In just the last two years, Malamud, as the sole staffer of Public.Resource.Org, a 501c3 nonprofit based in Sebastopol, California, has posted over 80 million pages of legal documents on his Web site, many of them federal appeals court decisions. He’s also freed from private control the only remaining copy of a massive Navy-created database of legal decisions, placed building codes from all fifty states online, and convinced the Oregon legislature to cease claiming copyright over the state’s laws. It’s all been done by pointing out that documents created at public expense are, under U.S. law, considered the property of the public.
“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.”