Congressional Printing: Background and Issues for Congress

A Report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) prepared by R. Eric Petersen, Analyst in American National Government November 5, 2009.*


Periodically, concerns have been raised about the number and variety of products created to document congressional activity. Other concerns focus on the process for authorizing and distributing printed government documents to Members of Congress, committees, and other officials in the House and Senate. These concerns reflect broader issues related to the manner in which government and private information is created, assembled, distributed, and preserved in light of the emergence of electronic publishing and distribution.

From its establishment in 1861, the Government Printing Office (GPO) has compiled, formatted,
printed, bound, and distributed documents that have recorded the activities of Congress (and the work of other governmental entities). In current practice, more than half of all government documents originate in digital form, and are distributed electronically. As a consequence of electronic production and dissemination, some congressional materials are now more readily available to wider congressional, governmental, and public audiences than when they were only produced and distributed in paper form.

Some have argued that eliminating paper versions of some congressional documents, and relying instead on electronic versions, could result in further cost and resource savings and might provide environmental benefits. At the same time, however, current law regarding document production, authentication, and preservation, as well as some user demand, require a number of paper-based documents to be produced and distributed as part of the official record of congressional proceedings.

As a result of requirements for both electronic and paper-based versions of congressional documents, GPO oversees an information distribution process that produces and distributes most of the congressional information for which it is responsible in both electronic and printed forms. This process provides the necessary information and appropriate formats for Congress to carry out and document its activities, but it may also result in some unwanted printed copies of congressional documents being delivered to congressional users who prefer to access those resources electronically. More broadly, the transition to electronic distribution of materials may raise questions about the capacity of current law and congressional practices to effectively oversee GPO’s management and distribution responsibilities regarding congressional information.

This report, which will be updated as events warrant, provides an overview and analysis of issues related to the processing and distribution of congressional information by the Government Printing Office. Subsequent sections address several issues, including funding congressional printing, printing authorizations, current printing practices, and options for Congress. Finally, the report provides congressional printing appropriations, production, and distribution data in a number of tables.

Click here to see the complete Report _____________________________________ * Thanks to Rick McKinney, Federal Reserve Board Library and Janet Fischer of the Golden Gate University Law Library for forwarding information about this Report..

Contact Information