Stop the Presses: Putting Public Documents Online Has Saved the Taxpayers $16 Million

Brian Fung
National Journal

It’s generally taken for granted these days that if something is on paper, it will be online, too. Government documents are increasingly making the jump to digital. From court records to campaign donations to congressional legislation to accountability reports, it’s easier to keep track of what Washington is up to.

But digitizing public documents isn’t just a way to monitor elected and appointed officials. It’s also a small way the country can save a bit of money. From a new Government Printing Office report -- also available online, coincidentally -- we’ve learned that designing official publications primarily for the Web rather than print has saved the country around $1 million a year since the GPO started doing it in 1995.

Back then, it cost the agency $17.6 million to make official documents available to libraries around the country. Adjusting for inflation, that’s worth about $26 million in today’s money. Last year, the same activity cost GPO just $9.7 million, a fraction of what it had been spending before.

“This effort has achieved significant savings for the taxpayers while exponentially expanding public access to Government information,” the report said.

In all, the GPO estimated that going digital-first resulted in inflation-adjusted savings of over 60 percent -- a figure that’s only likely to grow as the project continues. It’s not clear whether the report factors in savings experienced by local libraries and other entities outside the agency. But if not, then the real savings are likely even larger than GPO says.