U.S. Government Printing Office
by: Frederic G. Antoun, Jr.

GPO Purchasing Methods                                                                GPO Info and Support


The U.S. Government Printing office was established by Congress over 130 years ago to act as the in-house printer for Congress, the Office of the President, and all federal departments and agencies.  GPO is one of the few legislative branch entities within the federal government.  It is governed by a joint House/Senate Joint Committee on Printing.  The head of GPO is the Public Printer, who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.  The current Public Printer is Bruce James. 

GPO’s $807 million volume includes printing procured from the private sector, printing produced in the plant, and the GPO Superintendent of Documents program. 



Employees:  2,850
:  $807 million
(in-house and procured)
Jobs purchased annually
:  230,000
:  21 (2 in Washington, DC)
:  Produce or procure print for U.S. Government; disseminate government pubs/info to libraries and the public


Print Procurement from the Private Sector


Over the years it became obvious to the government that the GPO should take advantage of its authority to contract out certain printing jobs.  Today, approximately $440 million (about 75% of GPO’s print volume) is produced on contracts issued by the GPO to private sector printing companies.  Although this amount is only a tiny fraction of the U.S. print market, it provides incremental volume needed to remain profitable (or keep the doors open) for about 2,000 printing companies.  All of GPO’s procurements (including small purchases) are made after open competition, under a system that allows large, medium and small vendors to gain access to jobs they want to bid.  Since 85% of the jobs GP procures have a value of less than $3,500, GPO, unlike other agencies, provide an excellent small business opportunity.  This unique open competitive system has been one of the praiseworthy aspects of the GPO procurement system. 


GPO buys printing for all agencies of the federal government through its Central Office in Washington and 20 regional offices located throughout the country.  Although the Central Office is by far the largest procurement operation, more than 70% of all GPO orders are issued through the regional offices (including the “Rapid Response” office at the Washington Navy Yard)


Since GPO is a legislative entity, it is not bound by the complex Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) which apply to executive branch departments and agencies.  Instead, GPO has its own printing procurement boilerplate terms and conditions and its own printing procurement regulations. 


Under the GPO system, vendors only need to be familiar with three basic publications: 

    Contract Terms (GPO’s boilerplate contract provisions which are incorporated by reference into all GPO contracts);

    Government Paper Specs (providing specifications for various commonly used paper products)

    GPO Quality Assurance Through Attributes Program (listing and explaining the quality requirements for the 5 levels
    of quality specified by the GPO in its contracts.) 

These rules and regulations apply throughout the GPO system, and on all types of GPO contracts.  


To register with the GPO as a vendor, a company must complete and the Solicitation Mailing List Application and send it, samples of products it has printed, and the Sample Certificate Form to GPO.


Print Production at GPO's Plant


The GPO also maintains a large printing facility at its main building at North Capitol & “H” Streets in Washington, DC.  The primary products produced at that plant are:  the daily Congressional Record; bills, calendars, hearing transcripts, and other printing for Congress; the daily Federal Register, patents; postcards, and several specialty items.  The plant also maintains a custom book re-binding operation.  Most of GPO’s employees work at the GPO’s central facility at North Capitol & “H” Streets. 


Several years ago the GPO’s main print run, the Congressional Record, required 22,000 daily copies of a single or multiple book Congressional Record set for the previous day.  As a result of GPO’s placement of the Congressional Record in a searchable form on its GPO Access website, the requirements for printed versions has dropped to about 11,000, and further reductions are expected.  The run length of the Federal Register has likewise dropped, as it too is online.  


The Public Printer has announced plans to sell the existing GPO buildings at North Capitol Street in Washington, downsize the plant operation, and move to a newer, smaller facility.  


Access to Government Publications and Information 


In addition to being the government’s produced or procured printing source, GPO, through its Superintendents of Documents, also manages a phenomenal amount of digital government information.  This information is distributed in book or CD-ROM form to 1,500 depository libraries throughout the country.  It is also maintained on one of the heaviest hit websites in the world:  GPO Access.  The GPO employees that run GPO Access under the auspices of the Superintendent of Documents gather print and/or digital publications and information, maintain the files on secure redundant servers, and provide access to government and the public without charge.  There are over 1,500 government databases and over 200,000 publications available online through the award-winning GPO Access website at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/index.html


GPO Purchasing Methods


The US Government Printing Office (GPO) buys approximately $450 million of printing for federal government agencies through 20 regional offices and its Central Office in Washington, DC.

The GPO uses four basic purchasing methods:

1.     Small Purchase Quotes (under $100,000). The job description (specifications) are short, often consisting of a 1-page fill-in-the-blanks form and an attachment.  Quotes are generally submitted by fax or phone, and some jobs can be bid on-line.  The GPO confirms that the printer with the lowest priced is qualified (has the necessary Quality Level Rating and has an acceptable performance record for delivery and quality) and then calls to inform the printer that it is awarded the job.  The printer must arrange for pickup of copy, negatives or magnetic media (electronic file transfer is also used on some jobs).  A purchase order can be faxed or sent with the copy. There is usually no other paperwork.

      Formal Bids.  There are two main types of  Formal Bids: Jackets and Programs.

2.     Jackets for one-time jobs expected to cost over $100,000 have longer, typed Invitation for Bids and specifications.  Bids must be signed and delivered to the GPO office that issued the specs by the date and time listed in the Invitation for Bids.

3.     Programs.  Programs are annual term contracts for the production of printed material for a fixed period of time.  Programs can consist of long runs, short runs or a combination of run lengths.  Some have one product, others have a wide range of products.  The bidder must complete a schedule of line item prices and  Bids must be signed and delivered to the GPO office that issued the specs by the date and time listed in the Invitation for Bids.

      Single award Programs, designated by the letter "S" after the Program number, are awarded to one printer, who must produce all of the orders required under the Program on the schedule detailed in the specs.

      Multiple award Programs, designated by the letter "M" after the Program number, are awarded to many or all of the qualified printers who bid (the volume, production schedule, or number of orders prevents the work from being efficiently produced by any one printer).  Most M Programs allow the printer to bid on any or all items listed in the specs.  Prices for each order are calculated from the bid prices, and the order is placed with the bidder whose prices are lowest for that order.  If the lowest bidder is unable to produce the order on the desired schedule, GPO offers the job to the second lowest bidder, then the third lowest, and so on, until it finds a printer who can meet the schedule.  If the third lowest printer accepts the job, he is paid at his bid price, not the low bid price.

4.     Simplified Purchase Agreement (SPA).   SPAs are a type of blanket purchasing agreement, under which a number of different printers can submit “proposals” to do specific types of work.  Instead of submitting line item prices, the printer certifies that whatever price it charges for the work will be equal to or less than the most favorable price it gives to any other customer.  Agency personnel call the printers for pricing on each job. Orders on the SPAs are placed directly with the printer by the agency.  The agency – not GPO – interfaces with the printer.  The agency does not have to make the award to the lowest priced supplier on the SPA, but can make the award based on “best value”, under which it can consider quality, service, price, and other factors.   Invoicing is sent to GPO, and is paid by GPO, the same as existing GPO contracts.  Most SPA quotes are taken over the phone or by fax, the same as GPO small purchases.  Currently, there is a $10,000 limit on individual SPA orders, although GPO may increase the limit.   Click here for an early article on SPAs.   


Go to the Support Page for more info, GPO Vendors Application, Sample Evaluation form, etc.


If you need more information, contact Fred Antoun at 717-261-0998 with questions, or go to www.printlaw.com


The information on this page and any linked pages is not consultative or legal advice.  If you have a problem or question, you should seek the advice of counsel.

Copyright © 2000-2007 Fred Antoun  All rights reserved.