Buzz of the Week: The e-budget is an e-milestone

For years, people have scoffed at the idea of a paperless world, particularly because all of our desks are increasingly covered with…well, paper. Yet there are moments that are milestones for how the world has changed.

The Office of Management and Budget announced one such milestone: the Bush administration’s fiscal 2009 budget proposal will not be published in paper for primary distribution.

The default way of obtaining a copy of the White House budget will be to fetch an electronic copy.

“In an effort to save taxpayer dollars and reduce unnecessary paper copies, I am pleased to announce the White House will release an e-Budget on Monday, Feb. 4, 2008,” said OMB Director Jim Nussle.

This one seemingly simple move will save nearly $1 million over the next five years, OMB officials estimated.

Here are some other numbers:

  • The budget was published in four books that totaled nearly 2,200 pages.

  • There were more than 3,000 copies printed for the press, the White House and lawmakers in Congress.

  • The e-budget will save about 480 trees — 20 tons of paper.

But beyond the numbers, the e-budget seems to be a step that is long overdue. Nussle said the move is part of the Bush administration’s e-government initiatives, but it is also part of a larger government trend.

The Government Accountability Office has already stepped on the paperless path. Many of us remember the days when reports from what was then called the General Accounting Office were released in paper bound with their famous blue covers.

GAO has been offering its reports online for years, of course, but this past October stopped distributing paper copies. And on Jan. 3, it stopped releasing them in print, making the e-report the default version of GAO reports.

Evolution takes time and sometimes it can be painfully slow to watch, so it is important to note these milestones when they happen.

Meanwhile, score one for the world’s trees.  

The Buzz Contenders

#2: Encore careers as feds
Here you have the ingredients for an unusual partnership.

The Treasury Department will have nearly 14,000 jobs to fill during the next two years. IBM has a wealth of baby boomers on the verge of retiring.

The Partnership for Public Service, in the role of matchmaker, is putting Treasury and IBM in the same room for a hiring experiment that, if successful, will bring a substantial number of ex-IBMers into government for encore careers in federal information technology management, acquisition and accounting at Treasury.

#3: Keep boomers on board
Baby boomers seem to be implicated in nearly every public policy management problem facing federal agencies.

The Social Security Administration says its backlog of disability claims, now at 750,000, will go through the roof when baby boomers begin retiring in record numbers. More money from Congress and more employees to process claims would help.

Persuading the most experienced and engaged employees not to retire — not yet, anyway — would help even more.

#4: Pay once or pay forever
Software as a service is a great commercial concept. Instead of selling a software license — a one-time sale — companies sell software for a recurring fee. It ensures a steady flow of revenue. Government customers aren’t yet buying the concept in substantial numbers because they don’t believe it’s a good deal for them. Every lease/buy analysis that the Army has conducted shows it is always cheaper to buy software than lease it as a service. That’s one debate that wasn’t settled at last week’s Software as a Service Conference in Washington.

#5: OMB straight talk
Speaking of software as a service, Karen Evans, administrator for information and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, defended the concept last week as a viable option for government. Evans hinted that software lease/buy analyses may not always fully consider the cost to the government for major software acquisition mistakes or implementation disasters, which happen from time to time. “We are not the best at procuring software and not the best at implementing large programs, so using software as a service may make sense,” Evans said. Touché.

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