Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Meet the Captain of Congressional Grammar, Punctuation and Style

Courtesy GPO Photo Department
Abramson, chairman of the Government Print Office’s Style Board, holds a copy of the Congressional Record, which the GPO prints on a daily basis. Abramson oversees the agency’s Style Manual, the gospel for government document formatting.

“I used to sit right back there in the same area,” Abramson said, gesturing over his shoulder to a group of cubicles colloquially referred to as the nucleus of the operation. He’s risen steadily through the ranks to become a foreperson.

On days when Congress is in session, messengers from Capitol Hill deliver manuscripts to the pre-press department throughout the evening. Stacks grow as the pages arrive in a random order, bits and pieces at a time, until the House and Senate have adjourned.

“We don’t count pages for the record,” Abramson said. “We count inches — how high it is. It can be many inches high, depending on what they’re doing on the Hill at the time.”

He chuckles when he thinks about filibusters.

When Congress works until 3 a.m., the Congressional Record may be delayed, but it’s guaranteed that if members are in session, the action on the floor will be documented and published. Abramson works through the government shutdowns, snowstorms and natural disasters that keep other federal employees at home.

During “Snowmageddon” in Febuary 2010, Abramson found his normal train from Baltimore canceled, so got in his car at 4:30 a.m. and carefully drove through 30 inches of snow to arrive in time for his 7 a.m. shift.

In August 2011, he and the other pre-press employees were briefly ordered to leave the building when a magnitude-5.8 earthquake rocked its foundation. They returned a short time later to get back to work.

“We know we support the president and Congress,” Abramson said.

When he’s not at work, Abramson is an avid tennis player. After 47 years in the printing industry, it might seem time to retire the red proofreading pen permanently in favor of his racquet, but he’s still consumed with getting the next version of the GPO Style Manual just right.

“I keep track in my inbox, and also various manuals of changes that I want to suggest for the next edition,” he said, pulling a 4-inch-thick binder from a shelf above his desk. He caught some grief for a small error in the 2008 edition. When the Navy title “master chief” was accidently excluded, Abramson received a letter from a congressman and an email from a prominent Navy official.

For a man who’s built his career on precision, it was a bummer.

“It goes to show if you miss something, somebody somewhere’s going to be very upset.”

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