44 USC and Federal Photocopiers: Illegal?
August 14, 2012 3:09 AM   Subscribe

How much in-house print and/or photocopy production can federal offices perform without violating 44 USC § 501?

My federal employer plans to begin producing booklets and perfect bound publications in-house using the latest Xerox equipment, but 44 USC § 501 seems very straightforward:

All printing, binding, and blank-book work for Congress, the Executive Office, the Judiciary, other than the Supreme Court of the United States, and every executive department, independent office and establishment of the Government, shall be done at the Government Printing Office, except—
(1) classes of work the Joint Committee on Printing considers to be urgent or necessary to have done elsewhere; and
(2) printing in field printing plants operated by an executive department, independent office or establishment, and the procurement of printing by an executive department, independent office or establishment from allotments for contract field printing, if approved by the Joint Committee on Printing.
Printing or binding may be done at the Government Printing Office only when authorized by law.

If interpreted literally, wouldn't this make all photocopiers in federal offices illegal unless they have a waiver from the JCP? Does photocopy work fall under Title 44? Has the JCP ever issued any such waivers? Is there any government-wide advice on how much in-house production federal offices can perform without violating the law?
posted by Jamesonian to Law & Government (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not really an expert on the finer points of the law here but I am a 22 year civilian DoD employee and I'm guessing that we (agencies) have some sort of blanket waiver and/or exception. We have a print shop on the quasi-military installation where I work and I have an account there for printing and binding my training manuals. I'm sure it's the same in any other federal agency.
posted by fixedgear at 5:04 AM on August 14, 2012

Best answer: Short answer: Fixedgear is probably right on the money about the "blanket waiver." Further short answer: if you are concerned that you may somehow be liable or get in some sort of trouble from the GPO, don't worry. If anyone were to ever be pursued by the GPO for breaking their rules, it would have been me. (For reasons I won't get into here.)

But oh, what a can of worms this question is! This has been a battleground between the JCP, agencies, and the Government Printing Office (GPO) for ages.

Forgive the wall of text below, but maybe you can glean something useful from it. I won't try to dissect the law, but give you some of my experience as a Federal employee.

I have worked for the Federal government for over 25 years, in three different agencies, (General Services Administration, Defense Logistics Agency, and Bureau of Reclamation) performing and overseeing printing and duplicating duties. GPO has constantly made threats to agencies to not use any other printing service but them, or a contract under them. For years, agencies ignored the GPO's threats (which never amounted to anything) and wrangled over the definition of "printing," which the GPO had the right to oversee, vs. "duplicating" which was within the rights of the agencies to produce themselves or though the General Services Administration (my then-employer).

This "printing" vs. "duplicating" fight was so prevalent that President Clinton once issued a Signing Statement declaring that GPO had no right to impinge on the agencies' needs to produce or procure "duplicating" services. I can't find the signing statement right now; Clinton issued over 300 of them.

Eventually, GSA's General Council argued that:
Section 207(a) of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1993, as amended, which requires all executive branch printing to be procured by or through the Government Printing Office, vests executive functions in an entity subject to congressional control and is therefore unconstitutional under the doctrine of separation of powers.

Agency contracting officers who act consistently with this opinion, and in derogation of the contrary view of the Comptroller General, would face little or no risk of civil, criminal, or administrative liability.

May 31, 1996
Way more info on that than you need is here.

This statement emboldened GSA and our client agencies, but eventually GSA tired of the fight, and wanted to focus their energies on their main mission of managing property and providing supplies. So, they made a deal with the Defense Logistics Agency, which had a wing called Defense Automated Printing Service (DAPS). DAPS agreed to take over the remaining GSA printing facilities if congress would modify their charter to allow them to market and print for all executive branch agencies, rather than Defense only. This deal went through, and GPO raised a fuss again. Nothing came of it but one thing. Remember the "printing" vs. "duplicating" fight? DAPS changed their name to remove the word "printing." We became the awkwardly-named Document Automation and Production Services. I don't know whether they still provide services to other than Defense offices, because they closed my office about 10 years ago, and I started working for Bureau of Reclamation.

Under the Bureau of Reclamation I oversaw in-house duplicating, using high speed copiers and printing from digital files. The only caveat I was ever told came from our procurement director, who said that GPO rules required that anything over 300 copies of a single document had to go through a GPO contract. We never gave GPO a second thought. Until...

A few years ago, I performed a study to determine if it was in our best interest to continue to provide in-house services, due the increasing use of digital distribution. My conclusion was that it made more sense to have those who need printing to get it under a GPO contract from local vendors. We also have a color copier with finishing capabilities for employee self-service use, but no longer provide centralized "duplicating services." We have found the GPO contracted vendors to be excellent. They pick up and deliver, the cost is low, and the service is fast.

So, Federal offices all over the country run their own duplicating operations without any issues. I also just talked to the two procurement officers in my agency, and they both said that the GPO threats have stopped and they haven't seen anything for years that would cause any concern about in-house copying. The only area of concern is when employees have paid for printing or duplicating services from an outside vendor, using a government charge card. This is strictly prohibited, and has resulted in employees having to pay for such charges out of pocket. But that does not sound like a concern in your situation.
posted by The Deej at 7:27 AM on August 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

President Clinton's signing statement.

Today I have signed into law H.R. 4454, the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1995.
H.R. 4454 provides fiscal year 1995 appropriations to fund the Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Technology Assessment, the Architect of the Capitol, the General Accounting Office, the Government Printing Office, and the Library of Congress.

In signing the bill into law, I note that this Act, the purpose of which is to provide appropriations for the legislative branch, also contains provisions affecting the operations of the executive branch. ... These provisions concern the involvement of the Public Printer and the Government Printing Office in executive branch printing related to the production of Government publications. Specifically, the Act includes amendments to existing law that expand the involvement of the Public Printer and the Government Printing Office in executive branch functions.

The Act raises serious constitutional concerns by requiring that executive branch agencies receive a certification from the Public Printer before procuring the production of certain Government documents outside of the Government Printing Office. In addition, the Act expands the types of material that are to be produced by the Government Printing Office beyond that commonly recognized as "printing." In light of these concerns, I will interpret the amendments to the public printing provisions in a manner that minimizes the potential constitutional deficiencies in the Act.

In this regard, the exclusive authority of the Government Printing Office over "the procurement of any printing related to the production of Government publications" will be restricted to procurement of documents intended primarily for distribution to and use by the general public. Additionally, in light of the substantial expansion of the role of the Government Printing Office that would be occasioned by a broad reading of the term, "duplicating," that term will be read to encompass only the reproduction inherent in traditional printing processes, such as composition and presswork, and not reproduced by other means, such as laser printers or photocopying machines.

I had a copy of this statement printed and hung in my office when I worked for GSA, so that when clients expressed concern over whether we could still provide services they could read this themselves. Very little that we printed was ever for "public distribution" but it was rather internal reports, or bid solicitations intended for potential contractors.

I have no clue if this signing statement holds any authority today, but it's a good indication of how seriously this matter is debated, to the highest level of the executive branch.
posted by The Deej at 1:24 PM on August 14, 2012

« Older What's the name of this short story about a boy...   |   How to go about getting fired? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.