White House cuts paper out of US government budget

Forget all the red ink in the federal budget. The White House is going green on this year's budget.

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Forget all the red ink in the US federal budget. The White House is going green on this year's budget.

In a move that the White House Office of Management and Budget says will save roughly 20 tonnes of paper, or about 480 trees, the Bush administration will release the government's first-ever paperless budget on 4 Feb.

The plan to issue a so-called e-budget means that the White House won't order any hard copy versions of the budget for the government’s 2009 fiscal year, which starts in October. Instead, the OMB will post a fully downloadable and searchable electronic copy on its website and make the document accessible to anyone who wants to read it, according to a statement by OMB director Jim Nussle that was released on Wednesday.

Typically, the government prints about 3,000 copies of the budget annually for distribution at the White House, on Capitol Hill and to members of the media. This year's budget is expected to total nearly 2,200 pages across a set of four budget books, Nussle said.

People who still want hard copies will be able to order them from the Government Printing Office. But OMB officials expect that the switch to an e-budget will save nearly $1m (£500,000) over the next five years, according to Karen Evans, administrator of e-government and IT at the agency, and the federal government's de facto chief information officer.

The move is the latest example of the government's efforts to improve efficiencies via the use of technology, Evans said in an interview Thursday. "From an e-government perspective, this is one of the final steps of the modernisation process," she said. "You are not truly modernised until you turn off all your legacy systems."

The move to a paperless budget won't require any new IT systems, Evans added. She noted that the White House already had been making online copies of the budget available, although this is the first time that the budget will exclusively be released in an electronic form.

Via the use of the Sitemap Protocol, the OMB's IT staff has taken steps to make it easier for users to search the e-budget, and for search engines to index the data it contains, Evans said. That protocol is an industry standard designed to give websites a standard way to provide information to search engines about pages that are available for crawling.

Efforts have also been made to ensure that the server hosting the e-budget has enough capacity and availability to handle any unexpected traffic, Evans said without providing any details. "The worst thing that can happen is if the server were to crash," she said.

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