The Honorable Robert C. Byrd, B-300192

Decision Date13 November 2002
Docket NumberB-300192
CourtComptroller General of the United States
PartiesThe Honorable Robert C. Byrd Chairman, Committee on Appropriations United States Senate,
The Honorable Robert C. Byrd Chairman, Committee on Appropriations United States Senate

Dear Mr. Chairman:

This responds to your letter of October 18, 2002, requesting our opinion on the effect of section 117 of Pub L. No. 107-229, 116 Stat. 1465 (September 30, 2002) (the fiscal year 2003 Continuing Resolution), as amended by section 4 of Pub. L No. 107-240, 116 Stat. 1492 (October 11, 2002). Public Law 107-240 extended the fiscal year 2003 Continuing Resolution. For the reasons explained below, we conclude that, under section 117, agencies are prohibited from using any funds to implement the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum M-02-07 (hereafter, Memorandum), [1] including private sector printing, and no funds are available to pay for the printing of the President's Budget other than through the Government Printing Office (GPO). Failure to abide by section 117 would constitute a violation of the Antideficiency Act.


For more than a decade there has been a continuing dispute between the Congress and the executive branch concerning the application of the laws governing the acquisition of printing by the departments and agencies of the executive branch.[2] To date, the dispute has focused on essentially two statutes--44 U.S.C. Sec. 501 and section 207 of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 1993, Pub. L No. 102-392, 106 Stat. 1703, 1719 (1992), as amended by Pub L. No. 103-283, 108 Stat. 1423, 1440 (1994) (reproduced at 44 U.S.C. Sec. 501 note) (hereafter, section 207). Reduced to its essence, section 501 of title 44 of the United States Code requires that all printing for the executive departments and independent offices and establishments of the government be done through the GPO. In 1992, in section 207, Congress reinforced the policy embodied in 44 U.S.C. Sec. 501 by enacting a specific restriction on the use of funds appropriated for any fiscal year for the procurement of any printing of government publications other than by or through the GPO.

On May 3, 2002, the Director of OMB issued Memorandum M-02-07 to heads of executive departments and agencies encouraging them to acquire printing from sources other than GPO. The Memorandum relies specifically on a 1996 Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion, 20 Op. Off. Legal Counsel 214 (1996), for the proposition that Congress may not constitutionally require federal agencies to go through GPO to obtain printing services. Id. In the words of the OLC opinion, 44 U.S.C. Sec. 501 and section 207 "violate constitutional principles of separation of powers, " because, in OLC's opinion, the GPO is subject to congressional control and performs executive functions. Accordingly, OLC concluded that 44 U.S.C. Sec. 501 and section 207 are "unconstitutional and, therefore, inoperative, " id. at 226, and "executive branch departments and agencies are not obligated to procure printing by or through the GPO." Id. at 221.

The OMB Memorandum M-02-07 announces that executive departments and agencies should not be "required" to procure printing through GPO and advises agencies to select printing and duplicating service based on best quality, cost, and time of delivery. OMB Memorandum M-02-07 at 3. The Memorandum does not object to executive agencies' use of GPO printing services: "If GPO can provide a better combination of quality, cost, and time of delivery, ... then Executive Branch departments and agencies should continue to use GPO printing services." Id. The Memorandum specifies, however, that "[w]henever the private sector can provide the better combination of quality, cost, and time of delivery, the department or agency should contract with the private sector." Id. In addition, the Memorandum's guidelines allow for in-house printing and require annual reporting of agency printing and duplicating costs. Id.

On October 11, 2002, Congress enacted Pub. L. No. 107-240, 116 Stat. 1492 (October 11, 2002), section 4 of which amended section 117 of Pub. L. No. 107-229, 116 Stat. 1465 (September 30, 2002).[3] Section 117, as amended, is straightforward. In subsection (a), Congress "finds" that 44 U.S.C. Sec. 501 and section 207(a) require all government printing to be done by and through GPO (except as those provisions provide otherwise). Subsection (b) consists of two paragraphs that restrict the use of any funds appropriated through the continuing resolution for fiscal year 2003, Pub. L. No. 107-229, as amended, or any other act. Paragraph (1) prohibits the use of appropriated funds to implement or comply with OMB Memorandum M-02-07. Paragraph (2) is narrowly drawn to prohibit the use of any appropriated funds "to pay for the printing (other than by the [GPO]) of the budget of the United States Government submitted by the President of the United States under 31 U.S.C. Sec. 1105]."[4]

By letter dated October 18, 2002, you asked for our opinion on the effect of section 4 of Pub. L. 107-240, as it amended section 117 of Pub. L. 107-229, focusing specifically on sections 117(b)(1) and (b)(2). Pursuant to our standard practice, we asked OMB for its views on the effect of section 117. Letter from Susan A. Poling, Associate General Counsel, General Accounting Office, to Philip J. Perry, General Counsel, OMB, October 23, 2002. In its response of October 29, 2002, OMB reiterated its reliance on the 1996 OLC opinion noted above and referred also to an October 22, 2002, OLC memorandum.[5] Letter from Philip J. Perry, General Counsel, OMB, to Anthony H. Gamboa, General Counsel, General Accounting Office, and Susan A. Poling, Associate General Counsel, General Accounting Office, October 29, 2002.[6] Although the October 2002 OLC memorandum concludes that section 117 violates separation of powers, it does so by relying on the 1996 OLC opinion's analysis of 44 U.S.C. Sec. 501 and section 207; it does not independently analyze the language of section 117.


We start with the recognition that it is neither our role nor our province to opine on or adjudicate the constitutionality of legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President. B-215863, July 26, 1984; B-248111.2, Apr. 15 1993. Such laws come to us with a heavy presumption in favor of their constitutionality.[7] Like the courts, we construe statutes narrowly to avoid constitutional issues. INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 299 n. 12 (2001). Given our authority to settle and audit the accounts of the government, 31 U.S.C. Secs. 3526, 3523, 712, we will apply the laws as we find them absent a controlling judicial opinion that such laws are unconstitutional. B-215863, July 26, 1984; B-248111.2, Apr. 15, 1993.

Turning to the language of section 117, as amended, we find it clear and unambiguous. As noted earlier, section 117(b)(1) prohibits the use of any "funds appropriated under this joint resolution [the fiscal year 2003 continuing resolution] or any other Act" to "implement or comply with [OMB] Memorandum M-02-07... or any other memorandum or similar opinion reaching the same, or substantially the same, result as such memorandum." OMB has not raised any construction or interpretive issues concerning the plain import of the language of section 117(b)(1). In our opinion, section 117(b)(1) provides that OMB may not use any appropriated funds to implement its memorandum, and that no executive department or agency may use appropriated funds to acquire printing services in accordance with the guidance provided in the memorandum. Consequently, the effect of section 117(b)(1) is that executive branch departments and agencies may not contract with private sector sources for printing except as otherwise specifically provided by law.

Section 117(b)(2) specifically targets the President's annual budget proposal required by 31 U.S.C. Sec. 1105 to be submitted to the Congress in January or February of each year, and precludes the use of funds appropriated in the continuing resolution for fiscal year 2003 or any other act to pay for its printing other than by GPO. Again, like section 117(b)(1), the language of section 117(b)(2) is clear and unequivocal--no funds may be drawn from the Treasury to pay any source other than GPO for the cost of printing the President's budget. The effect of section 117(b)(2) is to require the President to make a choice: if he elects to have his budget printed, he must use GPO; if he chooses not to use GPO's printing services, he must submit his budget to Congress without engaging a printer to produce it since no funds are available for that purpose. Because OMB, in its Memorandum, permits executive agencies to use GPO's printing services when GPO is the most efficient and cost-effective option, Memorandum M-02-07 at 3, OMB does not find it unconstitutional for executive agencies on a voluntary basis to use GPO as a source of supply for their printing needs.

It is we think, too well established to require much discussion that the Constitution grants to the Congress the power to appropriate the resources of the government. U.S. Const. art. I, Sec. 9, cl. 7 ("No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law..."); art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 18 (the "necessary and proper" clause). Equally clear is that the Congress may restrict, condition, or limit the executive branch's use of appropriations, [8] including the use of funds for particular purposes, consistent with the Constitution.[9] There is no constitutional imperative that requires a presidential budget, let alone a printed one.[10] Accordingly, section 117 represents Congress' judgment not to authorize the use of...

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