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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.

Mike Abramson is the master of federal government printing style.

Anyone wondering about the proper use of “whereas” in a resolution, feeling confounded by the canons of capitalization in a committee report or pondering the punctuation of a bill should consult the Government Printing Office veteran.

Abramson serves as chairman of the GPO’s Style Board, a body of proofreading and printing specialists charged with writing and revising the agency’s Style Manual — the gospel for government document formatting. In that role, he’s responsible for manning the gpostyle@gpo.gov inbox.

“I get questions from virtually all over the country regarding GPO style, and printing in general, and I try to answer them as best I can, based on my knowledge and experience,” Abramson said on a recent weekday morning as he clicked through his email during an interview with CQ Roll Call on the seventh floor of the agency’s North Capitol Street headquarters.

He’s spent close to a quarter-century poring over congressional records, federal registers, bill text, committee reports and the transcripts of Capitol Hill happenings, ensuring that official manuscripts are error-free. During Abramson’s tenure, technology has morphed dramatically. Gone are the floppy disks and CD-ROMs of bygone eras. THOMAS is out, Congress.gov is in. Style has changed accordingly, but the fundamental commitment to an accurate historical record remains the same.

“It seems like whatever we do, we always seem to touch history,” Abramson said, recounting special assignments. He proofread the independent counsel’s report on the Iran-Contra affair, and he was also detailed to correct federal budget drafts from President Bill Clinton’s administration.

The soft-spoken Baltimore native got his start in the industry during the 1960s, when he enrolled in printing as a ninth-grade elective class. He enjoyed it, found he had a knack for the detail-oriented trade and continued his studies at a vocational technical high school. Upon graduation, he got his first job as a linotype operator for the Monotype Composition Company, setting up molds and casting letters in a process known as hot metal typesetting.

“While I was at Monotype, they changed from hot metal to what we call a cold-type system, which is a computerized type system,” Abramson said. That transition began in the early 1980s.

His public sector career started in 1989, when he was hired as a printer-proofreader for the GPO. Earning the job required a him to take a test on the style and grammar of GPO publications and the alphabet of symbols used in proofreader marks.

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