Government Printing Office:

Information on September 1996 Major Inventory Reduction

GGD-97-177: Published: Sep 16, 1997. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Government Printing Office's (GPO) procedures for managing its inventory of excess publications, particularly its management of a major inventory reduction that took place in September 1996, focusing on: (1) whether GPO followed existing policies and procedures; and (2) how 3,258 copies of The Senate 1789-1989, a four-volume set written by Senator Byrd, were destroyed as part of that reduction.

GAO noted that: (1) when for the first time in 15 years a potential financial loss was identified in GPO's sales program in June 1996, the Superintendent of Documents, who heads the sales program, initiated several actions intended to improve the program's long-term financial condition; (2) the Superintendent of Documents said he wanted to dispose of the excess inventory by September 30, 1996, to take the losses in fiscal year (FY) 1996 rather than in later years, when it otherwise would have been identified, disposed of, and charged to expense; (3) the Superintendent of Documents also said he had erroneously believed that it was necessary to physically remove excess publications from inventory storage by September 30, 1996, in order to record them as an expense in the financial records for FY 1996; (4) although the Superintendent of Documents had policies and procedures in place to prevent the disposal of publications that the issuing agency still wanted, in June 1996 he instructed his staff to disregard those policies that would interfere with his goal of disposing of as much excess publications inventory as possible by September 30, 1996; (5) acting under the Superintendent's overall instructions, GPO sales program staff disregarded a policy that has existed since at least 1984, which provides that, before disposing of any excess copies of publications, GPO should offer them to the issuing agencies; (6) in explaining its inventory reduction to Senator Byrd, GPO said that it had found that it was generally more cost-effective to dispose of excess inventory and reprint if necessary, than to hold it in storage indefinitely; (7) however, GPO officials said that they knew that the reprint costs would substantially exceed the holding costs for these copies, given their relatively high printing and binding costs; (8) in July 1997, after Senator Byrd inquired about the major inventory reduction, the Superintendent of Documents orally instructed his staff to retain the remaining volumes of the Senate history and, at GAO's recommendation, put this instruction in writing in August 1997; and (9) the Superintendent further said that GPO was developing a new integrated processing system that would help designate publications that should not be excessed and, at GAO's recommendation, agreed to develop a systematic process for identifying publications to be held indefinitely for valid reasons.

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