WASHINGTON – For the first time in over 80 years, the government will let private companies bid for the right to print the massive fiscal 2004 federal budget, part of a White House effort to make government more efficient.
But government may already be too efficient — some printing companies in Maryland said it was pointless to bid on the contract because they cannot compete with the Government Printing Office.
“It’s impossible for some companies to buy paper for what prices are being offered by the GPO,” said Bill Robinson, owner of Athens Enterprises in Frederick. He said he stopped bidding on GPO contracts last year because of unreasonable deadlines and prices, calling the situation “a joke.”
Maryland printers did $61 million of contract work for the GPO last year, and federal law mandates the budget be printed within a 50-mile radius of Washington, said GPO spokesman Andrew Sherman.
Sherman said the printing office is upset that it might not print the mammoth federal budget, which it has done since 1921, and is reviewing the law to see if it can compete against private printers.
“This has always been a project we take a great deal of pride in, but that we also have some expertise in as well,” he said.
GPO will still print the first volume of the budget, the largest of the five-volume budget set. The White House this week directed that the other four volumes be open to bids from printing contractors in the Washington area.
But not all Maryland printers are enthused by the prospect of taking on the contract.
Ed Webb, vice president of sales for Kelly Press in Cheverly, said that his business is the largest printer in the state but he does not think he could compete on the federal budget project and turn a profit.
“I could not be as competitive as the GPO,” Webb said. “The average press is only equipped to handle average jobs.”
Webb said his company has done federal work for 20 years and is generally successful when bidding, but he doubts that too many businesses will attempt to bid on the budget contract.
“You can be successful with the GPO as long as you go after something that fits your business,” Webb said.
Sherman could not offer a total cost to print the last federal budget, but he is confident that few printers could match the GPO’s price of 2.5 cents a page and provide the same services, like design, last-minute updates and on-time delivery.
“When you have a central coordinating office for everything, it becomes very economical,” he said. “If you go into a local shop and try to get that price, it’s almost impossible.”
Robinson, whose Athens Enterprises primarily serves small associations and other printing companies, used to contract with the National Institutes of Health as well as the GPO. He has since dropped all contracts from the federal government, which “thinks you should do it for under cost,” he said.
Robinson said one of his last government printing jobs was a 1,000-page book for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which turned into a fiasco of missed deadlines and late corrections.
“I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m just marking `no bid’ on the forms,” Robinson said. “I don’t know why they don’t take me off the bid list.”