GPO faces a budget squeeze

Lawmakers warn Government Printing Office that funding for digital projects will be tight

The Government Printing Office has asked Congress for more than $26 million for fiscal 2008 to spend on assorted information technology projects. But that agency, like many other civilian departments, might see fewer dollars when lawmakers open the federal purse in the next six months.

Lawmakers who oversee the printing office told GPO officials at a recent hearing of the House Appropriations Committee’s Legislative Subcommittee that the budget will require making hard choices. “We have a hard time putting the puzzle together because there are more pieces than can fit,” said Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the subcommittee.

GPO officials said their first priority is to maintain current operations and their second is to support automation upgrades, said subcommittee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) in an e-mail response to questions about the budget. The money for automation might come up short this year, she said.

“As with all the agencies of the legislative branch, we are trying to fund the have-to-haves,” Wasserman Schultz added.

GPO has asked for $182 million in fiscal 2008, which is about $60 million more than in 2007, said William Turri, acting public printer. Some of that increase — about $7.4 million — would pay for data migration and processing, Web harvesting, data storage, authentication and other modernization projects, Turri said.

GPO would also need about $10.5 million to complete the development of its signature project, the Future Digital System (FDSys), and $9.3 million to replace the agency’s 30-year-old automated composition system and upgrade its back-office Oracle systems.

GPO expects to release FDSys’ initial capabilities in December, said Mike Wash, the agency’s chief technical officer.

“We told Congress this would cost us $29 million,” Turri said. “We spent $18.5 million last year, and we want to spend $10 million next year. The project is on time and on budget.”

GPO’s composition system is most in need of upgrading, officials said. It has been patched and updated several times, but still does not meet congressional needs, Turri said.

Most bills already come to GPO with Extensible Markup Language tags, but the agency wants to begin tagging the Congressional Record and committee reports so people can search them more easily, said Reynold Schweickhardt, GPO’s chief information officer. If the congressional purse shrinks, GPO will have to slow down some of its automation work, Wash said.

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