GPO's newest job: A digital czar

Veteran employee will lead printing office's 21st-century transformation

The Government Printing Office, the agency responsible for distributing government publications, has created an executive-level position to lead its move into the Digital Age. But some government information specialists have questioned whether another administrator is needed in what they say is an already top-heavy organization.

Last week, GPO announced that it promoted Thomas "T.C." Evans, deputy superintendent of documents, to the new position of assistant chief of staff for strategic initiatives.

GPO's Chief of Staff Office had been overseeing the formulation of GPO's strategic vision. It envisions units specializing in secure and intelligent documents, digital media services, customer service, library programs, sales and government journals.

"It is one of GPO's top priorities to implement the strategic vision for the future of the agency," said Veronica Meter, a GPO spokeswoman. "In the role of the newly created assistant chief of staff for strategic initiatives, T.C. Evans will be charged with elevating the vision to the level of executing the strategy."

Beginning Oct. 1, Evans will guide GPO's transformation from a 19th-century printing press operation to a 21st-century electronic information agency. To aid the transformation, GPO will move out of its historic buildings near Union Station in Washington, D.C., to a smaller facility that officials say is more appropriate for a digital services agency.

The new GPO will require a digital distribution system capable of verifying and tracking all versions of official government content. Agency officials say the system's design will ensure authenticity and offer permanent public access to documents.

By October 2007, GPO officials expect to have an electronic distribution system capable of supporting a fully automated content life cycle. The system will support Web browsing, downloading and printing. It will also have search tools and redundant data warehouses.

Planning for the system is under way. The next step in its development will be an industry day, to be held this fall. At that time, potential suppliers can review system requirements and GPO's anticipated implementation schedule. GPO officials will then ask vendors to provide written feedback and an indication of their interest in participating in the system's development.

Because Evans has worked at GPO for nearly a quarter of a century, he has the advantage of understanding the agency's present and future needs. But some information specialists say they wonder what he can accomplish when the distribution system is not yet a reality and little money exists to pay for it.

Officials at the American Association of Law Libraries and the American Library Association have asked for congressional hearings on GPO's budget for its strategic vision and related initiatives.

Michele McKnelly, a former member of GPO's advisory Depository Library Council, said the agency lacks the resources to carry out its strategic vision.

Julia Wallace, a 30-year veteran of the library program and head of the Government Publications Library at the University of Minnesota, said she and her colleagues find it hard to comprehend the growth of executive positions within GPO.

"There have been a lot of new positions created," she said. "What this means remains to be seen. We hope that this isn't taking money from other places."

The new GPO won't look like the old

The activities of the Government Printing Office will change dramatically if GPO officials are successful in implementing their strategic vision. Here is a look at how some of the agency's responsibilities could change.

A sample of what GPO does today:

  • Works with lawmakers to publish bills, legislation and the Congressional Record.
  • Fills orders for Congress members' stationery.
  • Hosts GPO Access, a Web portal that offers free electronic access to the Federal Register, the U.S. Code and monthly Economic Indicators.

A sample of what GPO could do in the future:

  • Operate an electronic distribution system that authenticates and tracks all versions of official government content, guarantees authenticity, and offers the public and members of all branches of government permanent access to the information.
  • Work with agencies to enhance the security of electronic and paper documents by using e-passports, radio frequency identification tags, digital watermarks and special threads embedded in paper.

— Aliya Sternstein

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