Leave your politics at the door. Whatever you might think of Congress’s productivity these days, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) might be the most demanding and productive client—and the most diverse communications company—in the country. Between government forms, bound reports and books, promotional collateral and printing services for the federal government’s three branches, the GPO produced 100,000 jobs in-house and contracted out another 98,000 jobs in 2007, according to GPO public printer Bob Tapella. The in-house number is overwhelming—but, of course, the jobs up for bid are the most significant. And, those numbers don’t reflect an anomaly brought on by campaign season: due to private funding for political campaigns, the GPO is not directly impacted by election season.
Initially joining the GPO as its deputy chief of staff in 2002—before being promoted to chief of staff in 2004—Tapella was nominated for the position of Public Printer by President Bush on May 24, 2007. He was confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 4, 2007. But, like the organization he runs, his career path consisted of a bevy of communications experience prior to his nomination.
Having worked as a designer, buyer, political consultant and as Clerk of the House, among other capacities, Tapella hasn’t only kept up with changes in the government he serves, he’s kept abreast of developing technology and the government’s changing needs well before his career at the GPO. Like many private-sector communications businesses, the GPO was financially impacted by the printing industry’s early millennial flux; it was “near bankruptcy” when the new team shook things up in 2002, Tapella said. “Now, we are a billion-dollar enterprise that includes perhaps the largest printing and digital communications factory in the world,” he asserted. “We also are perhaps the largest print buyer in America.”
But the turnaround wasn’t easy—it was a top-to-bottom job. “[F]irst of all, we got control of our expenses, our overhead, and the cost of doing business. .... And we reduced the overhead by about 20 percent, which then allowed us to hire people with skill sets necessary [for] going forward. A lot of those were managers [who] had come from other organizations, and [then] we really started pushing forward on a digital agenda.” He went on to explain how the addition of a proactive team to handle customer service, the expansion of creative services and the addition of a digital media group helped turn the firm around.