Pay-as-you-go government, brought on by the Reagan administration's tight budget policies, is taking another step forward at the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. What's interesting is the different approaches the agencies have toward the same problem: press releases.
The releases are theoretically designed for the press. But at the regulatory commissions, the releases provide the only daily source of accurate information on what is going on, and thus command a great deal of interest from corporations and law firms.
At the ICC, for example, there are now about 250 private delivery boxes that get a copy of every ICC decision and other releases. By 12:30 p.m., the official release time, the boxes are often filled, because the commission sometimes turns out 300 decisions in a day.
The cost of maintaining these boxes, according to a notice in the Dec. 28 Federal Register (page 62717), has been about $590,000 a year, when you throw in the cost of paper, production and personnel to do the stuffing.
For years, the ICC has been struggling to cut down these costs, particularly because only about 15 boxes are maintained by what the commission considers legitimate news organizations, according to an official.
At the FCC they had a similar, but not as large, problem. Every day more than 1,000 copies of each press release and decision were printed and distributed somewhat more haphazardly. The FCC found, for example, that seven distribution services--paid by clients such as law firms--picked up 960 copies of FCC releases. An official could not guess how many of those clients were press organizations, but he was certain that the vast majority were not.
Both agencies decided they had to work out a new distribution system in which non-press users would have to pay--not just the delivery service--but also the commission that prepared the releases.
The ICC has proposed limiting free distribution of press releases on decisions and other matters to government agencies and the "working press," according to the notice. Under the current thinking, however, newsletters would not be included in the working press.
For those who don't get free distribution, the ICC will provide a copy that can be reviewed in the ICC's Washington press room and--for about $160 a year--a mailed daily summary of all items released in the previous 24 hours.
The FCC, meanwhile, has designed a different system that will go into effect Jan. 25.
It will continue to supply free daily releases to the working press and will keep a copy in its public records office. But other users will have to buy the releases from a commercial distribution service, one of the seven that distributed them before the new system was announced, or one of the five that have stepped forward since that date.
The FCC, according to an official, will give the distributors one copy of each release and they will have to reproduce them for their clients. This should reduce the commission's costs for press release paper from $77,000 to $4,000 for the new year.
If you want more information on the ICC system, call Kathleen King, (202) 275-0956 or write Press Release Summary, Room 2215, Office of the Secretary, ICC, Washington, D.C. 20423. Comments are due by Jan. 18. At the FCC, call Maureen Peratino, (202) 254-7674.