Government Printing Office

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Government Printing Office

Since the mid-nineteenth century, one government establishment has existed to fill the printing, binding, and distribution needs of the federal government. Established on June 23, 1860, by Congressional Joint Resolution No. 25, the Government Printing Office (GPO) has provided publication supplies and services to the U.S. Congress, the executive departments, and all other agencies of the federal government. The definition of the duties set forth in the 1860 resolution has stayed essentially the same over the years, with only one amendment in all that time, 44 U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq.

The GPO is overseen by the Congressional Joint Committee on Printing. The head of the GPO works under the title public printer and is appointed by the president of the United States with the consent of the Senate. The public printer is also legally required to be a "practical printer versed in the art of bookbinding" (44 U.S.C.A. § 301).

The GPO uses a variety of printing and binding processes, including electronic photo composition; letterpress printing; Linotype and hand composition; photopolymer platemaking; offset photography; stripping, platemaking, and presswork; and manual and machine bookbinding. The GPO also provides supplies like blank paper and ink to federal agencies, prepares catalogs, and sells and distributes some publications to civilians.

The GPO offers catalogs that detail publications available to the public. All catalogs are available from the superintendent of documents at the GPO. The GPO Sales Publications Reference File, which is issued biweekly on magnetic tape, lists the author, the title, and subject information for each new publication. A more comprehensive listing, the Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications, serves as an index to all the publications handled by the GPO.

The GPO also offers two free catalogs for people who are interested in new or popular publications: U.S. Government Books and New Books. The first lists the titles of best-selling government publications, and the second is a bimonthly listing of government publications for sale.

The approximately 20,000 publications listed in these catalogs can be purchased by mail from the GPO's superintendent of documents. In addition, the books and catalogs published by the GPO can be purchased at the approximately two-dozen GPO bookstores open to the public. Most of the bookstores are located in government hub cities such as Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles. Publications are also available for public perusal at select depository libraries around the United States.

Owing to the large volume of documents produced by the various federal agencies, the GPO does not handle all of the printing and binding services for the government. In some instances, the GPO takes bids from commercial suppliers and awards contracts to those with the lowest bids. From there, the GPO serves as a connection between ordering agencies and contractors. The booklet How to Do Business with the Government Printing Office provides a background and instructions for contracting with the GPO and submitting bids. The booklet can be requested from any GPO regional printing procurement office. Any printing or binding contract inquiries can be directed to one of thirteen offices, located in Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas; Denver; Hampton, Virginia; Los Angeles; New York; Philadelphia; St. Louis; San Francisco; and Seattle.

Since the mid-1990s, many of the documents published by the GPO have been available in electronic formats. During the mid-1990s, GPO distributed CD-ROM products containing government documents to thousands of American libraries. Many of these documents are now available through GPO's Web site, known as GPO Access. The site contains hundreds of thousands of individual documents from the various federal departments and agencies. It has become particularly useful for attorneys who need to locate such information as administrative regulations and Legislative History of federal statutes.

Further readings

"Keeping America Informed: The United States Government Printing Office." Available online at <> (accessed July 26, 2003).

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).

U.S. Government Printing Office. 2002. Guide to Federal Publishing Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.


Congress of the United States; Legislative History.

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