Obama budget heads to smartphones


FEBRUARY 9, 2012 - Acting public printer Davita Vance-Cooks and Assistant public printer Jim Bradley greet bookbinder Leon Thornton during production of the bound version of the federal budget being released Monday. The number of printed copies is declining. (Courtesy of the Government Printing Office/COURTESY OF THE GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE)
February 12, 2012

The federal budget may be getting bigger, but its run on the printed page is getting steadily smaller.

Enter the government’s first mobile budget app.

Starting at 11:15 a.m. Monday, when the White House releases President Obama’s proposed spending plan for fiscal 2013, budget geeks across the country will be able to download it on their iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys and other smart phones.

“You’d be surprised how much public interest there is in the budget,” said Davita Vance-Cooks, the acting public printer, whose office is rolling out the new app.

“It’s not just Washington that’s interested,” she said. “With all of the economic issues confronting us, the public cares a lot about this.”

The app will give users access to text and images in one of the budget’s four volumes, the 216-page book with the president’s budget message, his priorities and overviews of the spending plans of each federal agency. The rest of the 2,000-plus-page publication — the historical tables, “Analytical Perspectives” and appendix — can be read on mobile devices through online links to the government's digital data system.

For budget aficionados, the free app is a better deal than the printed page, which costs $218 for a four-volume set. The Government Printing Office sold about 2,500 sets in each of the past few years, among the lowest number since the budget’s first printing in the early 1920s.

The mobile app’s rollout is one of the printing office’s many efforts to reinvent itself in a more digital society.

The agency created by Congress during the Civil War to publish and disseminate the work of the three branches of government is down to 1,920 employees after a buyout, which, in combination with other departures, led to a loss of 312 workers last year.

The government’s appetite for printing has been waning as its massive records and documentation of the legislative process have moved online. In the 1980s, about 25,000 copies of the Congressional Record rolled off the GPO presses every morning. Today it’s about 2,800.

“The core business for the printing office is still the same,” Vance-Cooks said. “To keep Americans informed in any format the customer wants.”

In the early 1990s, the budget began to move online, and then to CD. The disc costs $27.

Paper copies still are delivered to members of Congress, federal agencies and depository libraries across the country — just fewer than before. The GPO bookstore at 710 North Capitol St. NW will sell copies to the public.

The budget app is the printing office’s second foray into mobile apps. The first, the “Mobile Member Guide,” is a list of House and Senate members released in November. The Library of Congress is developing an iPad app for the Congressional Record.

Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government.
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