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Fund the GPO to Create Jobs and Accountability

Five days ago, Senator Ron Wyden introduced a 50 billion dollar transportation funding bill, S. 238, the Build America Bonds Act. Four days ago, I forwarded Ron Wyden’s comments on the bill, but noted that I couldn’t judge the bill for myself, given that the Government Printing Office had not yet “received” the text of the legislation.

Today, the text of S. 238 remains unavailable. The Government Printing Office still hasn’t gotten around to putting the actual text of the Build America Bonds Act online. Here’s the message you get if you try to find out what this proposed law would actually do:

“The text of S.238 has not yet been received from GPO… Bills are generally sent to the Library of Congress from the Government Printing Office a day or two after they are introduced on the floor of the House or Senate. Delays can occur when there are a large number of bills to prepare or when a very large bill has to be printed.”

It’s absurd, in this age of electronic communications, to claim that a delay of five days or more in putting online the text of any legislation formally introduced to Congress needs to take place “when there are a large number of bills to prepare or when a very large bill has to be printed.” The Government Printing Office could have a simple system through which authorized congressional staff would upload a bill – even the text of a very large piece of legislation – in a matter of minutes, and automatically make that bill’s language available. There’s no real need to actually print a bill to make it available to the public, after all. Let the GPO print an official copy for its libraries if it likes, but there’s no reason to delay the online distribution of legislation because of the slow speed of printing machines.

The Government Printing Office is in dire need of an update. It’s operating like a Kinko’s from 1992.

So, when I hear politicians talk about the need for government programs to stimulate job creation, I think that they ought to start with the GPO. Hire temporary staff at the GPO to speed up the current process, ensuring that proposed legislation is available no more than 5 working hours after its introduction to Congress. Also, hire information technology staff to create a system for automatic online publication of proposed legislation. Congress should be able to create a near-simultaneous electronic distribution system without much expense.

It’s not just a jobs issue, of course. It’s an accountability issue. If there’s a long gap between the time when legislation is introduced and when citizens can actually read legislation, it becomes difficult in this age of fast-paced deal making for citizen activists to educate themselves about the workings of Congress in time to make a difference.

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