Publick Printer. That's the title that founding father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) gave to the job of coordinating printing for the then new United States government. He was the first "publick" printer, and he felt strongly -- having been a printer himself -- in establishing a single authority to ensure quality and fair pricing for the printing of federal government documents.
This led to the founding of the United States Government Printing Office (GPO) in 1813. Today, as then, GPO's role is to be the centralized printer and procurer of printing for the federal government including the Executive Office of the President, Congress, the Supreme Court, executive departments and independent agencies. Its core mission remains Keeping America Informed as it supports the work of the executive, legislative and judicial branches. As required by Title 44 of the U.S. Code, all federal agencies are to use GPO to procure their printing.
William Boarman, this country's 26th Public Printer, continues the legacy begun by Benjamin Franklin. And like Ben Franklin, he is a practical printer by trade. An excerpt from Mr. Boarman's bio: "For four decades, Bill Boarman has been a key participant in the partnership between labor and management in the American printing and publishing industry, where he gained extensive experience in fund management and turning organizations with deficit problems into profitable operations. Bill has been a trusted advisor to several Public Printers spanning the administrations of Presidents Jimmy Carter through George W. Bush, and as the result of bipartisan relationships with Members of Congress over the years he has been a spokesperson for the role GPO plays in our democracy. Employed by GPO as a printer more than 35 years ago, Bill returned to the U.S. Government Printing Office on January 3, 2011, as the 26th Public Printer of the United States after being appointed to the position by President Barack Obama."
Some have been less than thrilled with Mr. Boarman’s appointment because of his union background. That background, however, could be considered a strength, because he understands a key component of GPO's mission is performed every day by private sector printers, union and non-union. According to GPO, it procures about 70% of its work from commercial sources. More than 1,700 printers nationwide benefited from GPO work in 2010.
The challenge for Mr. Boarman is going to be maintaining and strengthening the long and successful partnership that GPO has had with the private sector. Unfortunately, the private sector is seeing a reduction in work from GPO. While $358 million was awarded in jobs to private sector printers in 2010, that number was $425 million in 2009 and a few years before that it was $500 million. There has been roughly a 30% drop in income from GPO work to private sector printers over the past decade. Factor in inflation and the drop is even more significant.
The federal government is a multi-trillion dollar operation. Yet, only about 1 billion dollars total in printing is produced or procured by GPO. Estimates have been made over the years as to how many billions of dollars escape GPO. No one really knows, because no one has kept close control over waivers -- the permission given by GPO, through the Congressional Joint Committee on Printing, for federal agencies to start their own print shops rather than send printing through GPO. One estimate is that there are more than 25,000 federal in-house printing plants doing upwards of $20 billion in printing.
Think what GPO control over this printing could do for the federal government, the tax payers, GPO, and, very importantly, for all of us in the printing industry. If there is less than $100 billion in commercial printing available, add in $20 billion in federal work and bingo – tens of thousands of private sector printing jobs would be saved – enough perhaps for the White House to crow about.
That would be a boon for the private sector which has been struggling during the Great Recession. Printing Industries of America (PIA) predicts about 9,500 printing companies in the United States will disappear by 2020. That would leave about 27,000 printers nationwide, down from a high just a few years ago of 36,500 and before that more than 50,000. GPO work keeps many printers in business, and it keeps union and non-union people employed.
And, there is one more thing. GPO is running out of money. Congress will need to pick-up the deficit at a time that Congress is not in the mood to increase or even to maintain agency budgets – especially when that agency is its own. This Congress just is not going to continue to under-write GPO when the funds necessary to do so come out of the Congress’s own operating budget.
There is a solution, and that is to withdraw waivers. Put more work into GPO. When GPO procures this work, GPO charges a fair handling fee which the agencies pay. This money can be used to operate GPO as Congress reduces its financial support for GPO.
We believe Mr. Boarman will have only one bite at the apple to strengthen GPO's partnership with those that do the bulk of GPO's work. Everyone wins if he is successful in driving more work to fill downtime in the GPO in-plant production operation while, at the same time, dramatically increasing work to private sector printers. This new work is readily available through the cancellation of waivers. When that happens, agency costs decrease as agencies retire from the printing business, which is not where they belong nor is it where their core competencies reside.
Mr. Boarman has a stellar reputation and a close relationship with the White House. He is well positioned to get something done. I would urge my fellow printers, regardless of their political affiliation or union feelings, to support Mr. Boarman with the hope and understanding that Mr. Boarman will partner with the printing industry as he has partnered over many years with the unions, and by his serving as a bridge, we can together bring success to all involved.