The U.S. Government Printing Office,
having done business at the same location near Capitol Hill
since shortly before the Civil War, wants to move.
Sources said the agency, the largest industrial employer in the
District of Columbia, would announce its moving plans today on
the federal business opportunities website.
The relocation project would have no direct impact on the
federal budget. Instead, it would be self-financed through a
massive private redevelopment project on the agency’s present
North Capitol Street site, which includes four buildings
encompassing at least 1.5 million square feet.
Under the proposed scheme, this potentially valuable real
estate, spread within the shadow of Union Station, would be
converted into prime office and retail space that could
potentially house thousands of new workers.
The GPO’s relocation scheme has been
spearheaded by Bruce James, a self-made multi-millionaire. A
decade ago, at age 50, James retired from the business world,
having made his fortune in the printing business, to devote his
life to public service in government and non-profit sectors.
In 2002, he moved from Nevada at President Bush’s behest to
assume the historic title — once held by Benjamin Franklin —
of public printer of the United States. In that capacity, he
oversees the GPO operations, which service all three branches of
the federal government.
James believes the agency would greatly benefit by setting up
shop anew in a modern and efficient facility designed to meet
current and future needs. Since one of the GPO’s traditional
duties is to print legislative documents, including the
Congressional Record, the new site would probably be not too far
away from Capitol Hill and certainly somewhere in the Washington
Various facets of the move must be approved by the Bush
administration, the Congress and the D.C. government.
Nevertheless, James has set an ambitious timetable. He would
like to see an approved plan in place by the summer of 2005,
with the agency installed in its new quarters by the end of
A major rationale for the proposed move is that the agency
spends about $35 million a year — some 12 percent of its
overall outlays — for building-related expenses, including
utilities, maintenance, repair and security.
James and his staff estimate that if the agency stays at its
present site, it would have to spend between $275 million and
$530 million over the next five to 10 years merely to maintain
repair and secure these aging facilities. These costs, in turn,
would be reflected in the rates the GPO charges its governmental
customers and ultimately, the nation’s taxpayers.
What is more, the advent of the information age, in which the
GPO is an avid participant, has also changed its traditional
sole function as a super-sized printing facility.
The agency-current quartet of redbrick buildings was completed
between 1903 and 1940. At one time, they housed 8,500 employees.
James argues that these aging facilities are now too large for
the present headquarters workforce of 2,300.
The GPO, as a federal agency, pays no D.C. property taxes. So
redevelopment of the site could potentially result in
substantial tax revenues for the city.
A “fact sheet” now being prepared for release to Congress
and other interested parties argues that that would be “good
news for the District budget and District taxpayer.”
The draft goes on to note that with Union Station as a
successful anchor, and with new development at the foot of North
Capitol Street already underway, “thoughtful redevelopment of
the GPO properties — with appropriate attention paid to
historic preservation — could create the critical mass for the
large-scale redevelopment of the North Capitol Street corridor,
bringing new vitality to this part of the District.”
Unlike most federal agencies, the GPO operates much like a
business: it is reimbursed by its “customers” for the cost
of work it performs.
But the agency also receives two appropriations, one to pay for
the cost of congressional printing and the other to fund the
cataloging, indexing, distribution, and online access to
government documents, through the Federal Depository Library
These funds are provided to the GPO through the annual
legislative branch appropriations bill; together they make up
about 4 percent of total legislative branch appropriations.
In recent fiscal years, GPO revenues have exceeded $700 million.