Vance-Cooks said.  

But Connolly noted the private sector vendors had a point, and there needs to be an examination of how agencies choose the most effective, cost-efficient option.  

“I thought they exaggerated their case. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a case," Connolly said. "And I was not un-sympathetic with some of the concerns that they made. I thought Vance-Cooks did a good job explaining the role of the agency and the quality of the work that they do.”

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