How the public printer is doing more with less

Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks outlines her agency’s transformation. Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks outlines her agency’s transformation. Government Printing Office

Acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooks described as “transformational” the changes she has helped orchestrate at the Government Printing Office, offering the results as “one of many case studies in government operations in an environment of fiscal constraints, intense congressional oversight and justified public scrutiny.”

She detailed the downsizing and reprioritizing required during the current period of austerity as well as GPO’s longer term move from print to digital communications, speaking to a unit of the Association of Government Accountants on Tuesday.

Vance-Cooks, a former health care information technology executive who in January became the first female GPO leader, described its “unique organization and financial structure,” noting the agency, established in 1861, is a “mixture of blue-collar and white-collar workers” and is heavily unionized.

Its three funding sources are congressional appropriations for its own printing needs (the most well-known being the Congressional Record), a separate appropriation for salaries and overhead, and a revolving fund of earnings it brings in from entrepreneurial ventures. Those ventures include production of passport covers with computer chips for reading biometrics, agency smart cards, and general secure credentials such as those used in the Homeland Security Department’s Trusted Traveler program and to manage crowds at Obama's presidential inauguration and the 2012 Super Bowl.

In 2011, Vance-Cooks said the agency “hit a major problem, and was obviously at a crossroads, with declining revenues, rising costs and a shrinking market.” The chief financial officer said if nothing was done, GPO would have to ask Congress for a bailout by 2013.

With the public reading more online and buying fewer printed publications, revenues since 2007 had dropped by 13 percent, she said, while overhead rose by 50 percent. Congress’ session-ending 2011 continuing resolution had a severe impact -- “printing is the first to go,” she said. GPO appropriations were cut by 8 percent in 2011 and 6 percent in 2012.

To “do more with less,” she said, the agency embarked on a four-pronged effort to take the existing mission of keeping the American people informed about their three branches of government and make it more specific, creating a digital platform for one-stop shopping.

GPO developed a strategic plan to serve as a roadmap from 2011 to 2015, sought to bring costs under control (especially overhead), identified strategic capital investments to support its transformation, and stabilized revenues by improving customer relations and finding new market niches.

The key, Vance-Cooks stressed, was communicating to the workforce, to union leaders and management directly to make them active participants. “You can’t communicate too much with employees,” she said, citing use of an intranet, the Internet, newsletters, town hall meetings and even television monitors in elevators.

“Hard, but necessary decisions” followed, she said. Working with Congress -- GPO’s most central customer -- it was agreed that fewer printed copies of the Congressional Record and the Federal Register were needed given the popularity of the online versions. The print order came down by 18 percent, saving $300,000 annually, plus another $400,000 saved through cuts in printing other congressional documents, she said.

Internally, changes included holding the line on salary increases consistent with the governmentwide pay freeze; restricting inside and external hiring by requiring each recommended hire to go through executive review; and requiring all travel be justified in writing and subject to budget conditions and executive review.

“This was considered bureaucratic, but it’s highly effective,” Vance-Cooks said. GPO also restricted overtime, canceled recruitment bonuses and student loan aid, and did away with performance rewards, instead introducing “on-the-spot rewards of nominal amounts.” Managers also slashed training, put new controls on contractors and restricted credit card use.

Finally, employees were offered voluntary buyouts with the goal of trimming 15 percent of the workforce. This took careful planning, she said, and each business unit “had to prepare for individuals walking out the door” by coming up with a strategy -- presented orally to groups -- that would avoid a decline in service levels. “The buyouts were successful. Employees bought into it and the union and management agreed,” she said.

By Jan. 12, Vance-Cooks said, GPO had achieved 95 percent of its goal, and it is further along today. The head count of 1,900 employees is GPO’s lowest this century (it was as high as 8,000 in the past).

For the future, GPO’s transformation produced a task force on long-term strategic investments such as new markets (within the government) for certified security credentials and a task force that has implemented a crackdown on delinquent payments for services provided to other agencies. Everything has to enhance value for the customer, she said. “The days of ‘I wish we could have it,’ ‘Would be nice to have,’ are gone,” she added.

The revamped GPO has emerged with a workforce “with changed skill sets,” Vance-Cooks said, noting her fiscal 2013 budget request is for level funding. “We are now well-positioned to be effective, efficient and relevant” as the agency transforms, she said. “That’s doing more with less.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.