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The Congressional Joint Committee On Printing (JCP) Should Be Kept

[Editor’s note: Bernadine Abbott Hoduski has generously contributed the following article about the proposal to abolish the Joint Committee on Printing in the draft bill to reform Title 44 of the U.S. Code. No one is better placed to help us understand the importance of the JCP. She is a (retired) Professional Staff Member of the Congressional Joint Committee on Printing (21 years), the author of “Lobbying for Libraries and the Public’s Access to Government Information”, Rowman Publishing, ISBN 0-8108-4585-7, a former depository librarian, a member of the Depository Library Council to the Public Printer from 1973 to 1974, and one of the founders of the ALA Government Documents Round Table.]


by Bernadine Abbott Hoduski

In an era of superhero movies, America needs a real protector for the nation. Enter the Congressional Joint Committee on Printing, the Nation’s guardian of public access to government publications and information for over a hundred years. Hoping to reach and help the greatest number of people, Congress created depository libraries. These libraries have a close relationship with the members of Congress in their own state because those members are the ones that designate them as depositories. JCP has taken many steps to improve services to libraries and the public, including hiring the first librarian with the charge of helping Congress improve information services for the public and the libraries that serve them.

This guardian of government information is facing a genuine crisis, however. In spite of all the good work that the JCP has done for Congress, government agencies, libraries and the public the Congressional Committee on House Administration has proposed eliminating JCP in their draft bill revising all of U.S.C. Title 44. The bill divides JCP’s responsibilities between the Committee on House Administration, Senate Rules Committee, and the Government Publishing Office. JCP membership comes from House Administration and Senate Rules. This draft bill eliminates the long standing policy of the Senate and House working together in a joint committee in a nonpartisan way to enact changes to the printing and publishing laws of the United States. A good example of both houses working together is the GPO Access Act of 1993 where almost every member of JCP and their parent committees approved of the bill. In a period of declining bi-partisanship, the Nation cannot afford to lose such a vital bridge between the houses of Congress and their members.

The draft bill gives GPO the power currently held by JCP to take “actions to remedy neglect, delay, duplication, or waste in the production, procurement, and dissemination of information dissemination products, and actions to enhance and expand the dissemination of, and maintenance of permanent public access to such products.” While the GPO will receive the responsibilities of the JCP, they will not have the necessary enforcement powers to address these responsibilities.

There are, however, some positive changes introduced by the draft bill. The bill eliminates 1 ) JCP’s responsibility for buying paper and gives it to GPO; 2) JCP’s responsibility for issuing waivers to agencies to purchase printing and publishing equipment and services; 3) JCP’s responsibility to cut the costs of publishing and printing by issuing regulations that limit the use of color and graphics in printing. If Congress retains JCP, eliminating these responsibilities would free up JCP to concentrate on the oversight of information policies, the oversight of GPO, and the oversight of all federal departments and agencies. This will ensure that government publications and information are available to the public, libraries, Congress, and the rest of the government. JCP should be responsible for reviewing the reports this draft bill requires GPO to make to Congress. The best reports require dedicated, knowledgeable staff to review them so information policies and procedures are clear and effective.

Although GPO is a critical partner in disseminating information to the public, the loss of the JCP’s oversight will cause a serious problem in obtaining information produced by other government agencies. The history of the JCP reveals its vital role in promoting government efficiency. Established in 1846, the JCP was created “ to remedy neglect, delay, or waste” on the part of government printing contractors. Over the years Congress assigned more duties to JCP and consolidated its duties under the 1895 Printing Act and codified all of its responsibilities into U.S.C. Title 44. Congress also moved the Federal Depository Library Program from the Department of Interior to GPO thus creating JCP as the champion for public access to government publications. Congress also approved a request by the JCP and the Library of Congress to transfer the International Library Exchange Program from the Smithsonian to GPO in order to improve services and cut the cost by some million dollars per year.

JCP has reviewed Title 44 over the years by conducting a number of exhaustive studies. In 1978 the JCP established the Ad Hoc Committee On Revision of Title 44 and included representatives from fifteen organizations. Francis Buckley and Lois Mills, both ALA GODORT members, were chosen to represent the library community. Roy Breimon and I as JCP staff were assigned to assist the advisory committee. I also chaired the subcommittee on pricing of government information.

The committee report “Federal Government Printing and Publishing: Policy Issues” outlines the role of the Joint Committee On Printing as follows:

Under title 44, United States Code, primary responsibility for setting and administering policy for the printing and distribution of government publications rests with the Joint Committee on Printing. Section 103 establishes the major JCP policy goal to “remedy neglect, delay, duplication, or waste in the public printing and distribution of Government publications.” In addition other sections of the law state that specific actions or assignments are “subject to regulation by the JCP”, or must be “approved by the JCP.”

The report goes on to list some of the responsibilities of JCP :

  1. Establishment of policies for the federal printing and distribution system through regulations.
  2. Establishment of standards and specifications for federal paper procurement and use.
  3. Oversight of the operation of almost 300 department and agency printing plants, world wide.
  4. Approval of agency requests to purchase printing and binding equipment.
  5. Oversight of the Federal Printing Procurement Program whereby a substantial percentage of the Government’s printing requirements … are purchased from commercial sources via competitive bids.
  6. Oversight of the Government Printing Office’s operation and policies. Additionally, under 44 U. S. C. the Kiess Act the committee serves as the final board of appeal in GPO labor/management negotiations pertaining to wage related matters.
  7. Oversight over public access to government information through various programs including by-law distribution, document sales, and the Depository Library Program.
  8. Promotion of cooperation between the Senate and House of Representatives publishing activities in such areas as automated production of Congressional publications and automated indexing.
  9. Formulation of recommendations to Congress for the updating, revising, and /or eliminating sections of title 44 of the United States Code.
  10. Compilation, publication, and distribution of certain Congressional publications and supplements including: “The Congressional Directory”, The Congressional Pictorial Directory”, “The Capitol Magazine”, and the “Biographical Directory of the American Congress”

JCP, until its separate office and staff were taken away in the late 90s, worked every day to provide oversight of the executive and judicial branches. JCP had liaisons in every department and agency and held a yearly meeting with them to review JCP regulations and discuss new printing and information policies. JCP worked with the Government Accounting Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the former Office of Technology Assessment to explore ways to improve GPO’s ability to do its job.

JCP employed staff who were experts on the legislative process and the publications that support that process such as the bills and the Congressional Record. They were knowledgeable about printing, paper, binding, technology, publishing, appropriations, depository libraries, and labor. Congress got rid of the JCP office as a cost saving gesture. JCP since 1846 has more than proved its worth. JCP developed many policies that saved hundreds of millions dollars. JCP helped GPO use technology to reduce GPO’s staff from about 9,000 to a little over a thousand staffers without firing a single person.

JCP held public meetings in 1980 and 1981 all around the country to solicit feedback from GPO’s field staff and customers, librarians, printing and paper contractors, and commercial publishers about needed legislative and regulatory changes. JCP inspected all the GPO plants, bookstores, the Pueblo Distribution Center, many agency in house printing facilities and 50 depository libraries. JCP continued to inspect printing and procurement plants until their staff was eliminated.

JCP worked closely with all the library associations and sent staff to speak at their meetings. JCP encouraged GPO to support the Depository Library Council and sent JCP staff to their meetings. Staff attending over the years include the staff director, deputy staff director, general counsel, and professional staff.

JCP coordinated the efforts to pass the 1962 Depository Act, the law to bring law libraries into the depository library program, and the GPO Access Act of 1993. JCP laid the groundwork for bringing electronic publications into the depository library program by interpreting the law to say that printing, included electronic publications.

JCP worked with GPO to develop the requirements for the first contract for an electronic printing press. JCP directed GPO to use recycled paper for regular printing and archival paper for publications like the Serial Set. JCP directed GPO to use soy based ink for printing. JCP chaired the working group that automated the Congressional Record Index. JCP with the cooperation of the Bookbinder to the Senate and GPO developed binding standards for Congress thus improving the quality and cutting costs. JCP worked with GPO in developing bibliographic and technical standards for GPO microfiche. JCP investigated why the microfiche for a number of years was of poor quality and took steps to correct the problem.

JCP staff worked with the Superintendent of Documents to automate the “Monthly Catalog of U. S. Government Publications” using standards such as the Anglo American Cataloging Rules and MARC computer format, which makes it possible for libraries, networks, and others to incorporate those cataloging records into their electronic catalogs. JCP working with the Federal Library Committee brokered the contract to allow GPO and federal libraries to catalog directly into OCLC. Vendors were able to take the cataloging data and produce secondary products. The Senate and House Libraries, Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, GAO and most of the executive branch libraries use GPO’s cataloging records rather than doing their own cataloging and save the federal government millions of dollars.

JCP encouraged GPO to hire professional librarians and raise the librarians grades by two grades, in order to compete with LC for experienced catalogers.

JCP worked with GPO to develop a marketing plan for the sale of government publications including the production of a sales catalog so customers know the price and availability of publications before they order them. JCP worked with GPO in designing an automated sales order fulfillment system, which makes it possible for staff to search a data base when an order arrives and to process the order electronically. JCP works with commercial book stores to stock GPO publications. This was made possible because JCP persuaded Bowker and GPO to assign ISBN numbers to GPO publications and to use bar codes on sales publications which allows book stores and individuals to order those publications.

JCP established the Ad Hoc Committee on Depository Library Access to Federal Automated Data Bases, which recommended to the JCP that electronic government information be provided to depository libraries and further recommended that the economic feasibility of such provision be tested through pilot projects. JCP staff convinced 16 agencies to develop electronic pilots. JCP convinced Census to publish their pilot Cd-Rom through GPO. It was the first CD-Rom published through GPO.

JCP visited 55 congressional committees in 1975 and persuaded them to allow GPO to ride their print order for committee prints for depository libraries.

JCP worked with Congressional, LC, and GPO staff to transfer the International Exchange Program from the Smithsonian to GPO thus improving service to the libraries and cutting the cost of the program by several million per year.

JCP persuaded the map producing agencies (who have legal permission to print their maps themselves) to pay for printing maps for depository libraries in return for GPO paying for the handling, mailing, postage, cataloging.

JCP worked with the sci/tech agencies to persuade them to provide their publications and reports to depository libraries. Many sci/tech publications were issued in microfiche and since JCP had adopted a policy that microforms were publications the agencies could not refuse to provide them to depository libraries.

While the JCP may not be an actual superhero, it does play a heroic role by listening to concerns — of government printers and publishers, GPO staff, depository librarians, purchasers of publications from GPO, contractors of printing equipment and services, and the public — and then improving services. Government needs a bipartisan committee like the JCP as a vigilant guard for Congress’s constituents.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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