Politics

Retiring GPO Director Reflects on 38 Years of Public Service

Andrew Sherman helped usher agency into the digital age

Andrew Sherman, right, delivers copies of President George W. Bush’s budget request in February 2008 to House Budget Chairman John M. Spratt Jr., D-S.C., as GPO Chief of Staff Maria S. Lefevre looks on. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After decades of service in the U.S. Government Publishing Office, Andrew M. Sherman is retiring to a simpler life, one without talk of XML files and print-to-digital transformations.

“Well, the pool in my neighborhood closes Labor Day,” Sherman said. “My only plans are to put my feet up after 38 years of work.”

The acting deputy director sat down Monday with Roll Call during his last week before retirement. He has served under nine different heads of the GPO and fulfilled roles such as director of congressional and public affairs, chief communications officer and chief of staff, before coming into his current role in March after the retirement of acting director Jim Bradley. 

Sherman said the GPO functioned as “a venue for the public to access their government.”

“There is a provision in the Constitution, Article 1, that says each house of Congress shall keep a journal of its proceedings and from time to time publish it. The GPO’s mission draws directly from that,” he said. 

The agency is responsible for publishing all federal documents, including legislative bills, reports, hearing transcripts, Supreme Court reports and passports.

For 80 years after the GPO began operations the same day as President Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, Congress tried time and again to pass on its work to private contractors.

“It was frankly a disaster,” Sherman said of the period when private contractors took over the agency’s work. “The entire system was plagued by corruption and scandal, and the work wasn’t getting done. Today, we all expect the daily Journal of Congress’ proceedings and the Congressional Record to be done overnight and be ready for us the next day, and that’s what we do. It wasn’t getting done for days or weeks or months.”

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Finding ways to save taxpayer dollars at the GPO has been a focus for Sherman since he started out as a budget analyst in 1980. When he began at the office, it boasted 7,000 employees. Today, it’s down to 1,700. 

“When I started, type was set in hot lead using linotype machines. With the introduction of computers, we were able to do much more with a great deal fewer people. To set type by computers today saved Congress and taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. At the same time, with the arrival of internet we’ve expanded public access. The fact that 40 million people a month are accessing our digital database online is extraordinary. We’d never be able to do that with print. We do 80 percent less printing today than we did 25 years ago,” he said.

Sherman was instrumental in orchestrating legislation that granted the GPO authority over the digital dissemination of government information, previously provided by the private sector at a fee. His motivation for the move was to save taxpayer dollars. 

“A certain stance was taken by what we call the information industry that it should be the provider of electronic access to government documents and not the government itself and that was a difficult time to push beyond that,” he said. “As it’s worked out, we have a tremendous relationship with the information industry now. I think it’s all been resolved for the greater good of public access to that information.”

As the GPO shrank in size, Sherman pushed for allocating space in the office’s block-long building for other agencies. The Library of Congress’ National Library Service for the Blind and various legislative archives are now housed there.

He has also worked to replace the offices printing presses, which were acquired at a time when the GPO was publishing 20,000 copies of Congressional Records and 35,000 copies of the Federal Register every night. Today, the office publishes only 2,000 of each per night.

“We’re buying smaller, more flexible inkjet presses. So we’ll print those documents and others on those presses and get rid of these big presses. We’ll free up more space,” he said.

Sherman will be succeeded as acting deputy director by Herbert H. Jackson Jr., the current chief administrative officer.

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