Online budget benefits from Starr report

The Government Printing Office has updated its GPO Access World Wide Web site with the president's proposed $1.8 trillion budget for fiscal 2000, carrying on a tradition that began in 1995. But thanks to last year's online release of the Starr report, GPO has put more computing power behind the site.

As in the past, GPO posted the proposed budget at www.access.gpo.gov/omb on the first Monday of February - the president's deadline for submitting his budget to Congress - giving taxpayers free access to a document that would cost them $30 to buy in paper form.

But since last year's posting, GPO has boosted performance of its systems with new bandwidth, hardware and software to accommodate a dramatic growth in traffic.

GPO Access, which hosts Web sites for 14 agencies and more than 1,000 databases, including the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, had been running at about 30 percent capacity before the Sept. 11 release of independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr's report on President Clinton, said Mike Bright, program analyst at GPO.

"We were experiencing gradual increases of load and said when we get to 50 percent we will increase it," Bright said. "It would be lovely to tell you it was perfectly planned," but as it happened, GPO officials had to take more immediate action when they witnessed the demand for the Starr report.

After the report came out and traffic increased more than threefold, GPO made an emergency request to double the available bandwidth by adding two T-1 lines. The agency also pushed through the purchase of six AlphaServers from Compaq Computer Corp., each with five 400 MHz processors and 1G of memory.

"We've also implemented a load-balancing protocol that helps us share search queries among our Web servers by sending new queries to the server with the shortest queue," Bright said.

The six new servers brought the total supporting GPO Access to 28. Those servers handled more than 14 million document retrievals in January, which is double what the demand had been in January 1998, Bright said.

The budget site includes a citizen's guide to the budget as well as analysis and historical tables compiled by the Office of Management and Budget.

The citizen's guide, which can be purchased in paper form for $3.25, is a straightforward, "civics lesson" text accompanied by full-screen color pie charts showing such things as the percentage of the budget derived from the various taxes. Its headings include "Where the Money Comes From - And Where It Goes" and "How Does the Government Create a Budget?"

Users also have the opportunity to search documents online using GPO's Wide-Area Information Server search engine. Budget documents also are available for viewing or downloading in Portable Document Format, and many budget tables are available as spreadsheet files.

Bright said online demand for the full budget document outpaces online demand for the citizen's guide by a rate of about five to one. In paper, the two documents sell at about the same rate.

He said that rate indicates people are very interested at getting access to the budget, but they apparently think twice when they consider the $30 price. Online access might not make paying taxes any less painful, but at least it is a deal for taxpayers with online access looking for information about where their money goes.

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