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Bringing the Government Printing Office into the digital world

August 2010

When Mike Wash left his private-sector job in 2004 to join the federal government, he had a big job ahead of him: put government online for the American people.

As Chief Information Officer for the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Wash has fulfilled this vision, leading the charge to digitize federal documents, which number in the tens of millions, so that they are easier to access by the American people.

"Most of my career was in the private sector where I had wonderful assignments that built my skills in technology, business management, strategy and communications," Wash said. "Applying these skills to the needs of the government has been a very rewarding experience."

Launched in February 2009 and still growing, Wash's Federal Digital System, or FDsys, allows GPO to receive and digitally publish information from federal agencies in all three branches of government. The system offers incredible search capabilities for users looking for a wide range of government information.

For example, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can view the original, authenticated version of the president's budget, the stimulus package, or health care reform legislation all with a click of the mouse. In addition, the system includes public papers of the presidents from 1991 to 2005; congressional documents from the 104th Congress to the present; Supreme Court decisions from 1937 to 1975 and the history of congressional bills from 1981 to the present.

"As the CIO of an agency with the goal of providing permanent access to authentic and official federal publications, I am regularly faced with challenges associated with transforming this agency that has relied exclusively on printing to serve its mission into one that can effectively disseminate information digitally as well as in print form," Wash said.

George Beckerman of Marlin & Associates, a strategic advisory firm whose clients make use of the online documents, said Wash is providing an "absolutely essential and an extremely valuable" service for Americans.

"Mike's work protects these assets, keeps them fresh, and ensures their continued value," Beckerman said.

Since creating FDsys, Wash has worked with various members of the Obama administration's Open Government Initiative team to discuss ways the federal government can be more transparent, a concept that Wash says is not modern, but rather integral to our national heritage.

"Providing transparency of government information is a characteristic of the U.S. government that was established by our founding fathers," he said. "Our work is vital to preserving the history of the United States in perpetuity."

These days, Wash remains focused on moving the 150-year-old agency (GPO opened its doors the day Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as the 16th President) into the information age.

"GPO has always been an innovator, adopting new technologies and transforming itself through history," said Wash, who intends to keep this technological movement going.

Wash was not always the proselytizer-in-chief for GPO's work. In fact, it took a little convincing for him to leave the private sector. The role of convincer: the nation's Public Printer and head of GPO, Bob Tapella, who appealed to Wash's desire to tackle big challenges and make a difference for our nation.

"I think what has motivated Mike is knowing that he is part of something much bigger than himself and he is responsible for creating a repository that will keep the American people informed about their government," said Tapella, who has been more than pleased with the outcome.

"Through Mike's leadership, GPO employees have worked around the clock to develop FDsys, which will not only provide the American people with the documents of our democracy, but forever change how we maintain and manage government information," Tapella said

As much as Wash has accomplished, he defers a lot of the credit to his staff.

"The successes GPO has made in transforming to meet the market needs of the digital world could not have been accomplished without the people at GPO," said Wash. "For us, failure is not an option."

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and Visit www.ourpublicservice for more about the organization's work to recognize the men and women who serve our nation.

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