As joint hearings of the Senate Rules and House Administration committees opened yesterday on a proposed bill to reorganize the 84-year-old Government Printing Office, a consumer group issued a separate study calling the agency one of the "most neglected" in Washington.
The public Printing Reorganization Act of 1970 atempts to reconstruct the obsolete printing code for more "efficient and cost-effective" government printing procedures, explained Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), co-sponsor and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Printing, during his opening statement.
The proposal, which would keep printing and distribution services within the GPO, seeks to combine the duties of the Public Printer and joint Committee on Printing in a seven-member board of directors appointed by the president.
The board, wihch would set policy and regulations for publication and printing distribution, would appoint a Public Printer and superintendent of documents to manage the service.
The House and Senate administration committees would oversee congressional printing requirements under the bill, which proposes to make the GPO an independent government agency rather than an arm of the legislative branch.
During his opening statement, Rep. Frank Thompson, Jr. (D-N.J.). chairman of the House Administration Committee and Joint Committee on Printing, outlined a study which indicated that federal paperwork costs taxpayers about $100 billion annually, 1 billion of which is for federal publications and another $1 billion of which is for reproduction of materials.
However, Rep. William Dickinson (R-Ala.) expressed reservations about the bill, saying it could "politicize" the GPO by authorizing political appointees and would take control over printing operations away from Congress.
In a separate move, Ralph Nader's Public Interest Research Group issued its own GPO report yesterday describing the agency as a "critical artery" for the flow of information to citizens and within the government.
Citing GPO problems with promoting publications and waste caused by destruction of useless materials, along with calling a congressional ad hoc committee's recent findings "useful but limited," the Nader report proceded to outline a number of proposed improvements for GPO.
It recommended that the name Superintendent of Documents be changed to Public Information Agency, making it independent of the GPO, directing publications to public interest groups, and "opening the resources of the government to the public."
The report also recommended that prices be charged according to actual cost of materials and that publications be sent free to libraries, schools and similar groups.
At the Capitol Hill hearing, however, GPO Public Printer John Boyle called the proposed reorganization "unnecessary" with "no logical explanation." He questioned the need for a board of directors.
In his testimony, Boyle said that the move would create additional staff that is not needed and "would interfere with the business-like, cost-effective operation" of the GPO -- thus increasing costs.
He said that the savings that the government is seeking could be achieved as effectively by reducing the number of titles and copies printed and by lowering the number of publications that are free or eventually destroyed.
About 35 percent of federal printing and distribution is handled by the GPO, about $177 million last year, with $322 million contracted out to commercial businesses in 1977.
Although figures on actual savings to the GPO are not available Gordon McKay, general counsel to the committee on printing, said it would be "substantial," The annual GPO budget is about $620 million.
A six-month, $186,000 management study of the GPO recently completed by Coopers & Lybrand stated that "no sweeping changes are warranted" by the agency.
Testimony offered by William M. Lucianovic, who represented the accounting firm, indicated that the agency has made "admirable progress" toward solving recent "well-publizized problems."
The firm, however, suggested several proposals to tighten management, organization and maintain cost-effecttiveness within the aency.
The hearing, which is the first of four this month, is the result of an ad hoc advisory committee study formed by the joint committee on printing last year under Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-R-. I.) who is co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate. CAPTION: Picture, Printing Subcommittee Chairman Augustus Hawkins, left, and Rep. Frank Thompson at GPO hearings. By James K. W. Atherton - The Washington Post