Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 23 Printing

Chapter 23. Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1968 (Record Group 128)

Table of Contents

Records of the Joint Committees of Congress 1789-1989 (Record Group 128) from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Joint Committee on Printing (1846-1968)

JC.039 Among the records of the First Congress is a May 1789 report from a joint committee established in part to receive proposals for printing the acts and other proceedings of Congress (S.C. 1). Congress has traditionally issued numerous publications regarding its own activities, as well as the operation of executive agencies and other matters. During the 19th century, for example, the annual reports of executive Departments were published as congressional documents.

JC.040 Until 1819 public printing, as it was called, was contracted out to the lowest bidder. In that year, however, a resolution (3 Stat. 538) was passed setting fixed rates of compensation for the printing and specifying that each House would elect a printer to execute its work during the next Congress. This system was followed until 1846 when, by the terms of a joint resolution (9 Stat. 113), Congress reverted to the lowest bid system and established the Joint Committee on Printing with power to adopt the necessary measures "to remedy any neglect or delay on the part of the contractor to execute the work ordered by Congress, . . . or to refuse the work altogether, should it be inferior to the standard." The committee was also directed to audit all printing accounts. The resolution further specified that any motion to print extra copies of an item should be referred for consideration and a report to the members of the printing committee of the House where the motion occurred. Over the years, the joint committee has been assigned a variety of additional administrative functions relating to the general supervision of Government printing.

JC.041 The bulk of the records are among the Senate collection and date from 1900 to 1968. They consist mainly of proposals submitted to the Joint Committee on Public Printing by private companies in response to requests for bids to furnish paper to the Federal Government during the coming fiscal year. The first such documents relate to the year from March 1900 to February 1901. There are also ledgers and charts showing a comparison of the bids.

JC.042 There are a few records dating from the first 50 years of the joint committee. The earliest record is a committee report of June 14, 1848, arising from an apparent misunderstanding on the part of the printing firm of Wendell and Van Benthuysen who held the printing contract from Congress, about whether the firm was promised certain binding jobs as part of the contract. A petition from the firm, dated a year later, seeks compensation for losses incurred in the execution of the contracts (H.C. 30). Other private printers also appealed to Congress for relief in connection with congressional printing. In a March 1878 petition, Franklin Rives and other proprietors of the Congressional Globe, noting that their business had suffered substantially because Congress had directed the public printer to undertake publication of congressional proceedings, asked Congress to purchase the plates and back volumes that they had in their inventory (H.C. 45).

JC.043 In April 1878, H.R. 4292, a bill to reduce the expense of the public printing and binding, was introduced by Representative Otho R. Singleton of Mississippi, chairman of the House Committee on Printing. A variety of documents relate to this measure. Before the bill was introduced, letters were sent to heads of Federal agencies and other officials soliciting information concerning what congressional documents they received, how they were used, how many copies were absolutely necessary for Department business, what the Government Printing Office (GPO) printed for the departments, and whether forms and other supplies could be ordered several months in advance. Replies to the inquiries are among the records, as well as the report of an interdepartmental group that considered how Government documents might be supplied to Departments more efficiently and economically. Because H.R. 4292 would have abolished virtually all Federal printing offices and binderies except the GPO, the War Department submitted documents to the committee asking permission to continue certain printing operations in the Department. There is, accordingly, material relating to the office that compiled the records of the Civil War, including samples of correspondence concerning the acquisition and publication of Confederate records (H.C. 45).

JC.044 In order to institute paper standards for the GPO, the joint committee on August 15, 1911, established the Paper Specifications Committee, comprised of representatives of the Bureau of Standards, Bureau of Chemistry, and the Government Printing Office, as well as the two clerks and the inspector of the Joint Committee on Printing. The Paper Specifications Committee was directed to prepare standard specifications and samples of paper for submission to the joint committee, along with recommendations for a uniform method of testing paper for the Government. There are notes, memorandums, correspondence, minutes, and annual reports of the Paper Specifications Committee (S.C. 62, 63). The transcript of a joint committee hearing of January 4, 1930, regarding paper specifications is included, as well as a few paper and board samples and copies of trade journals of the paper industry (S.C. 60, 62, 65). There also are GPO monthly reports regarding authorities granted to Federal agencies to purchase work from commercial sources (S.C. 76).

JC.045 The records of the joint committee among the House collection are scanty and begin in 1934. They include correspondence, printed materials, staff reports, clippings, minutes, and memorandums. Among the subjects considered are the establishment of the Federal Register, the rule regarding insertion of material in the Congressional Record that is not spoken on the floor (H.C. 73), and contracts.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.