Notes from AABPA BFELoB panel session, 5/18/2010

I popped along to the American Association for Budget and Program Analysis (AABPA) Symposium panel discussion on how people are using BFELoB-funded tools to improve their budget management activities and took some notes that I thought I’d share with the community more broadly. (I apologize in advance for any typos; I was doing this on a new machine!) Hosted by Mark Dronfield, the BFELoB Program Manager, panelists included:

  • Michael Cupertino, Department of Justice
  • Ben Taylor, Office of Management & Budget
  • A representation from the Department of Education

Full details after the jump…

Michael Cupertino, DOJ

Michael leads DOJ’s appropriation hearing Questions for the Record (QFR) efforts for Justice Management Division (JMD) budget staff. They used Excel, Word, and Access to track all the QFRs in the past — over 1300 of them. A massive spreadsheet tracked every question through every stage. A large folder of Word documents would contain every question as its answer evolved over time. And then we had to assemble the questions into a volume to be sent to Congress. We had a single point of failure — Michael — and that wasn’t a good idea. Could take up to 6 months to answer QFRs.

In 2010 we used MAX eBriefing. This took training, patience. Maximum QFR turnaround time: 25 days. An amazing result.

FY2011: now using MAX Collect, and expect similar results to 2009.

We combine Collect with Community. The Community provides information about the QFR process and status, and has a link to the Collect QFR exercise. The questions in MAX each have unique links, which can be emailed to participants very easily. Collect allows you to set up a workflow to manage permissions for each question, a category of question, or the whole exercise. To set it up, the administrator has to invest some time. But the examiners require less than 15 minutes training, one time.

Collect allows you to export to PDF, Word, or Excel for charts. It automatically indexes and creates a table of contents for the document as a whole. You can also add stylesheets to the document to further manipulate the published document.

Representative from Education

Steps to getting to grips with the Community

  • Step 1: Internal collaboration within your office…or just for you alone! For example, using the Community to keep a record of Word or Excel file versions. Then your colleagues and supervisors can also share your files on the Community.
  • Step 2: Collaborate with other parts of your agency. Think about who else you collaborate with on a regular basis, and what kinds of things you collaborate upon. Then sketch out how you’d like your collaboration space on MAX to look and behave.
  • Step 3: It is catching on! Behavioral change takes time to take root. Be patient; it will catch on if you refer people back to the page for information they need.

Ben Taylor, OMB BAB

OMB produces the Analytical Perspectives volume of the President’s budget. To do this, we have to collect a broad variety of information across agencies, very quickly — 4 week production timeline. The end product must have a consistent look from year to year.

The way this was done before was messy. Manual Excel method is virtually impossible. Inherited process: Agencies submit a locked Excel spreadsheet, which were checked manually and fed into a branch model. This would be formatted for print, summary tables created. Required IT knowledge to work well, and errors would be hard to fix. So there was a frantic, crash and burn scenario at the end of the process.

MAX Collect was introduced to try and modernize the process. We wanted… A much better input process for users. A simple publishing functionality to create well formatted, camera-ready document. Using Collect, we had a central clearinghouse for data, which we could monitor over time and collaborate with users to ensure data and present and correct, and that the output is compliant with our needs.

Users found working in MAX Collect to be easier and more intuitive. No longer needed to juggle multiple Excel spreadsheets; could focus on the data in the system. Turnaround time from BDR deadline was two days…and could have been one day — a phenomenal improvement in service. Easier for OMB print team to convert the document to Adobe InDesign. So the up-front investment of time for this exercise will now be reused next year, and the year after, and so on. The effort will pay off over many many years. What used to be a burden is now efficient and painless.

Audience Questions

How long did it take to build you stylesheets for publishing?

Mike Cupertino: We didn’t need to use stylesheets as we could pull the data right out to Word.

Who paid for development of these tools?

Mark Dronfield: Agencies contribute to the BFELOB and then these tools are free for those agencies to use. The LOB also offers online help and training, so it’s pretty self-service. MAX Collect requires a little more support, but there are people available to provide that support anyway. The LOB is committed to supporting agencies that want to use these applications.

On the Community, is there a way to hide prior versions of the file from certain viewers?

Panelist: If we want to present something to a third party for review (eg OMB) we move the file to a separate page for those parties.

Can multiple editors work on a document at the same time?

Panelist: Concurrent editing isn’t enabled right now, but it’s a feature that’s coming, in the meantime, it’s possible to construct your workflow to avoid concurrent editing (which is not possible on the desktop today anyway).

Are users required to use these tools in the example agencies?

Panelists: Users choose to utilize the systems; there is no mandate.