Moran raises question of privatizing the GPO

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who has pushed for privatization of government entities in the past, asked at the hearing last week whether it could acheive more cost savings at the Government Printing Office (GPO) .

Bruce James, the public printer, testified that he had thought about such a move when he was confirmed in 2002 to head the then-foundering agency.

“Most European governments have privatized their government printing,” James said.

But he changed his mind as he realized the critical role the GPO plays in archiving and preserving congressional documents. Such work is better done by a government office than a private contractor, James said.

Official journals, such as the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, are produced in house, although much other government printing is contracted to private companies.

“We procure about 90 percent of our work to private-sector vendors around the country,” GPO spokeswoman Veronica Meter said. “ Last year we sent work to about 2,500 vendors from coast to coast to help provide federal-government customers with electronic and print-related information products and services.”

Moran, who stood in for Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wis.) as ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, could not be reached for comment by press time.

James testified that the GPO has tried to reduce spending in other ways, including by cutting its work force with buyouts. This fiscal year, 89 GPO positions were eliminated, saving $8 million annually.

The GPO has 23 bargaining units, but those contacted could not be reached for comment.

Net income from consolidated GPO operations for 2005 increased considerably from the year before, rising to $6.1 million from $1.3 million, according to James’s testimony. The GPO requested $100.3 million for the congressional printing and binding appropriation, a $13 million increase over last year’s request. It also sought $43 million for salaries and expenses of the superintendent of documents, a $9.9 million increase over 2006.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) indicated at the beginning of the hearing, which reviewed the budgets of the GPO, Library of Congress, Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congressional Budget Office and Open World Leadership Center, that budgetary constraints would make it difficult to meet all the legislative branch agencies’ requests.

Requests for the 2007 bill total $4.23 billion, 12.3 percent or $465 million above those for fiscal 2006, an Appropriations Committee spokesman said. The total does not include a recent supplemental request.

In 2004, Moran urged the office of the Architect of the Capitol to privatize the Capitol Power Plant, which produces steam to heat and cool the Capitol campus, Union Station, the Post Office Building and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Last year, the GAO said such a plan could help the architect’s office but did not comment on the feasibility of privatizing immediately because of the expansion of the West Refrigeration Plant.

Moran’s district, in Northern Virginia, is evenly split between labor unions and private industry. He received an 87 percent approval rating from the AFL-CIO in 2004.

The architect’s office could not be reached for comment.