OMB, GAO to Go Digital on Key Reports

By Stephen Barr
Thursday, January 24, 2008

They operate in different parts of the government, but both have decided to go digital and phase out their signature paper products.

The Office of Management and Budget will not print 3,000 copies of the president's budget to hand out to members of Congress, the Cabinet and their staffs on Feb. 4. Instead, the four books that lay out the president's spending priorities will be put on the Web at http://www .budget. gov.

Across town, the Government Accountability Office, which investigates and reviews federal agency operations and policies, is dropping publication of its famed blue-cover reports for distribution on Capitol Hill, at agencies and at conferences.

For longtime policy wonks, it's all something of a shock, especially the end of free budget books. "It's the one document that people actually look at," a staff member of the House Appropriations Committee said.

But the president's budget books have a short life most years. After congressional aides, lobbyists and others scrutinize lines of small print involving their areas of interest, the 10-pound sets of books often end up as door props or on shelves collecting dust.

"This is a good business decision," said Karen Evans, who is in charge of government technology issues at the OMB. "It is shutting down a legacy portion of operations here at OMB. It puts the focus on going green. It makes logical sense."

The budget runs about 2,200 pages, and Evans said the OMB's decision to not buy printed copies will save $1 million over five years.

The OMB has posted an electronic version of the budget on the agency's Web site for several years, but it has been difficult to search, and some tables are difficult to read on a computer screen. Evans said the electronic budget due next month will feature a more logical search engine and be organized for "a better experience." Users should not have trouble opening files or downloading pages, she said.

"We should not have any problems. We're ready," Evans said.

Fans of the traditional budget documents can still buy them at the Government Printing Office, which sells them for about $200 per set. In the past, the office has produced about 9,000 copies of the budget but has not determined how many will be printed this year, a spokesman said.

The OMB's e-budget announcement this month did not escape the attention of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "Let us hope that they send us a budget that is worth the paper it would have been printed on," he quipped.

The GAO also is putting the emphasis on the electronic. Instead of printing 1,000 to 2,000 copies of a blue-cover report, the GAO plans to phase in the use of electronic versions, which can be distributed by e-mail, on discs and on the Web.

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