Survey: US government could save millions on printing

U.S. agencies should implement printing policies to save money, a report says

The U.S. government could save more than US$440 million by creating formal printing policies and cutting down on unnecessary printing, according to a report released Tuesday.

The average U.S. government employee prints 7,200 pages a year, or about 30 pages each workday, and 35 percent of those pages are discarded the same day they are printed, according to the survey and report, by printing vendor Lexmark International and public relations and research firm O'Keefe and Co.

Those numbers translate into nearly 18.8 billion printed pages per year in the U.S. government, with nearly 6.6 billion pages printed unnecessarily, the report said. While $440 million may seem like a drop in the bucket for the U.S. government, it's only about $50 million less than the government spends each year for printing currency, the report notes.

The U.S. government spends about $1.3 billion on printing each year and 89 percent of federal employees surveyed said their agencies do not have formal printing policies in place, the report said. Just 20 percent of agencies have color printing restrictions and 5 percent require personal codes to print, according to a survey of 380 federal employees in late March.

Lexmark recommends that federal agencies have a comprehensive printing policy in place, including how to better use digital documents, said Brian Henderson, the company's federal information solutions director.

Agencies need to look at how to deploy and manage technology, "not just from the perspective of putting a printer out there to be used, but around really understanding it as a service to your employees," he said. "How is printing strategically going to enable your mission?"

Asked why they printed documents, 57 percent of survey respondents said they needed paper signatures, 54 percent said they needed to share documents in meetings, and 51 percent said they needed to share documents generally.

Many federal employees, however, are open to printing less. Sixty-four percent said they could print less, and 69 percent said their agencies' paper trails could be converted to digital.

Asked for suggestions about how they could print less, one employee wrote, "if I had a better system of storing documents in digital files."

Another employee said he'd print less if "I could do more editing electronically, and I could depend on my electronic files more." Another employee said he'd print less if he had a PDA to read documents when he wasn't working online.

"I think that this is not only a message of opportunity, but it's a change readiness," Henderson said. "The employees themselves recognize that the change can happen."

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