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Tufts alumna breaks barriers as U.S. public printer

Published: Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 08:09


Davita Vance-Cooks’ (J ’77) nomination as 27th public printer of the Government Printing Office (GPO) is trend-breaking in two ways: Vance-Cooks is both the first African-American and the first woman to ever hold this title. President Barack Obama on May 9 announced her nomination as public printer, and she was later sworn in on Aug. 21. Her confirmation marked the fastest Senate confirmation of a public printer in nearly 20 years.

Glad to be altering the status quo in the GPO, Vance-Cooks told the Daily about becoming a role model as she assumes her new position.

“How do I feel about being the first woman and first African-American? I am absolutely excited,” she said. “I am very proud to be in the conversation about how I could be considered a role model for those who look just like me coming behind me, and who have terrific credentials. If they consider me a role model, I think it’s great.”

Vance-Cooks brings experience working in the public sector for over 30 years to the position of public printer. She cited her time at Tufts as crucial to developing the skills necessary for the job.

“I was a psych major, and I ended up really enjoying statistics ... which was helpful because when I got my MBA in marketing and finance, I noticed that I was gravitating towards the math and data crunching,” she said.

Vance-Cooks explained that the GPO is the legislative branch agency responsible for the production and distribution of information products and services for all three branches of the federal government. This includes passports for the Department of State, as well as the official publications of Congress, the White House and other federal agencies in digital and print format, according to an Aug. 21 GPO press release.

As head of the GPO, the public printer must understand how to deal with and distribute massive amounts of information, she said.

“We operate 24/7 when Congress is in session ... We’re working around the clock,” Vance-Cooks said. “They send us their files, and we process them all night and then send them back out. We put them up online, and we also put them in press.”

One of the documents that Vance-Cooks handles is the Congressional Record, which is a daily source of proceedings and debates from Congress. The GPO also disseminates the Federal Register, the official daily publication for rules, proposed rules and notices of federal agencies.

At the center of all of these operations is Vance-Cooks, who oversees the agency’s everyday operations and handles strategic planning. The position also allows Vance-Cooks to help guide the GPO through the digital age.

“My job is to lead the agency as it transforms itself from print-metric to digital,” she said.

Vance-Cooks has already developed a five-year strategic plan that outlines changes the public can expect to see as the GPO moves into the digital era.

“The reason I have [the changes] on a five-year plan is because change takes time,” she said. “And it’s important to make sure that we have strategic direction.”

Laura Wood, director of Tisch Library, commented on the necessity of such changes within the GPO.

“I looked at the strategic plan, which I think is really very rooted in the reality of where we are, with what it means to effectively distribute documentation now, how it’s created and how it can be most effectively shared,” she said.

Wood explained Tisch Library’s place within Vance-Cooks’ plan.

“If you look at the strategic plan, one of the things Vance-Cooks talks about as stakeholders is the government document libraries: [Tisch is] one of those,” she said.

According to Wood, these types of libraries contain government documents in order to make them accessible to the public.

“Actually getting them into your hands as a student or a resident of Medford, having them in a facility like Tisch Library makes that possible,” she said. “We are obligated to provide access to those documents to any member of the public that wishes to have access to them.”

Wood expressed the significance of public access to government documents.

“The distribution of information about our own government is, I think, a very important part of democracy,” she said.

Vance-Cooks plans to focus on the switch to electronic delivery during her term, aligning with the GPO’s new branding as the “Official, Digital, Secure” provider of the federal government’s information needs. She elaborated on the three aspects of this brand.

“Official, meaning the documents that we get from Congress and that we actually put online or in print are authentic,” Vance-Cooks said. “Digital, because of the fact that more and more of our stakeholders want their information readily available, therefore online ... Secure, because of our work involved in secure credentials.” 

The news of Vance-Cooks’ nomination as public printer has been well received at Tufts. Senior Grainne Griffiths, an intern at the Women’s Center, believes that the appointment is a step forward in the push for gender and race equality.

“I think it’s tremendous, as I think there should be more women in such positions,” she said. “I think it’s important to have different sorts of people in office, people from different backgrounds, people from different classes, different races and different genders ... because then you’re truly representing all of America.” 

Wood was likewise enthusiastic about Vance-Cooks’ nomination.

“I think it’s a phenomenal appointment. I’m very excited for her; it’s great to break the glass ceiling whenever you can,” Wood said. “[Vance-Cooks] herself mentioned the significance that in previous modes it was always that [the public printer] was addressed as ‘Mr. Public Printer,’ and to change that tradition is a wonderful opportunity for her.”

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