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To Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks, public information is a “product,” citizens are “consumers,” and fellow agencies are “clients.”
Indeed, Vance-Cooks, who will be sworn in Wednesday as head of the Government Printing Office, uses a fair amount of sales jargon after 25 years of private sector work in product development, market research, customer support and operations management. And in a recent interview at the agency’s North Capitol Street headquarters, she sounded like a CEO striving for a turnaround as she mapped out her “strategic plan” for the future of the 152-year-old federal agency.
“We want to attract another generation of people to our government products, and that generation we want to attract believes in digital,” she said. Only 16 percent of the GPO’s funding comes from congressional appropriations. Like a business, the GPO earns the bulk of its revenue through sales of publications to the public and agency payments for print work.
Vance-Cooks, who has led the agency on an acting basis since Jan. 4, 2012, forged a partnership between the GPO and Google to sell federal publications in e-book format, and she launched a government book blog to fuel the retail market. She’s pitched changing the agency’s name to the “Government Publishing Office” to help with the rebrand.
“Our niche in terms of digital is that we make sure it’s authentic,” she said. “We guarantee that from the point at which it originated to the point at which it’s put up online, nothing has happened to it and it has not been changed or altered.”
Below her eighth-floor office, a team of proofreaders was divvying up the day’s 315-page Federal Register, carefully marking up notices of new Department of Agriculture rules on sweet cherries and Coast Guard rules on drawbridge operations. By the end of their shift, the document would be available on the GPO’s Federal Digital System in plain text and PDF format, with a hyperlinked table of contents.
Vance-Cooks grew fascinated by marketing while earning her MBA at Columbia University. The 56-year-old began her career in downtown New York City, designing pages splashed with lipstick, blush and other cosmetics for Avon product books as a marketing planner. Most of her private sector career was spent in health care. She worked her way up the chain of command at Blue Cross/Blue Shield and served as the senior vice president of operations for NYLCare MidAtlantic Health Plan.
Following in her father’s footsteps, the self-described “Navy brat” decided to try public service in 2004. She applied to be the GPO’s deputy managing director of customer services, and quickly noticed that government clients needed quick turnaround jobs and easy access to printing.