THE HILL                                                                            February 10, 2004

GPO move will mean big Hill development
Thousands of jobs, 1.5M square feet of offices affected

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 metropolitan area.

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 2007.

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 Program.

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.

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