Interview: Carl Malamud's Grassroots Campaign for Public Printer of the United States

By Timothy M. O'Brien
February 24, 2009

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Carl Malamud launched an audacious, grassroots campaign for the office of the Public Printer of the United States today by publishing his plans and platform on http://www.yeswescan.org. He's garnered the endorsement of people like Tim Bray, Tim O'Reilly, Tim Wu, Paul Vixie, Lawrence Lessig, Ellen Miller, and Cory Doctorow among others, and he intends to follow in the footsteps of another individual who took the initiative and lobbied for the same office under FDR - Augustus E. Giegengack. Giegengack had no connection to FDR, but he assembled, bound, and delivered 200 endorsements to FDR, and was subsequently appointed to the office. As explained on the yeswescan.org site, Malamud is encouraging people to blog, twitter, or email endorsements for his nomination.

Carl Malamud's Experience

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Malamud's has been a tireless advocate for government transparency since the 1980s. Here's an excerpt from the site which launches his grassroots bid for the office of the Public Printer of the United States:

For over 20 years, I have been publishing government information on the Internet. In 2008, Public.Resource.Org published over 32.4 million pages of primary legal materials, as well as thousands of hours of video and thousands of photographs. In the 1990s, I fought to place the databases of the United States on the Internet. In the 1980s, I fought to make the standards that govern our global Internet open standards available to all. Should I be honored to be nominated and confirmed, I would continue to work to preserve and extend our public domain, and would place special attention to our relationship with our customers, especially the United States Congress.

Access to information is a human right and the United States of America is the world's leading producer of information. As the publisher of the United States, GPO plays a vital role in promoting useful knowledge, promoting the progress of science and useful arts, and promoting and preserving the public domain.

Malamud has been at the forefront of recents efforts to make government information more transparent. Just in the past year Malamud has worked to ensure that state regulations in California and Oregon are available free from copyright and in a digital format, and, in the past few weeks, he has worked with Google to publish and process 50 million pages of IRS returns from non-profit organizations. Malamud has experience in and out of government, starting his career working with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve and working for many years as a consultant in Washington, DC.

In addition to being an advocate, Malamud is also very familiar with technology. In our interview, Carl Malamud discusses the history of the GPO, some of the policy work he's engaged in, but he also discusses the script he wrote a few weeks ago in Perl that uses libtiff, pdflib, and exif to generate a massive amount of tax return data his organization processed and made available to the public. It is clear, that while the office of the Public Printer of the United States has traditionally been an administrative role, Malamud would bring an informed technical opinion to the job with an eye on making government data as available and as accessible as possible in open, standard formats.

The Office of the Public Printer of the United States

The Public Printer of the United States is the official head of the Government Printing Office (GPO). The GPO is responsible for providing public access to the Code of Federal Regulation, the Congressional Record, and the United States Code in addition to other information such as Statutes and congressional journals. The GPO prints passports and in addition to printing information on paper, the GPO maintains a series of Federal Depository Libraries, and is responsible for perserving, archiving, and delivering electronic data about all three branches of the government.

Carl Malamud's Policies

In the absence of an interview transcript, you can read Malamud's Policy Papers or you can take a look at his Seven Point Platform reprinted below:

1. America's Operating System. The Government Printing Office serves all 3 branches of government and prints the Official Journals of Government. GPO should lead the effort to make all primary legal materials produced by the U.S. readily available.

2. Librarians. Librarians are the bedrock of the public domain and the defenders of our fundamental right to access knowledge. GPO should work even more closely with our libraries and reform the Federal Depository Library Program to support them better.

3. Jobs. As commodity printing goes the way of the PDF file and the copy machine, GPO must retrain and refocus its workforce, working with the unions and the employees so we may face the challenges of the future. If nominated and confirmed, I would work to establish a United States Publishing Academy, reviving the grand tradition of GPO being in the lead for workforce development, vocational training for students, and educating the rest of the U.S. government on how to print and publish effectively.

4. Security. GPO produces passports and other secure documents. The current design for passports uses an RFID chip, which means that an American can be picked out of a crowd merely by having a passport in their pocket. If nominated and confirmed, I would ask security expert Bruce Schneier to form a Blue-Ribbon Commission to reexamine the design of passports and other secure documents so we can better protect the privacy and security of all Americans.

5. Jobs. The GPO workforce includes some of the best master printers, bookbinders, and other professionals of the publishing profession. With our cultural institutions, writers and other artists, and using the historical archives of the United States, the GPO should create more materials for the public domain, both as fully produced books as well as freely available master files for others to use and remix.

6. Rebooting .Gov. There is no reason why the U.S. Government should not be one of the top 10 destinations on the Internet! GPO should work with the rest of the U.S. Government to radically change how we present information on the Internet. Some of the initiatives would include installing a cloud for .gov to use, enshrining principles of bulk data distribution into legislation, and a massive upgrade in the government's video capabilities.

7. Full Transparency. GPO serves all 3 branches of government. As the nation's service bureau, GPO must be fully transparent in its own financial affairs and should be a forceful and effective advocate for the public domain. Most importantly, the GPO must be fully transparent to its clients--the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary. If nominated and confirmed, I would pledge to serve on the front lines of customer service, working to understand the needs of our clients and the public.


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