ARCHIVED: Section-By-Section Analysis Of H.R. 4280, The "Government Printing Reform Act of 1996"

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December 18, 1996

American Library Association
American Association of Law Libraries
Association of Research Libraries


Title I of H.R. 4280 would eliminate the Joint Committee on Printing and the Joint Committee on the Library, and would create a new Joint Committee on Information. Membership on the committee would remain as it has been on the JCP, however, this bill is more specific than existing Title 44 language about how the chair of the new committee would be selected.

The principal intent here appears to be to cut costs by combining two joint committees into one, and by giving the new committee a clear mandate "to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in the printing, publication, and dissemination of federal government information."

The oversight powers of the committee would be expanded to apply to the "printing, publication, and dissemination of Federal government information," rather than the JCP's present jurisdiction over the "printing, binding, and distribution of Government publications." Many of the administrative powers of the JCP are transferred to the Public Printer.

It is unclear whether the changes to the committee's powers (and the related changes to the authority of the Public Printer) would resolve the inter-branch tensions that the JCP has faced in the past.

An area of particular concern is whether the bill provides for sufficiently strong enforcement powers to ensure agency participation and compliance in the FDLP in order to ensure public access to government information.


Title II, Subtitle A, of H.R. 4280 deals with the qualifications and powers of the Public Printer, and shifts some of the financial control of the agency (GPO) to the Inspector General.

The bill would remove the requirement that the Public Printer and Deputy Public Printer have practical knowledge and experience of printing and binding. While the current language requiring the Public Printer to be "a practical printer" is outdated, some knowledge of printing, publishing, or information technology, as well as the role of GPO in providing public access to government information, should be a requisite for individuals serving as Public Printer and Deputy Public Printer. The bill would create a term of five years for the Public Printer and Deputy Public Printer; this seems unusual as the terms would cross over presidential administrations.

The bill would give the Public Printer broad powers to "remedy neglect, delay, duplication, and waste in the preparation of publications." It is not clear how this is to be done, nor, from a practical stand point, how the Public Printer would carry out this authority. For example, there is no prohibition on the use of appropriated funds for agencies inplant operations, an area the bill attempts to target. Also, it is unclear whether the authority granted here to the Public Printer over executive agency printing activities would resolve the inter-branch conflicts presently faced by the JCP.

Changes in the law which increase the jurisdiction of the Public Printer over the operational and administrative activities related to information production and dissemination should be supported. H.R. 4280, however, would give the Public Printer sweeping powers that could apply to the production and content of publications. It is important that no single governmental office or position be provided with overreaching powers that could unilaterally alter or inhibit public access to federally-produced information.

The bill would transfer the final control of the disbursement of funds from the Public Printer to the Inspector General, increase the role of the IG by conducting financial audits annually (versus audits every three years) and "management audits" every five years, and make changes to provisions affecting GPO's revolving fund. The intent of these changes is unclear.

Title II, Subtitle B, of H.R. 4280 would eliminate the requirement that Congress and federal agencies use GPO for their printing needs. This plan is more extreme than any of the previous proposals that have addressed decentralizing the printing and procurement activities of the federal government. Under H.R. 4280, each individual agency would be authorized to contract out or produce their own printing. GPO has testified that decentralization of federal printing would substantially increase the costs to taxpayers, and that agency procurement of their own printing could double the costs for these services.

Further, decentralization of the printing and procuring of government publications will likely increase the costs and impair the ability of the Superintendent of Documents to provide comprehensive access to government information through the FDLP, the Sales Program, and other public access programs. The overall effect of decentralization would be an increase in fugitive documents and less public access to government publications. Also, the bill does not provide any mechanism to systematically and comprehensively obtain and provide permanent public access to electronic government information.


Title III of H.R. 4280 deals with the printing and distribution of government publications, including congressional printing. One of the more alarming effects of the bill would be to empower the House and the Senate to have independent control over the production and dissemination of their respective chamber's information. No provisions are included to ensure standardized style, format, timing, content or dissemination of congressional information. Standardization is especially important if the information is to be widely accessible to the public via online systems such as GPO Access and LC THOMAS. Also, the bill opens the potential for political abuse by the majority party in each House to control or limit access to government information.

The bill would eliminate the permanent paper (bound) edition of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set and other congressional publications. It also would remove the statutory authority for the production and distribution of many key titles (e.g., Statutes at Large, treaties, annual reports).

The bill would transfer appropriations for congressional publishing from GPO to the House and Senate. The Superintendent of Documents Salaries and Expenses appropriation would be charged for the electronic publishing of the Statutes at Large and treaties; it is unclear how this would be done.

The bill would eliminate the indexers of the Congressional Record, assumably relying on electronic search tools. This could have a negative impact on the ability of users to effectively find information in the Record. The size and content of the Congressional Record database make it a considerably more difficult source to use if sufficient formatting, indexing, and standards are not utilized. Electronic search tools are most effective when they are applied to information that has been properly indexed. A further concern is that, if indexing is continued separately by the House and the Senate, each House could employ different indexing rules, standards, and timetables.

The bill would transfer the appropriation for publishing the Federal Register from GPO to the Office of the Federal Register, and removes the requirement that the Public Printer "make available the facilities of the GPO for the prompt printing and distribution of the Federal Register." This would allow the Federal Register to be produced elsewhere than at GPO, undermining the agency's ability to remain self-sustaining. The bill would authorize GPO to "distribute" the Register, but it is unclear how the separate documents would be integrated into a cohesive publication.

Throughout H.R. 4280, the term "publishing" is used to replace "printing"; however, no definition is offered to clarify the scope and extent of what is intended by the term in the context of Title 44.


Title IV of H.R. 4280 addresses the areas of distribution and sales of public documents. Most significantly, the bill would eliminate the link between production and dissemination of government publications. Under the current law, this link provides an easy, efficient, and economical means for ensuring public access to government publications through the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP): GPO prints or procures the printing of documents and handles all facets of depository distribution; agencies have a direct incentive to participate since the costs for depository copies and distribution are funded by congressional appropriations, and no additional action is necessary by the agency; and GPO's centralized management of distribution allows for greater efficiencies in cataloging, indexing, and shipping. The impact of severing this link between production and dissemination could be detrimental to public access to government information.

As an alternative, the bill would require agencies to furnish the Superintendent of Documents with a copy of each publication, and give the Superintendent of Documents the authority to republish them. It will be considerably more expensive for the Superintendent to have to republish these depository and sales copies, as opposed to riding the original print orders as occurs now. The Superintendent also would be given the authority to republish any other agency publications it is successful in obtaining when these publications are not supplied directly by the publishing agency; and the bill allows the Superintendent to recover these costs from the issuing agency. However, the bill provides no enforcement authority for GPO to successfully recover costs from agencies, and it is unclear how this provision would relate to other sections of the law which (1) require that publishing for an agency may only be done on requisition signed by the head of the agency, or (2) requirement that any publishing may not exceed an appropriation.

The practical effect of this change in the law would be an increase in fugitive documents; a loss of information that is available for long-term access and preservation; a loss of economies in cataloging, indexing, and distribution; an increase of costs to print publications; and delays in acquiring and disseminating publications.

The bill provides no guarantee that documents for indexing will be supplied by congressional sources to GPO. Also, the bill does not update the cataloging and indexing authority of GPO to facilitate the use of modern cataloging and locator services.

The bill would amend the law regarding pricing of government publications by the Superintendent of Documents. It would allow the Superintendent to set prices based on cost (striking the 50 percent add-on in current law). Also, it would eliminate the 25 percent limitation on volume discounts, giving the Superintendent of Documents the ability to compete with other government and commercial sales agents in pricing discounts. These provisions should be supported.


Title V of H.R. 4280 deals specifically with 44 U.S.C. Chapter 19 and the Federal Depository Library Program. Concerns raised in this section of the bill include:

The bill does not define the term "publish" in the context of Title 44. Any definition of "publish" or "government publication" should encompass all formats and should explicitly include electronic information to avoid any question or confusion about its inclusion in the FDLP. Also, use of the term "publication" should not be narrowly interpreted to include only those items originally intended for public distribution (e.g., sales publications, public information brochures). References throughout 44 U.S.C. Chapter 19 to "documents, books and other printed matter" should be expanded to include a broader definition of "government information" that explicitly includes all formats.

The bill would change the payment structure for depository publications, allowing the Superintendent of Documents seemingly broad authority for dissemination and republication, and making the cost of dissemination and republication to be borne by the issuing agency; however, there is no enforcement mechanism in 1902(b) to make this work. The Superintendent of Documents has no easy way of charging agencies for depository copies of publications not published through GPO. Republication by the Superintendent of Documents could also end up being more expensive overall for taxpayers (versus "riding" the initial press run of publications).

The bill appears to eliminate the authority for the Superintendent of Documents Salaries and Expenses appropriation. A clarification of the intent of this proposal is need. It is important to retain sufficient Superintendent of Documents appropriations for printing and/or buying publications, as well as administering the FDLP.

The bill would make agencies pay for distribution of depository copies of publications (not GPO appropriations), removing the incentive for agencies to come through GPO, and thus increasing the likelihood of fugitive documents. In addition, the bill is unclear as to whether agencies or the Superintendent of Documents would distribute publications decentralized distribution of tangible publications could be problematic.

The bill would eliminate the exemption for cooperative publications, thus removing a major "loophole" for fugitive documents. This change is a positive step that has been advocated for a number of years by many in the depository community.

The bill would limit the number and types of depositories in the FDLP to the specific institutions participating in the program as of January 1, 1997. We do not support the concept of a cap on depository libraries; however, if any cap is instituted, it should be on the overall number of libraries, rather than freezing the composition of the FDLP to only those institutions presently in the program. It is important to allow for flexibility in designating new/replacement depository libraries in order to account for changes over time, and to ensure equitable public access to government information. Requiring Congress to pass a separate law in order to designate any new depository library would be too onerous a procedure. The bill would eliminate the authority for any future designations of new depository libraries, and it is unclear whether the bill would allow replacing libraries that cease to be depositories (section 1905 would be eliminated). Also, while we might assumed that libraries presently in the system would be "grandfathered" and remain in the program, the bill would strike the underlying authority for many of the specific types of libraries which presently participate in the FDLP.

We believe it is important to retain in the law the ability of Members of Congress to designate depository libraries in accordance with the overall goals and policies of the FDLP.

The bill would eliminate the statutory requirement for the classified list (i.e., a list of government publications by category or classification number), but the Superintendent of Documents could still perform this function within its authority to administer the program (through regulations). One of the primary purposes of the classified list is its use as a method for libraries to select items. A clarification of the bill's intent regarding selection is needed must libraries take everything? It is important to maintain libraries' options for selection (even in electronic environment), and there should be some language in the statute that guarantees selectivity (in combination with section 1913). The actual procedures for selection could be covered in regulations, not statute.

There appears to be a contradiction in H.R. 4280 regarding 44 U.S.C. 1905 section 504 of the bill would eliminate 1905 from the law, but 1905 continues to be referred to later in 44 U.S.C. 1910 as amended by the bill. As stated above, it is important to retain the authority and ability to make replacements when depositories drop out of the program.

By eliminating section 1905, the bill would do away with the basic authority for distribution to depository libraries, although language retained in section 1903 could cover this in effect. Also, it would remove language relating to the selection of government information by depository libraries.

The bill would retain in the law the arbitrary criterion for depository libraries of "below ten thousand" books in section 1909. Given the move towards electronic dissemination, the program should focus more on a library's (or other program partner's) ability to provide a wide array of government information services to the public, instead of the number of books in its collection. This requirement also could undermine the opportunities that electronic technologies provide for expanding the scope and reach of the program to include non-library partners.

The bill keeps the statutory authority for two regional depositories per state, and moves the specific retention and disposal requirements to be covered by regulations. It also eliminates the statutory 5-year retention requirement for selective depositories.

The first phrase in section 1909 (as amended by H.R. 4280) is an incomplete sentence, thus the intent and meaning of this proposed change are unclear.




For more information, please contact:

Prue Adler, Association of Research Libraries
202/296-2296 or

Mary Alice Baish, American Association of Law Libraries
202/662-9200 or

Anne Heanue, American Library Association
202/628-8410 or


Working Document prepared by
American Library Association,
Government Documents Roundtable (ALA/GODORT),
Legislation Committee