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Why does the government still print budget hard copies?

Budget.jpg

Copies of President Obama's proposed federal budget plan for fiscal year 2014 are prepared for delivery at the U.S. Government Printing Office.AP

Environmentalists can rejoice, to an extent. The Government Printing Office says it is scaling back the number of hard copies printed of President Obama's 2014 budget proposal and instead will offer a free app for those who want it. 

But paper versions of the 2,000-page behemoth budget were still being delivered Wednesday morning to Capitol Hill -- including to every member of Congress, federal agencies and libraries across the country. 

So, in the age of iPhones and Droids, why is the federal government still printing these tree killers? 

The visual display of truckloads and cartloads of budgets being delivered every year to the Hill is a product of federal law, which requires hard copies to be provided to members of Congress. Despite efforts to end this practice, it continues today. And despite the prevalence of high-speed Internet capable of opening these documents online in a matter of seconds, sales records show members of the public are still willing to pay Washington for old-fashioned hard copies. 

Still, the number of copies printed for the public will be cut by about 5,000 this year as the government banks on more people opting for digital versions. 

"In terms of printing -- there will be about 25,000 total copies this year, compared to 30,000 two years ago," Gary Somerset, a spokesman with the GPO, told FoxNews.com. 

In the past two years, 1,552 copies of the 2013 budget sold at the Washington GPO bookstore and online. The four volume sets went for about $218. 

The printing office is actually operating at a surplus, according to federal documents. For the fiscal year 2011, revenue at the GPO totaled $821.1 million, and other total operating expenses charged against GPO's budget were $818.2 million. Funds appropriated directly by Congress provided $122.1 million, slightly less than 15 percent of total revenue. 

Each year, the GPO prints thousands and thousands of paper copies of bills, legislative agendas and other work-related items. The GPO typically prints up to 475 copies of any bill or resolution. Despite the money made from sales, Republicans have estimated that stopping mandatory printing could save taxpayers $35 million in a decade. 

In January 2011, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a measure to stop the mandatory printing of congressional documents. It did not pass the Senate. 

"Too many bill copies wastes time, trees and taxpayer dollars," Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., said at the time. Multiple calls to her office by FoxNews.com this week were not returned. 

The GPO upped its digital game in 2012 when it made mobile versions of the Congressional Record and the president's proposed budget available. The changes came after the GPO's own annual budget was slashed. 

The agency said it had gotten more than 53,000 hits during its first day online. 

However, just how much it costs the government to print a hard copy of the 2,000-page budget proposal is not known. 

"The production of the budget used to take weeks, now it takes days," Somerset said. 

The GPO launched its first mobile application last year, which included a guide to members of Congress as well as the Plum Book. The United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions - or Plum Book - is updated and published every four years. The book, which was first put into circulation in 1960, contains information on executive branch-appointed positions. The Plum Books went online in 1996. 

The GPO also began publishing House bills in XML format at the beginning of 2013 as well as creating an internal XML system. 

This year, hard copies of the non-binding budget will be sold again at the D.C headquarters and through the online bookstore. The "Budget of the U.S. Government" costs $39, "Budget Appendix" $76, "Analytical Perspectives" $53, "Historical Tables" $50 and CD-ROM $27, according to the GPO office in Washington. 

By comparison, the free 2014 budget app gives users access to the budget text and images, including a message from President Obama, information on the "president's priorities" and budget overviews organized by agency. The app also provides links to the GPO's federal digital system where summary tables can be found, including the "Budget Appendix," "Analytical Perspectives" and other historical tables.