John Crawford stands on the third-floor bindery of the U.S. Government Publishing Office off Capitol Hill where he once manned an 85-inch cutter, sizing up documents for Congress and presidents alike.
“That’s where I worked — right there,” Crawford said, glancing behind him. “Fifty years ago.”
He remembers the rows of sewing machines used to make books — which have now been replaced with digital printers. He remembers when printing the president's budget took five to six weeks. Now, thanks to technology , it can be published in four days, tops.
On Tuesday, the 75-year-old veteran manager marked five decades at the GPO with nine different job titles — from bookbinder to foreman to superintendent. Now, as the head of plant operations , he oversees 845 people, about half the agency’s workforce.
He's among the 770 active executive branch employees with 50-plus years on the job, according to the Office of Personnel Management.
A familiar figure
Strolling through a 15,000 square-foot plant, one of four on site, Crawford greets and waves to staff who all seem to know him. His years rising through the ranks in management overlapped with budget cuts and buyouts that have now left the GPO with its smallest workforce in 100 years. He was also there for the rebranding of the agency’s name – from Government Printing Office to Government Publishing Office – in an effort to acknowledge the evolution of the office’s functions .
When he took the job in 1966, submitting his application using carbon paper, the agency employed more than 8,000 people, about five times as many who serve today.
[Related: Elijah Cummings: From Night Shift to Oversight of GPO] Crawford calls the printing trade “a family thing.” Seventeen of his family members have worked at the agency including his son, grandfather and countless uncles and cousins.
He proudly boasts that his son designed the inside pages of the American passport when he worked at the GPO. Crawford himself oversaw the making of 23 million passports in one year.
Crawford said the GPO team had weathered many storms during his 50-year tenure.
He showed up to work even as riots erupted around the office and the city following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
As coordinator of President Richard Nixon’s second inauguration, he oversaw the reprinting of every ticket issued for the event because of a typo. It nearly dashed his plans to see his beloved Redskins play in the 1973 Superbowl.
He has also overseen the printing of secret documents — mostly military-related — in rooms secured by armed guards at the door. He insists he has never taken a peek. The 2017 inauguration tickets are being printed under similar security parameters.
[Related: GPO to Digitize Every Federal Register Issue] The GPO is responsible for producing, cataloging, indexing, authenticating and preserving official documents for all three branches of the U.S. government.
Some of his friends balk at the notion of him still showing up to work when he could be enjoying retirement. But Crawford doesn’t see his age as a reason to stop.
“I’m 40 in my heart and spirit,” he said. “I got the juice. I’m never going to be old.”
Those who work for him called him a sharp, approachable manager and mentor who isn’t short on words.
Shelley Welcher, now a production manager, said Crawford took her under his wing when she was an apprentice binding books, talking her up to managers shortly after she started the program in 1993.
“If he could do another 50 years, he would," Welcher said.