Congress

Fifth GPO inspector general in last year concerned with leadership instability

Michael P. Leary asks Senate committee for more funds, attention to publishing agency

Michael P. Leary, the inspector general of the Government Publishing Office, prepares to testify Wednesday before the Senate Rules Committee (Chris Marqutte/CQ Roll Call).

The Government Publishing Office’s fifth inspector general in the last year painted a grim picture of the agency at a Senate Rules Committee hearing Wednesday, noting the agency’s top jobs are plagued by instability, the workforce is shrinking and its buildings are in dire need of repair to keep workers safe.

Michael P. Leary, the GPO’s inspector general, was met at the full committee hearing by what could be seen as disinterest. Only two Republican Senators — Cindy Hyde-Smith, of Mississippi, and Chairman Roy Blunt, of Missouri — were in attendance.

The agency produces, preserves and distributes federal government official publications and information products for Congress, agencies and the public. It is currently is being run by acting deputy director John Crawford and has been without a permanent director for just under two years. 

On June 25, the White House withdrew its nomination for Robert C. Tapella to be the director. Tapella was first nominated by President Donald Trump in June 2018 and renominated in January. Davita Vance-Cooks was the last permanent director. She left on October 31, 2017.

The director position is now vacant.

Leary, who’s been on the job since April 23, said it’s unfortunate that the nomination was pulled because it had been languishing for a long time, and now the agency has to go through the entire vetting and confirmation process again.

“Obviously, somebody decided it was time to fish or cut bait with that particular nomination,” Leary said.

Leary noted in his testimony that the agency workforce has dropped from 8,000 to less than 1,800 over the last 40 years, which has created internal insecurity, he said. The lack of stability in leadership could also lead workers to wonder if the administration and Congress are committed to the agency.

GPO’s main buildings in Washington, D.C., are in need of a significant investment to maintain and upgrade the buildings, according to Leary.

“A quick tour of the main buildings show that time, usage, and multiple short range adjustments have taken their toll on the physical plant,” Leary said in written testimony. “This raises concerns for keeping GPO competitive but also about the well-being and safety for the workforce.”

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The inspector general also noted that there has been distrust between his office and the agency, and turnover among agency leaders in his office has led to inconsistent decisions regarding oversight and management. 

Around half of Leary’s office is vacant and he is down to two deputized special agents from seven in May. Leary needs his agents deputized with law enforcement authority so they can perform functions, such as serving subpoenas, warrants and making arrests.

These are used for investigations into crimes like procurement fraud. This law enforcement authority has been granted previously by the U.S. Marshals Service, but the service recently stopped approving those requests.

Leary wants Congress to give the inspector general’s office the authority to deputize agents.

Leary said he’s committed to the agency and plans to stay at the GPO until he sees substantial improvements.

“I’d love to be here long enough to see not only the solutions be put in place, but to see the fruits of that and that’s going to take some time,” Leary said. “That’s going to be a couple of years.”

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