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The GAO reviewed computer-output-microfilm (COM) use by U.S. federal agencies, focusing on: (1) whether COM could improve the efficiency and economy of computerized information systems; and (2) service centers as a means of providing COM services.
The GAO noted that: (1) COM is a blending of the computer, microphotography, and electronics; (2) a COM system usually consists of a recorder/developer and a reader; (3) generally, the COM recorder/developer can be rented for less than $50,000 a year and readers may be purchased for between $70 and $4,000, depending on sophistication and capabilities; (4) organizations installing COM systems have obtained benefits, including: (a) lower costs; (b) faster information output; (c) more versatile output formats; and (d) easier handling and distribution of computer reports; (5) a Defense Supply Agency study indicated that producing computer-output data on microfilm costs about one-fourth as much as producing data on paper; (6) in addition, it is less expensive to store and reproduce COM reports than paper reports; (7) computer output on microfilm can be retrieved faster than data printed on paper; (8) computer printers are generally the slowest part of computer systems and frequently become a bottleneck, slowing system output; (9) microfilm recorders operate faster than printers and can produce as much output in a given period as 30 printers; (10) a single microfiche can hold 270 pages of printed data; (11) although COM offers many advantages, there has been a reluctance in some cases to use it; (12) COM systems began emerging in 1958 but did not gain widespread acceptance in government and industry for a decade; (13) the federal government is now a major COM user; (14) other agencies share COM equipment procured by agencies or purchase services from commercial centers; (15) some agencies have acquired COM recorders and developers on the basis of their needs without considering whether other agencies could share them; (16) when an agency has a COM recorder/developer for its exclusive use, the equipment is frequently underused; (17) service centers providing diverse, prompt services could make COM's advantages available to many federal agencies and increase equipment use; (18) although COM service centers have been established in the government, they have not been accepted government-wide; and (19) service centers could provide economical COM services, and as COM becomes widely accepted and the demand for services grows, greater economies could result.