OMB to plug in budgeting step

Circular A-34, Transmittal Memorandum 17

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Circular A-34

The Office of Management and Budget has started agencies and itself on the road to a point where the government would approve its spending entirely through electronic communications.

This month, OMB will start testing the departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Defense on their ability to electronically send their apportionment requests the plans they send OMB about how they want to spend their funding. Under the test, agencies will send the requests to their budget liaisons via Microsoft Corp. Excel spreadsheets attached to e-mail messages, an OMB official said.

The test is the first step required by a July 13 transmittal memorandum revising Circular A-34, which governs the apportionment process.

By using e-mail to send requests and approvals back and forth, the process will go much faster, according to OMB officials. After the requests are approved, OMB budget officers will upload the approved apportionments into the existing central MAX database system.

Having all this information available electronically, rather than on paper, will make it easier to access the data for comparisons with other budget information held by OMB. This will give the administration a better picture of overall federal spending, the OMB official said.

Many agencies already prepare their requests using Excel spreadsheets. But OMB has developed templates with the appropriate column and row titles, so every agency's submission will match the approved format.

The testing starts with the fiscal 2002 apportionments, due beginning Aug. 21. Agencies that can submit electronically will be required to do so, but those that cannot may still use the paper process. For the 2002 requests, official approval still must be printed out and signed on paper for the legal records, the OMB official said.

The "major remaining step" is to use electronic signatures to sign the approvals, but the details of that are still under consideration with technical and legal issues that must be resolved, the official said.

"Our target for having this capability available is August 2002, for use with the initial fiscal 2003 apportionments," OMB Director Mitchell Daniels Jr. wrote in the transmittal memorandum.

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