GPO plans for digital future

Paper is not yet passé at the Government Printing Office. But GPO officials say that electronic custom publishing could transform the traditional publishing role of the printing office.

GPO officials appeared before the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee this week to request $25 million for digital publishing and distribution technology. The technology could let GPO offer a customized publishing service that would, for example, let someone search for information on inheritance taxes from different parts of the U.S. tax code and publish the results as a customized electronic document.

Bits and pieces of the necessary technology exist now, said Scott Stovall, director of the Office of Innovation and New Technology at GPO. The agency is still at the fact-finding stage, Stovall said. But, he added, it may be possible to begin experimenting with such capabilities later this year.

New approaches to publishing at GPO would rely on recent advances in authentication, document version controls and digital preservation, said Veronica Meter, director of public relations at GPO. In recent years, the agency has been shifting more and more of its printing operations to digital media.

"More than 50 percent of our documents are born digital and will never be printed, except on demand and as needed," Bruce James, the public printer, said in his testimony before the Senate subcommittee.

Because of lessening demand, GPO's fiscal 2005 budget request for traditional printing and binding is down 2 percent, or $1.8 million, compared with a year ago, GPO officials said. Similarly, the agency's request for salaries and expenses is down 3.6 percent, or $1.2 million.

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