WHAT ABOUT BOB?
How the former public printer modernized a federal agency established in 1861
BY KATHERINE O’BRIEN
Bob Tapella served as the 25th Public Printer of the United States from 2007–2010. At age 42, he was one of the youngest people to ever hold this position, essentially acting as the CEO of a billion-dollar print buying and secure-credentialing organization. How did Tapella, a native Californian, trade the Pacific Coast Highway for the Capital Beltway? Believe it or not, it all started with his love of calligraphy as 14-year-old kid.
“I was a high school freshman,” recalls Tapella. “My first job in the industry was as a calligrapher for The New Scribes in San Jose, CA. I was hired on the basis of my portfolio—I think they thought I was a freshman in college. I came in after school at three o’clock p.m. and I predominantly did menu design.”
A SERENDIPITOUS SIGN
As a high school junior, Tapella considered becoming an architect. During a visit to Cal Poly, Tapella fell in love with the San Luis Obispo campus but was crushed to realize its architectural program required significant engineering and math classes. Walking along the outer perimeter of the school grounds en route to the family car, Bob and his parents saw a sign that said Graphic Communications. “It was quite fortuitous,” Tapella remembers. “I learned the Graphic Communications degree was a combined business arts and sciences degree, something both my parents and I could embrace.”
MR. TAPELLA GOES TO WASHINGTON
In 1986, he became a field representative for Congressman Bill Thomas. “This new world of politics opened different doors and refocused my design work into the direct mail world,” he says. “I did campaign management, radio and television advertising, pretty much the full package of services needed by candidates running for office.”
In 1996, Thomas asked Tapella to move to Washington, DC to work for him at the Committee on House Oversight. Tapella was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff by Public Printer Bruce James shortly after James’ own nomination was confirmed by the Senate in November 2002.
“My tenure as Public Printer was really a continuation of the work we’d begun while Bruce James was in office from 2002 to 2007,” says Tapella. “We completely overhauled the GPO’s print facility, we implemented 5S and other management tools and we achieved ISO 9001 certification for two factories. We also invested heavily in employee education to bring our people up to speed on modern technology.”
NOT JUST SURVIVING BUT THRIVING
Tapella is particularly proud of the financial turnaround the GPO achieved: “We were profitable in all but our first year…GPO created new markets to expand its 2002 business revenues from $675 million (with a $24-million net operating loss) to revenues of more than $1 billion and over $90 million in retained earnings—delivering seven consecutive years of positive results.”
MOVING BEYOND MONOCHROME
Tapella also was on hand as the GPO, which had been largely restricted to black-and-while output, acquired significant color capabilities. On the digital side, the agency added a Xerox iGen as well as some DocuColors. Offset investments included a Presstek 52 DI for hybrid printing flexibility.
In 2007, Tapella authenticated the federal budget through a digital signature for the first time and a year later deployed the Federal Digital System (FDsys). FDsys, the system of record for the U.S. government, provides the public with a place to go for digital documents from all three branches of government. Tapella refers to the FDsys as “a world-class information management system.”
KEEPING CONGRESS HAPPY
The Public Printer is responsible for the production and distribution of information products for all three branches of the Federal Government, including U.S. passports for the Department of State as well as the official publications of Congress, the White House and other Federal agencies, and the courts. It purchases approximately $500 million annually from private sector vendors and produces about $150,000 million worth of products itself.
As with any printing operation, customer satisfaction is essential. “There’s also the matter of keeping customers happy. “The Public Printer’s most important customer is Congress—that’s a very demanding customer!” says Tapella. “Also, every federal agency is a customer.”
The GPO size also imposes some supervisory challenges—micromanagement isn’t an option. “GPO’s scale is massive. You have to trust the people working with you,” notes Tapella. “We had very skilled craftspeople and excellent managers.”
NOW THOSE ARE OFFICE POLITICS
Pursuant to Title 44 Section 301 of the United States Code, the Public Printer is a Presidential appointee requiring Senate confirmation. As with similar appointments, job security can ebb and flow with the political tides.
Tapella was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2007 and one of a very select few agency heads retained by incoming President Barack Obama. In December 2010, Tapella tendered his resignation, paving the way for the Obama Administration to nominate William Boarman as Tapella’s successor. (Boarman failed to win Senate confirmation: the only Public Printer in GPO’s 150-year history not to be confirmed; Davita Vance-Cooks currently is the Acting Public Printer.)
In his resignation letter Tapella thanked GPO employees for transforming the agency into “a 21st-century printing, digital media, secure credentialing and ISO 9001 premiere manufacturing organization.”
WRITING THE NEXT CHAPTER
He remains enthusiastic about the printing industry. In addition to his role as President of GreensheetBIZ, he’s founded a consulting firm, Digital Technology Associates and has recently co-authored a book on business ethics. “This is a really exciting time to be in the industry… The future is bright for those who are smart and proactive,” says Tapella.
HAIL TO THE GREENSHEETBIZ CHIEF…
In April 2013, the OutputLinks Communications Group (OLGroup), parent company of American Printer, named Bob Tapella the president of GreensheetBIZ. Formerly known as “The Green Sheet,” the twice-monthly newsletter serves printing, publishing, and converting executives. It is the publication of record for paid subscribers around the world.
A GREAT AND RELEVANT REPOSITORY
“My goal with GreensheetBIZ is to cut through the clutter and noise to provide readers with relevant information that’s easy to digest and understand,” says Tapella. “Time is a precious resource for most executives. We want to deliver vital insights, intelligent tools, and the guidance of subject-matter experts to create value by combining information, deep expertise, and technology to provide customers with information that improve their effectiveness and profitability. GreensheetBIZ will be clear, concise and relevant to subscribers’ businesses. If they want to take a closer look at specific story, we’ll provide the resources to do that.”
THE KITCHEN CABINET
In addition to Tapella, the GreensheetBIZ editorial team includes: Co-CEOs Andy & Julie Plata; Editor Aaron Kiel; and Associate Editors Clint Bolte, Sid Chadwick, Noel Jeffrey, Dennis Mason, Katherine O’Brien, Raymond J. Prince, John Werner, Tom Wetjen, Robert Whitton and William F. Woods, Jr.
Key to learn more about GreensheetBIZ: