- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

A long-standing dispute between the legislative and executive branches over the Government Printing Office is flaring up again because of the administration's proposal to allow executive agencies to contract out or do their own printing rather than go through the GPO.
Members of the congressional Joint Committee on Printing, which oversees the GPO, told Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. his proposal violates the law and may end up costing money rather than realizing the $50 million-a-year savings he expects.
"Absent a definitive showing this saves money or otherwise advances the national interest, this is at best counterproductive," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.
The GPO acts as a central clearinghouse for all agencies' printing needs in 85 percent of the instances contracting the printing out to qualified printers and in the other instances doing the printing itself.
But Mr. Daniels says by having a monopoly on printing, GPO has become too expensive and its quality has slipped. Under Mr. Daniels' proposal, executive agencies would be allowed to print their unclassified documents in-house or contract out the printing themselves, rather than go through the GPO.
"The evidence is 100 percent clear that the taxpayer would get a break if more players were allowed to operate," Mr. Daniels said.
This struggle between the legislative and executive branches over the GPO goes back at least as far as the Reagan administration, which proposed decentralizing printing. The Clinton administration also made the same proposal in 1994.
Mr. Daniels said the current disagreement isn't a power struggle.
"We haven't seen this as any kind of dispute between the branches," Mr. Daniels said. "We see this as a straightforward opportunity for better management."
But Michael F. DiMario, who as public printer manages the GPO, said he believes Mr. Daniels' proposal could end up costing as much as $100 million a year because individual agencies wouldn't be able to achieve the economies of scale or obtain the low rates from printers that the GPO does, and each agency would have to create a new bureaucracy to handle printing.
Some committee members are also worried that allowing individual agencies to manage their printing will hurt the government documents distribution process, which is supposed to send most government documents to university libraries and other certified repositories throughout the nation.
Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat and chairman of the committee, proposed putting the legislative-executive matter before the courts and letting them decide whether the administration's interpretation of the law is correct.
He has promised more hearings in September when Congress returns from its August recess. But by then, Mr. Daniels' Sept. 1 deadline for beginning the transition will have arrived.
"That doesn't mean it can't be reversed," Mr. Hoyer said.
Mr. Daniels, though, said the Justice Department in both the Clinton and Bush administrations issued an opinion that OMB can make the move, so they are going to proceed.
"We don't see a need to penalize taxpayers further while hoping for a revision of the statute or some court ruling," Mr. Daniels said.

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