Fresh Ink

New Public Printer Plans to Run GPO ‘Like a Business’

Posted January 8, 2003 at 4:53pm

Although Public Printer Bruce James won’t be formally sworn in as head of the Government Printing Office until this afternoon, he is already moving at a rapid clip to implement changes at the agency.

“We’re running this like a business now,” said James, who will be sworn in by Justice Anthony Kennedy at a ceremony in the Russell Senate Office Building.

In an interview Wednesday, James outlined his vision for the printing agency, which is responsible under Title 44 of the U.S. Code for the printing and information dissemination needs of Congress, as well as nearly 130 federal departments and agencies.

Through a multiyear process, James plans to restructure the agency’s business plan.

“Almost all of industrial America has remade itself in the last 10 or 15 years, otherwise they’d be gone. We haven’t done that here. We are going to do it, we’re going to build a new model and we’re going to retool this place from top to bottom,” said James, a one-time Nevada Senate candidate with an extensive career in the printing industry.

One of the first changes James has implemented is to use newly appointed Deputy Public Printer George Taylor as a chief operating officer, a role the public printer has traditionally fulfilled. The change should allow James to focus primarily on planning for the agency.

Another component of James’ plans for GPO includes using senior executives — such as Taylor, who joined GPO after retiring from Thompson Corp. — as “coaches” to assist younger managers to develop at the agency.

“I think he’ll be able to quickly show some of our younger people here what they have to do to be successful in the next era, which is the electronic processing of information,” James said.

Electronic publishing is one of the major facets which GPO is likely to address in its new business plan.

The first phase of restructuring, James said, will focus on research and “fact finding” to address the concerns of GPO, as well as agencies and departments, vendors and Congress.

That stage will be followed by the design of the business plan, and finally the implementation, each of which could take up to a year to complete.

In the meantime, GPO officials will focus on recruitment programs for new employees and training needs of current staff.

“As we’ve gone from 8,500 people down to 3,000 people in 20 years, we missed bringing new people in for 20 years,” James said. “So there’s a dearth of people from 30 to 50 years of age that have experienced the world, that have college education that have been prepared to be managers. We’re just missing a generation of those folks.”

In fact, nearly 52 percent of GPO’s workforce is eligible for retirement.

To reverse that trend, James, along with other GPO officials, will visit colleges and universities across the country to recruit not only printing program graduates, but also electricians, and mechanical and chemical engineers.

“Printing has become a very complex business that requires a number of engineers and scientists to operate the printing plant successfully,” said James, who will kick off the recruiting drive at California Polytechnic State University.

To assist current GPO employees, James has requested a 10-fold increase in financing for “workforce development” to about $3 million, or $1,000 per person.

“In talking with our employees … it became very apparent that they felt that we were not spending enough time or attention on training,” James said.

Additionally, Superintendent of Documents Judith Russell, along with the deputy public printer, will focus on restructuring GPO’s bookstores.

“The model we used initially to do bookstores is not viable anymore,” James said. As access to government information on the Internet has increased, GPO has closed a third of the 24 bookstores it once operated.

James will also work to create a new office within GPO to develop partnerships with private sector business, universities and other federal agencies to develop innovations and new technology which could benefit the agency.

Among the first major printing jobs which will be handled by GPO under James is the publication of the Bush administration’s 2004 budget.

The Office of Management and Budget initially sought bids from private printers for a portion of the multivolume work before accepting a $387,000 bid from the printing office, according to Amy Call, an OMB spokeswoman. Call said bids made by other private businesses could not be released to the public.

The budget office and GPO have been involved in a dispute over printing of executive branch agency documents since May 2001, when OMB Director Mitch Daniels issued a memorandum seeking to dismantle regulations that require federal agencies use GPO for printing services.

The federal regulations, which are separate from Title 44, are currently under review by the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council.

Although a GPO report issued in June 2001 estimated such a change could cost the federal government up to $335.2 million in the first year of implementation, James said Daniels’ concerns will be useful to the printing office as it restructures itself.

“I think Mitch Daniels has some good points. His job is to come in here and increase the efficiency of government and make things more effective,” James said. “The point that he makes is that we are a monopoly. We are a monopoly. Title 44 gives us a monopoly over printing government stuff. And anytime you have a monopoly you find there are inefficiencies.

“I think Mitch Daniels in the end, may be the most helpful person we ever have at this agency because he’s pointed out we can do better,” James added.