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December 26, 2002

Bush Promoting "Privatization" Corruption

George Will has it right in this oped:

it may seem eccentric to call attention to a skirmish between two acronyms, the OMB and the GPO, of which the vast majority of taxpayers know little and care less. But because taxpayers do pay, they have a stake in the fight the Office of Management and Budget recently picked with the Government Printing Office.
And what is at stake?

Possibly the end of civil service protections for work done under government funding, the creation of massive corporate corruption at the teet of the government, and the building of a new largescale network of corporate donors in thrall to Bush's White House.

And specifically, when the Office of Management and Budget put printing of the 2004 budget up for public bid in October, it was also violating federal law which requires that all printing be contracted for through the Government Printing Office.

The requirement that all printing go through the GPO dates to the 1860s to eliminate corruption and nepotistic deals between individual agency heads and friendly corporations. Instead, the GPO establishes fair contracting rules and makes sure that key libraries receive copies so that the public has full information on what its government is doing.

But the Bush White House doesn't like any of those principles. It wants its agencies free to cut private deals and, as is clear, is actively hostile to the public knowing what the administration is up to.

The significance of this attack on the GPO, aside from the arrogance of directly ignoring a law dating from the 1860s, is the larger agenda:

The Bush administration is not just imagining that. It has a plan to save money and improve performance by putting out for bids the work — from building maintenance to food services to making eyeglasses — done by as many as 850,000 government workers, almost half the 1.8 million-member federal civilian work force.
This is just the first shot in a war that the Bush administration is mounting against the civil service. The Homeland Security Bill was the first round in this war on labor -- mislabelled a "war on terrorism" since this agenda has nothing to do with American security.

While the GPO does most of its printing through private companies, the coordination of that printing is done by civil service employees and done in a way that is unconsidered fair by almost all private companies involved. As an article in a magazine of the printing industry argued:

[P]rinters generally support the existing system, because GPO ensures that printing firms throughout the country have a fair chance to compete for the government’s business. “GPO has many problems that should be addressed immediately. However, we should not reduce the fairness that is available in the current system that allows printers of all sizes to compete for printing from our government.”...

“Commercial printers don't seem to want this change and more than three quarters of the printers doing GPO work are small operations who stand to lose this work if executive branch agencies take over procurement.”

And this fairness issue is crucial considering the volume of information involved. More than 30.1 million printed publications were distributed in fiscal year 2001 by GPO, and there were more than 355 million downloads of Government online information from GPO Access.

But hey, the Bush proposal at least promises lower costs and more competition, right? Well, not exactly, since the change proposed requires only that individual agencies put large jobs up for bid.

As Government Executive Magazine recently noted:

80 percent of the printing orders that agencies submit to GPO are worth under $2,500. The proposed rule would require competition only for jobs worth more than that amount. %u201CThe vast majority of printing now handled through GPO's open, intensively competitive procurement system will no longer be available on a competitive basis."
And as for the public, a lot of information would just disappear.
The proposed rule would also order agencies to send copies of publications to the printing office for distribution to public libraries. That requirement already exists, but librarians say many documents don%u2019t come to them when agencies print documents themselves or go around the printing office.
Or as that article from the printing industry states:
Industry sources say the most important case “for” GPO is their publishing function as the official distributor of free information required by law. If government buyers bypass GPO, there would be less incentive for federal agencies to make sure the document is deposited into federal records.

Said one industry source, “The rate of missing documents is already on the rise because employees are not using GPO and they forget to follow procedures to get the document in the public domain."

So we will soon have agencies with their private pot of contracts, many offered without a bid to favored political donors who all can "conveniently" forget to even inform the public of what they are printing. And all in defiance of federal law.

And this is just the test run for turning White House agencies into a complete center for corporate spoils, doling out jobs and contracts as needed to cement political contributions and political power.

As George Will highlighted, in this little OMB-GPO spat is the seeds of a power grab by the Bush White House of dimensions we have not seen since the civil service was introduced in the 19th century. It is an assault on fairness in favor of corporate corruption, an attempt to undermine public availability of government information, and a war on public unionism.

Talk about a trifecta.

For more reading, see:

  • Cost Cutting or Access Control: OMB Dismantiling GPO?
  • The U.S. OMB strikes, offering its first non-GPO executive branch job for RFP
  • What is going on with the Government Printing Office?

    Posted by Nathan at December 26, 2002 08:28 AM

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    Gee, I remember when that serial prevaricator, Al Gore, was accused of breaking some equally obscure 1860's era law about soliciting campaign contributions on federal property. Wasn't the then head of the FBI so outraged by this lawless behavior that he recommended a special prosecutor be appointed? And when the AG declined, didn't the Mighty Wurlitzer roar into action decrying this evident decline in political morality? Now, of course, the head cheerleader for the Republican party thinks its just peachy that an inconvenient statute be violated if it gets in the way of ideology.

    And y'know, reading Wills' column, it somehow escaped me that not using the GPO didn't mean not using the GPO's _printers_ but rather not using the GPO's _procurement system_. So, Daniels wasn't doing a make vs. buy decision, he was just using a different set of procurement specialists.

    And finally, it is just a crock that ignoring the statue is ok because the executive branch doesn't have to comply with unconstitutional statutes. On what grounds could it be unconstitutional for Congress to direct how government funds are to be expended? Isn't that at the core of legislative power?

    Posted by: John Casey at December 26, 2002 01:12 PM

    Not to toot my horn ... wait, let me restate that. Um, to toot my own horn, my new blog has a few comments in this area (along with a link to Newman's valuable, unique, and inspiring blog) of procurement and the threat to government employees.

    Here it is: whipsaw.blogspot.com

    Posted by: Baldwin Robertson at December 26, 2002 02:52 PM

    Keep up the good work-- fella's.

    Attention to this type of non-sexy issue,GPO, is essential. Termites from within will dismember our country and government structures. We need ongoing analysis and coverage of these issues and the implications. Shine the light on these termites.

    What a tasty batch of wood pulp the GPO must seem to them. Truly a structural timber of Free Information which supports our open society and Informed Citizenry. I will visit your site again, and again for honest views.


    Posted by: Rob at December 28, 2002 12:25 AM

    I can't belive this but it is true . I just wish that Nader had not got the votes to keep Bush out of office

    Posted by: Ron at December 29, 2002 12:20 AM

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