Online Extra: Doing Business With GPO

Name: Reynold Schweitkhardt

Title: Manager of information resources management policy

Took the job: May 19

Home now: Alexandria, Va.

Family: Wife and two children.

Hobbies: "I think work is what I have at the moment."

Currently reading: "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies," by Jared Diamond

Alma mater: Attended University of Santa Barbara in California

WT: GPO has such an immense responsibility with government printing. Are your technology needs different or unique from the typical needs of an agency?

I think there are two parts to that. We obviously have all of the normal requirements for business systems that agencies have. When we look at our printing responsibilities, we're really in a transition to information dissemination as being the mission of the agency.

Printing is something that is diminishing as people increasingly go to the Web and look things up. So increasingly we need to worry about serving the public and Congress and other government agencies not only in the traditional printed form but also in electronic databases and appropriate search and retrieval products.

The other thing unique about GPO is we have a requirement for perpetual public access. Back when GPO got started in 1800s, there was a requirement that as we were printing government publications, we made additional copies for inclusion in the depository library program, which then put government information out in the states and accessible to the citizens.

Today, we have 1,250 depository libraries, and that is one way in addition to the GPOAccess Web site that we disseminate information to the public.

As agencies shift to born-digital content, the library community has had to shift how it captures and makes that information accessible to patrons. It's ironic, but the publications we printed in the early 1800s, you can go to a regional depository and find them on the shelves almost 200 years later. One of the interesting problems we're working on is, as we switch to digital, how can we create that same environment for perpetual public access.

WT: Is that driving a lot of what your office is doing right now?

We're taking a hard look at the problem. The other thing we're working on is implementation of the recent compact between OMB and GPO about how government printing is going to be procured in the future. One of the things we work on is to provide an e-commerce site that will allow agencies, with support of GOP, to select appropriate printers to meet their needs.

Part of the problem we're trying to solve is what we refer to as the fugitive document problem. It sounds like we're sending someone with a gun and badge out to arrest books. In reality, that depository library system is only capturing about 50 percent of the appropriate publications. So half of appropriate, historical government information isn't making it into the system by which it's going to be acceptable in the future. One of the things we're trying to do is to do is capture more of those documents through the production system, so we can include them in the information dissemination program.

WT: Is there anything GPO does that is completely Web-based or Internet based and not in print?

Most of what we do supports Web sites for agencies, such as the Supreme Court, where we are basically providing Web hosting services for an agency. Most of what we put up on the Web, however, comes to us because people want it both in print and in electronic form.

WT: What do you look for in companies with which you are thinking of doing business?

We're looking for companies with a track record of success. We're looking for companies that can help us solve the problems we're struggling with, and at same time, because we're concerned about perpetual public access, we really are looking for companies that have a track record and financial stability. It doesn't do us good to have a product from a small startup that won't be here in five to 10 years to help us work with those capabilities that we need to bring on board.

WT: How long has been operating?

I believe since 1993. A specific statute came out of House and Senate rules. [Public Law 103-40, passed June 1993, system implement June 1994.] Today, there are 250,000 titles in system, and there about 32 million downloads a month.

WT: Are there times it is busier than others?

The Supreme Court, for example, when it released the affirmative action case, or the Senate released the McCarthy files recently, those generate huge spikes in public access. For a couple days, everyone gets on and looks at the new material. So the cycle of access for is really out of our hands. If Congress or an agency that we're providing public access for does something noteworthy or interesting or controversial, then we'll see a spike in usage.

WT: Do these spikes create any systems problems?

We manage through it. In any enterprise of this size, you're going to need to maintain performance and trend data on these systems, and put capacity in place to meet those peaks.

WT: A year from now, where to do you see GPO's technological capabilities?

We are looking forward to successful implementation of the OMB-GPO compact, so providing agency-facing e-commerce solutions.

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