Lake Tahoe man leading federal government into the digital age
Bruce James displays a prototype U.S. passport with a microchip and antenna embedded in its cover. The chip sends a radio frequency that allows the holder’s name, biographical data and a digitized photo to be read on a remote screen by security personnel.
The passport, to be issued to the public at the end of 2005, is just one way James, the public printer of the United States and Lake Tahoe resident, and the 3,000 employees of the Government Printing Office are bringing the agency into the 21st Century.
“9/11 changed everything,” he says.
Like the nearly 12-pound federal budget his agency just printed, James is physically imposing while presenting a fresh-off-the-press vitality. The Incline Village resident wears an immaculate black suit and bold blue tie. His arms wait at his side, ready to immerse themselves in the business at hand, gladdened by the mission.
In addition to meeting the needs for the new government standards for security documents, James is leading the charge to digitize the city blocks worth of archives housed at the GPO’s huge headquarters in Washington, D.C., and store them for perpetuity.
“We want to make it so you can access an exact image of any document and then also break it down into character strings so that document can be searched,” he said. “We also need to be able to verify that something digital is authentic. We’re on the forefront of creating all of that technology.”
For James, that challenge is not only to store the documents but to keep a backup, should something catastrophic ever happen in Washington, D.C.
To that end, he is trying to create a GPO facility at the Nevada Test Site. “It’s one of the most secure pieces of real estate in the world,” he says.
There are many challenges facing the venerable GPO – exactly the kind to bring a man like James out of retirement. After a triumphant career founding successful printing start-ups such as Barclays Law Publishing, James and his wife, Nora, decided to retire to Lake Tahoe so he could pursue a life of public service.
Then, one night in 2002, he got a call from one of President George W. Bush’s aides. She wanted to know if he would be interested in being the CEO of the U.S. Government Printing Office – the 24th public printer of the United States.
For James, the job seemed like a natural progression of a life in print that started when he was 11 years old in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I bought my own printing press in high school,” he says. “By the late 1970s, when we found that we had perfected a way to put processed characters into a computer system and could use telephone lines to retrieve it, I knew that digital was the next logical step.”
As for his legacy, James doesn’t blink. “I’m the guy that’s there at the point where we’re transforming the agency to digital. We’re reorganizing the entire system. How we do it and the standards we use will determine how successful we’ll be.”
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