Tuesday, May 4, 2021

GPO Behind the 8-Ball

Yesterday in my post about the introduction of HR 1607, I noted that there was a problem with the printing of the official language of introduced bills. I would like to take this opportunity to look into the problem in a little more depth.

The Problem

As of 09:50 EDT today a search of the Congress.gov web site shows that these are the latest bills that have had language published:

• HR 1605 (introduced 3-8-21) and

• S 1072 (introduced 4-12-21)

There may be isolated bills that have text available that were introduced later, but that is typically done when the bill is considered ‘politically important’ and are scheduled to be considered in the respective house of Congress where it was introduced. Similarly, there are earlier bills for which the text is not yet available, but that generally reflects a problem with the text submitted to the GPO which that organization is attempting to resolve with the appropriate staff.

As of last Friday (the last day that bills were introduced) the House had introduced 2952 bills and the Senate 1527.

When a bill has been introduced, but does not yet have text available the following notice is printed on the Congress.gov page for that bill (here from S 1073):

“Bills are generally sent to the Library of Congress [the owners of the Congress.gov site] from GPO, the Government Publishing 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.”

Before the advent of the pandemic last year that ‘day or two’ (which should more appropriately be ‘a business day or two’) had slipped a bit to three or four days on all but the rarest occasions.

The Cause?

As I mentioned yesterday, part of the problem is obviously the pandemic, but it is not clear exactly how that is causing the problem. I suspect that the GPO editors that are responsible for converting the text documents (all should be electronic documents, so this should not be an typing issue) provided by the introducing congresscritter’s staff into official .txt and .pdf documents are working from home. There could be a productivity issue here, but no one is (or probably should be) complaining about that issue given the pandemic. Another part of the working from home problem could be a bandwidth issue related to so many folks working from home in the greater DC area. That could delay both research and document transmission; this should not be a significant delay on a per document basis, but it could contribute to the overall problem.

I suspect (no data available that I can see) that a significant part of the problem was the draw down in employees in the executive branch over the last four years. Part of this was a direct result of Trump’s intent to ‘drain the swamp’. At the document editor level in the GPO, this should not have been a direct problem, editors have little effect on policy. There could have been a daisy chain effect as we saw in may agencies. With executive appointed positions staying empty for so long, there were a lot of people moved up the chain to fill in as acting whatevers. This reached down into middle and even low-level management in many cases. Again, this should not have affected editor level jobs very much, but it could have affected supervision and work allocation; that could have affected productivity.

Another part of the federal employee draw down was caused by longtime employees that saw the Trump Administration as being less than friendly to the federal workforce. For better or worse a number of agencies have reported a significant exodus of employees. I have not heard anything in this regards about the GPO, but I would not be surprised if this were part of the problem.


Until the text of the bill becomes available, it is impossible to tell exactly what legislative action is being proposed. From time-to-time a legislator will make a copy of their draft of a bill available to the press, but that is an unusual occurrence. Even legislator press releases leave much to be desired since they usually omit critical exceptions and caveats and all of the subtle nuances of the legislation. And those press releases are becoming less common as the number of introduced bills becomes larger and larger.

If a bill is scheduled to be considered in committee before the text is published at Congress.gov, the Committee will typically post a copy of the text to Committee web site, but this may happen only a day or two before the markup is scheduled.

Friendly lobbyists may have access to draft language of bills, most frequently because they had a major hand in its crafting, but that is seldom shared with the public, less-than-friendly congresscritters or the press.

In any case, the late availability of the text of bills makes it hard to propose changes to the language that might make the bill more effective or more palatable to a larger audience.

No comments:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */