Correction to This Article
An April 4 article about the Government Printing Office incorrectly reported when the agency launched its first online edition of the Congressional Record. It became available at in 1994.

Printing Office's Work Stacks Up

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

One of the unintended consequences of the new five-day workweek under the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill is a whopping bill from the Government Printing Office. A longer workweek means more paper.

The Congressional Record, for instance, is printed daily and captures every debate, vote, parliamentary maneuver, tribute to a fife-and-drum corps, post office naming, and utterance by members on the floor of the House and the Senate. It averages 250 pages.

"But with Congress working five days a week, that means a Congressional Record five days a week," said William H. Turri, the acting public printer. "Last year, it was three days a week."

That's two additional days of the Congressional Record, 500 more pages and an additional $3 million annually in printing costs, according to Robert C. Tapella, chief of staff for the printing office, which is responsible for publishing all government documents. The current press run for the Congressional Record is 5,604 copies, a figure set by Congress.

There are other printing demands associated with a new majority on Capitol Hill, costs that have not been seen since party control of Congress last changed hands in 1994, Tapella said.

For instance, there's official stationery. The large crop of freshman lawmakers, returning Democrats in new leadership posts, returning Republicans in new minority positions, committees that did not exist in the last Congress, and new officers such as the House clerk all need new stationery, he said.

Tapella and Turri made that argument as they asked for $110 million for congressional printing and binding costs in the next fiscal year. The request is $26 million more than the current budget and was made of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, one of those panels that did not exist in the last session and now must have their reports printed.

Some of the additional money is needed to cover an $8 million deficit the agency faces because its budget was not increased this year, despite a rise in printing demands, paper costs and wages, Tapella said.

Another chunk is required because the agency has to publish the U.S. Code, which is printed every six years.

Ordinarily, the legislative process is paper-intensive. From the moment a bill is introduced by a member of Congress to its signature on parchment paper by the president, the printing office must print 10 different documents related to that piece of legislation, often doing the work overnight.

The agency is producing 3 million or 4 million pages a week for Congress from its 1.5 million-square-foot North Capitol Street headquarters, the largest information-processing, printing and distribution facility in the world. Tapella could not say how that compares with the workload under the last Congress.

All the talk of paper led some members of the panel to question why the printing office, which was created in 1813 when printing was a central tool in communication, hasn't gone all-electronic.

"Are you completely transitioning to a digital system as some point?" the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), asked during a hearing.

The printing office is in the middle of a $29 million technological shift that will allow it to store and maintain all federal documents electronically, Tapella said. About 92 percent of everything it publishes now is available in an electronic format, said Michael L. Wash, the agency's chief technical officer. The agency produced its first online edition of the Congressional Record two weeks ago.

But Turri said the printing office will stick with paper until Congress directs it to do otherwise.

"It's kind of like the newspaper business," said Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn). "They know things are going electronic, but they know people are going to want to read their newspaper with their coffee."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company