“Ultimately my goal has always been policy change, and that’s something that some people don’t get. They think that this is all about shaming the government, and it’s not,” says Malamud. “Wanting to run GPO is the ultimate in policy change, because then I’m not telling GPO how to do it right, I’ve actually got the ability to do it right.”
You may never have heard of it, but the GPO does a lot. They administer the Federal Depository Library Program, manufacture the nation’s passports, host a slew of online databases, and run a 1.5 million square foot plant in downtown Washington that prints the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, among other documents.
Malamud wants it to do more. He has a broad agenda for the GPO, which he briefly lays out in a seven point platform on YesWeScan.org. (Points three and five are both “Jobs,” perhaps in a concession to the times.) His position papers—repurposed from earlier submissions to the Obama transition team—lay out an agenda spanning the ambitious and the obvious. Why not create an art-book quality “Library of the U.S.A.” whose writers, editors, and printers could count towards the administration’s job creation promises? What if the GPO enabled streaming video for all agency hearing rooms? Why not post 55,000 government produced (and therefore copyright free) archival films and photographs in the next year? What if the full collections of the National Archives were digitized? Why not design a more user-friendly online Federal Register, one that’s linkable, easier to read, and cross-referenced with hyperlinks? Why not make the GPO a leader and a nexus in efforts to make bulk data widely available?
While Malamud has plans for the agency, he’s neither a former congressional staffer, major political donor, or presidential buddy, nor has he held a senior government position. So how does Malamud think he might get the appointment?
Malamud points to another government outsider. Enter Augustus E. Giegengack, Franklin Roosevelt’s colorful Public Printer.
The New Yorker described Giegengack, in a magnificent three-part 1943 profile by Geoffrey Hellman, as “a connoisseur of girls, beer, and anecdote.” He worked in or managed a series of newspaper and commercial printing plants before finding himself in Europe as an army sergeant in the First World War, where he won the job of running Stars and Stripes’s Paris-based press. Fifteen years later, at the dawn of a new administration, he waged a successful campaign to become Public Printer.
The YesWeScan.org website sets Carl as Gus 2.0, if you will, down to balancing Malamud’s Shepard Fairey-style “SCAN” poster with a charcoal cartoon portrait cribbed from Gus’s New Yorker profile. And Malamud is relying on Giegengack’s by-the-bootstraps tale to power his way into the GPO. Here’s how he told the story in an online interview, shortly after launching his campaign:
He was what you would call a regular apron man. A real working printer. Blue collar. When FDR was elected, Augustus was a New York resident and he was really inspired and he wanted to become Public Printer of the United States. But he didn’t know FDR. So he went and spoke at a couple of Rotary clubs and asked everybody to send him endorsements and they all sent him these letters of endorsements, and he bound them up and sent them to FDR. He knew a guy who worked in the White House who knew somebody who knew somebody, and they sent it in. And FDR looked over the book and said, “Well, this is our man.”
What Malamud’s retelling neglects to mention is that the guy who took the bound letters, the guy “who knew somebody who knew somebody,” was James Farley, FDR’s campaign manager; after the 1932 election, the president installed him as Postmaster General and chair of the Democratic National Committee. Giegengack got to know Farley by joining his Long Island bedroom community’s Democratic local, and then engineering a major fundraising dinner in Farley’s honor.
“He’s a totally different kind of person,” Malamud admits. “But I was inspired by the story.” Still, he points to his relationship with John Podesta, who led the Obama transition team, and has his fingers in many Washington pots.
The two met in the summer of 1993, when the Clinton White House contacted Malamud, then running an Internet radio broadcast from a few blocks away at the National Press Club, for assistance in setting up a infrared link for an online demonstration. (“They asked whether I could see the White House lawn from the press building, and we went up to the roof, and we could,” remembers Malamud.) He later served as the Chief Technology Officer of Podesta’s Center for American Progress, where he mixed policy work with upgrading and overseeing the nonprofit’s computer systems.