Report recommends crackdown on excessive printing

The government can generate substantial savings by reining in superfluous printing, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The report, which is based on a survey of 380 federal employees, found that the government spends nearly $1.3 billion annually on printing. Of that, about $440 million -- more than four times the amount President Obama recently asked agency managers collectively to eliminate from their administrative budgets -- is spent on pages that don't need to be printed, the survey found.

The study -- conducted by Lexmark International Inc., a Lexington, Ky., printing supply company, and Alexandria, Va., marketing firm O'Keeffe & Co. -- recommends that agencies set clear printing policies, establish strong enforcement procedures and begin switching from paper to digital records.

Just 10 percent of survey respondents said their agencies had a formal printing policy, and just 20 percent reported that their agencies had restrictions on color printing, which can be more expensive than typical black-and-white printing.

"President Obama has called for fiscal responsibility and identifying and eliminating unnecessary printing is a simple first step," said Marty Canning, Lexmark's vice president and president of its printing solutions and services division.

Some agencies already have started cutting back. The Homeland Security Department expects to save more than $40,000 in part by printing fewer copies of the fiscal 2010 budget and posting the material online. The Agriculture Department's chief financial officer is developing a Web-based utility billing system that could save more than $670,000 annually, according to budget documents released last week.

On average, federal employees print 30 pages of paper every work day -- or 7,200 pages annually, the survey found. Respondents estimated that they discarded 35 percent of the pages the day they printed them. Ninety-two percent of respondents acknowledged they did not need all the material that they printed, and more than two-thirds said they could print less if they tried.

"Printing at work is made very easy, so I tend to print without thinking about it," one respondent said.

Wasteful habits spanned all pay grades and age groups, including younger employees perceived to be more environmentally conscious, according to the report. In addition, workers printed significantly less when they telecommuted.

The top three reasons employees printed documents were to collect signatures, review information during meetings and share hard copies with other staffers.

Most federal employees would be willing to embrace digital printing, as long as the system allowed edits and signatures, and was easy to navigate, the survey found.

Lexmark will host a webinar on June 24 at 1 p.m. on ways to reduce printing. The company also has created an online calculator for federal officials to determine their personal usage.

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