Getting into Verticals: Government Printing


Printers not developing new markets are apt to wonder one day what became of their business. With state-of-the art procurement technologies, print buyers are discovering that they can get service, discount pricing, and quality without relying on the hometown printer. Also, commercial clients in this tough economy have been cutting back on print orders.

For the printer, though, opportunity abounds with print jobs from the federal government, which awards more than $300 million annually to private sector printers of all sizes and types nationwide. This work is channeled through the United States Government Printing Office (GPO), the centralized resource that has been established by Congress to coordinate all printing for the three branches of the federal government—executive, judicial, and legislative.

Money on the Table

The GPO awarded more than 16,000 jobs (also called jackets) in the $1,000 to $10,000 per job range in 2011 totaling almost $30 million to private sector printers. Close to 2,000 jobs in the $10,001 to $100,000 per job range totaling more than $50 million were awarded. The majority of printers that win these jobs are small to mid-size businesses, many with 20 employees or fewer.

There also is tremendous opportunity for printers capable of handling GPO’s $1million-plus jobs—often multi-year programs. Examining GPO data back to 2006, on jobs won at the $1 million or more level, there have been an average of only four bidders per job. These jobs averaged $3,004,000.

Printers interested in becoming GPO print suppliers should keep six key points in mind:

1) Gain the highest quality rating possible

The GPO has set up a program called QATAP, or the Quality Assurance Through Attributes Program, to set standards for printing, finishing, and binding. QATAP is the most complex of GPO regulations. This system allows the government to maintain a standardized objective system for measuring quality, including a variance in acceptable defects. Most bid solicitations include a level rating that must be met, ranging from a low of 5 to a high of 1.

After pricing is received, GPO contract administrators will look at the highest level of quality rating obtained by the low bidder. That rating must be equal to the quality rating of that job. For example, if a vendor has obtained a quality level 2 rating, it can be awarded work at level 2, 3, 4, and 5, but not 1. This obviously means that a GPO vendor wants to obtain the highest rating possible. This rating is initially achieved through submitting a package of samples of non-GPO work recently printed, and is maintained through a continual review of samples requested from sub-lots of work printed for the GPO.

2) Know GPO’s procurement regulations

In addition to QATAP, suppliers should become very familiar with GPO’s Contract Terms Style Manual, Paper Specification Standards, and Billing Instructions. The 16 GPO procurement locations across the US use the same rules and regulations.

3) Bid on opportunities offered from the entire GPO system

Getting all job notifications for which you are qualified to bid is critical to making GPO a solid secondary market. These come from a variety of GPO sources—postings by its 16 offices around the country, listings in government media and publications, and the GPO online. The most reliable and comprehensive resource for all GPO work put out for bid is the GPO Bid Subscription Program. Through this program, items can be delivered to the subscriber via fax, email, or other transmission method, and by the subscriber actually picking up these items in each GPO buying office.

Buyers of this program must pay for all of the costs of the program, including the requirement to have adequate phone lines for receiving of numerous faxes simultaneously as well as pay for the every day pick-up and delivery from each GPO office. The only bid service that subscribes to the GPO Bid Subscription Program and the only full-service GPO bid service firm is Government Print Management.

4) Choose to bid opportunities where you know you can meet the schedule

Only bid on jobs where you know the schedule can be met. The GPO makes this process rather simple by providing the prospective bidder with a spec that includes a date the material can be picked up, the number of days a proof can be held by the government, and firm delivery dates and locations. To eliminate guesswork, the bidder can work backwards by first looking at the ground shipment days, and then figure the minimum number of production days. From there, it is just a matter of marrying that job to your known schedule to see if you have downtime. If in doubt about your ability to make the delivery, do not bid.

5) Use Government Print Management to track results and gauge pricing competition

No other market exists where data on the historical pricing by competitors is available. Yet, in the GPO market, some printers make the mistake of not investing the time and resources available to access and digest this valuable information in order to gain a competitive advantage. The most extensive database and archive of GPO jobs is maintained by Government Print Management. Its data includes information on the amount of work obtained by competitors, the exact amount and size of orders placed under term contracts, the amount of and the type of work you produce and from where it is being bought, and historical pricing.

6) Retain good records for use in disputes and invoicing

Keeping good GPO records is required, and indeed wise, to make sure you are able to get the most from your business relationship with the GPO. These items will also be important to making sure you obtain the total payment you expect:

• copies of all correspondence regarding change orders

• copies of all proofs with author’s alterations or change instructions

• shipping receipts, including quantity and jacket or print order number

Good record keeping will assure you not only receive the correct payment, but assure that you receive it 21 days after the delivery date—a very good payment term.

Successful relationships involve a good understanding of the market and the client. This is no different when working with the GPO than it is when working with commercial customers. With a steady flow of government work and the support of a full-service GPO bid services firm, you will develop the GPO as a solid and profitable secondary market.

Before GPO work, a printer can average 2.5 percent profitability on 70 percent production utilization. Add GPO work through the services of a full-service GPO bid services firm to manage the relationship and your bottom line can grow to about 14 percent.

Deborah Snider is senior vice president of Government Print Management, a division of e-LYNXX Corporation. Mrs. Snider is a graduate of Central Penn Business College and has headed Government Print Management and its predecessor since 1984. Government Print Management ( represents the majority of successful printers that work with GPO. The firm specializes in helping printers to smooth their way to GPO related profitability and is exclusively endorsed by Printing Industries of America. Contact Snider at 888-876-5432 or