The Circuit

An Inside Job

White House officials have been quietly redoing the administration's Web site at www.whitehouse.gov to make it more citizen-friendly. Hastily posted minutes after President Bush took office on Jan. 20, the site is full of official pronouncements and lots of speeches, but little real information. White House staff members are supposedly redesigning the site internally and have not sought help from outside experts. We also hear there are plans afoot for an official rollout later this summer led by Lynn Cheney, the vice president's wife. We wish them luck.

Goodbye, Paper Trail

The National Finance Center in New Orleans, which issues electronic paychecks for employees in 125 agencies, is taking the paperless route a step further. Although thousands of workers have received their pay electronically for years, they've also received a pay stub the old-fashioned way—via mail. Now, NFC is embarking on a pilot project to make pay stubs available to employees online and will start with its own 1,700 employees in August. Officials hope to extend the service to the rest of government. That will result in even greater savings when NFC no longer has to mail out 12 million stubs a year.

Real Checks for Refunds

Nothing is free, not even tax refunds. Congress approved a supplemental appropriation to help the Internal Revenue Service cover the cost of sending out letters and tax-rebate checks to more than 100 million Americans. The price is high—$66 million to send taxpayers letters telling them how much they'll be getting and $49.5 million to buy check stock and paper supplies as well as paying for the postage. Electronic transfers, it seems, are fine for paying taxes, but for tax refunds, only real checks will do.

Woody's No Soprano

Woody Hall, chief information officer at the Customs Service, may be the most popular information technology officer in government, and it has nothing to do with his job. It seems that Hall's son-in-law, Hans Graffunder, is a production assistant on HBO's "The Sopranos," the hit show about life in the Mafia. "It turns out there are lots of fans in government," Hall told us.

Hall, who watched the entire first season on video in one weekend after the birth of his grandson, said he hasn't been to the set—yet. And we can tell you for sure that no character has yet been modeled after the IT chief. "I'm not Tony," the show's lead character, he said.

Online Loans for Sale

The Department of Housing and Urban Development took e-government to a new level last month when it conducted a $109 million loan auction completely online.

The auctioned loans originated under HUD's Section 312 loan program, which previously provided first and junior lien financing at below-market interest rates to rehab houses in low- income neighborhoods. The program stopped originating new loans more than 10 years ago, but 6,000 active loans remain.

HUD Sec.retary Mel Martinez said the sale attracted significant bidder interest and was a "powerful example of how HUD is using leveraging technology to become more efficient."

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