Back to the Future
Printing is currently America's third largest manufacturing industry according to the Printing Industries of America (PIA)—employing over 1,213,000 people in almost 50,000 establishments, and selling more than $163 billion of products in 2000. A substantial and important portion of this material is published by the federal government, which maintains its own publishing agency, the Government Printing Office (GPO), for just this purpose. Now in its 140th year of operation, the GPO is facing one of the most significant challenges of its history—the task of redefining its role in the digital age.
At the heart of this challenge is the rapidly diminishing demand for printed material as a growing segment of the American population turns to the Internet for information. While this is an issue now being addressed by almost all publishers of printed books, newspapers and magazines, the digital revolution presents a special problem for the GPO since most of its material is available online for free.
One clear sign of the changing times at the GPO is a dramatic drop in the sales of its print publications. Over the summer of 2001, the GPO closed four of its bookstores due to reduced sales, including the agency's Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco locations. The GPO said easy access to federal government documents on the Internet led to a drastic drop in sales. In a recent statement before the House Subcommittee on Legislative Appropriations, Public Printer Michael F. DiMario implied that better preparation on the part of the federal government may have softened the blow.
"GPO proposed a consolidation of the government's publications dissemination functions in 1999 for economy purposes, but in the absence of any action on that proposal we have been compelled to begin downsizing actions for our sales program."
The Public Printer, who serves as the head of GPO, is appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. DiMario was nominated by President Clinton in 1993 and is now in his ninth year of service.