OMB goes paperless for 2009 budget request

When the Office of Management and Budget submits its fiscal 2009 budget request to Congress next month it will be eating its own dog food, walking the walk and talking the talk, it will…well, you get the point.

Although OMB continually asks agencies to rethink their business processes, ensure they are providing customers with the best user experience and presenting a business case to make changes, it rarely is seen as following those same rules. Exhibit 1: OMB’s two red and three yellow scores on the President’s Management Agenda score card.

But come Feb. 4, OMB will issue the Bush administration’s final budget request only online at Budget.gov. There will be no paper copies, OMB Director Jim Nussle said.

“The E-Budget will have a ‘green’ focus above and beyond the fiscal sense,” Nussle said in the statement. “The White House has made the decision to embrace the E-Budget, and we encourage others to make the same choice.”

His decision to “go green” with the budget came from business case evidence and the desire to re-examine the budget process, said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and information technology, in an interview.

“The President’s Executive Order for agencies to be more environmentally friendly was part of the reason for the director’s decision,” she said. “We talk about doing constant analysis with agencies and this is a case where we saw an opportunity to change. This is very exciting.”

OMB estimates that by going paperless the federal government will save more than $1 million over five years, more than 20 tons of paper and roughly 480 trees. Annually, the Government Printing Office hands out more than 3,000 paper copies of the budget to the media, Congress and others.

“In general, it’s a great idea and a natural extension of providing the budget on a CD, which I think was started by Leon Panetta,” said Stan Collender, a budget expert and managing director at Qorvis Communications. “But at least in the short term this will make it harder for people to look at and analyze the budget while they get used to the new format. That may limit immediate reactions – mostly negative – when the budget is released. Since this may be the last budget this president will prepare, a cynical person might say that this is an attempt to reduce criticism.”

Evans said few things will change from the current process that OMB uses to put the budget online. One of the major changes, however, will be the use of the sitemap protocol to make searching the 2,200 pages easier for commercial search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Ask Me.

“We have been improving it over the years,” Evans said. “The sitemap protocol will give us a robust way to improve how the data is indexed. The goal is to improve the overall user experience.”

Evans added that most people do their budget analysis online anyway so the rationale to do this was clear.

Beyond the use of the sitemap protocol, Evans said OMB is ensuring the way the budget is written will be more clear and concise than ever before and easier to use overall.

For those who still want a paper copy, GPO will be taking orders.

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