Wednesday, February 6, 2008

2008 White House budget proposal: new digs for AIT?

Word on the street is that the White House's proposed budget for next fiscal year will be picked apart by Congress and that the end product will ultimately be a very different tome from the e-document released on Monday. One thing that employees of the American Institute in Taiwan will undoubtedly be keeping their fingers crossed for during this process is the $60 million allocated to them in the proposed budget for the purposes of building a new headquarters in Taipei. The Taipei Times reports:

When added to money previously raised, the funds will provide a total US$171.6 million for the new office complex, the department said. After the lease was signed, the cost estimate for the complex was US$160 million.

The money will come from the State Department's Strategic Capital program, which covers projects needed for "strategic, policy or political considerations," it said.

Also, mirroring persistent complaints by AIT staff about the condition of the dilapidated AIT building on Xinyi Road, the money for the new complex is part of a program "designed to meet the demands of a critical gap in the overseas real property portfolio," the department said.

In the new budget, the Bush administration also proposed an increase of nearly 4 percent in AIT's budget for next year, the second consecutive annual increase.

So that's one thing to root for in the budget process. Although happy representatives do not necessarily equal happy bilateral relations, it can't hurt! In other FY 2009 U.S. budget news, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote an entertaining/intriguing op-ed piece featured today about the White House's move from a printed budget to a paperless, digital one--and why she wishes they would go back to the 2,200-page "dead-tree set" of old:

"Honestly, I am still using the paper books, as is most of my staff," Tom Kahn, the staff director of the House Budget Committee, told me by e-mail. "Online is much harder to use. It makes the information less accessible and harder to ferret out.

Frankly, it is no fun staring for hours at a computer screen to find obscure spend-out rates. You can't underline, can't make a note on a page, and who wants to read a computer in bed?"

Washington is a place where, as the economists say, a non-trivial number of people read budget documents in bed. But you don't have to be one of them to crave the comforting certainty of ink on paper or to wonder about the consequences of having so much of the information we digest migrate from paper to screen.

Because as wondrous as the Internet is as a means for discovering and obtaining information, as useful as the personal computer is as a mechanism for inputting and manipulating data, paper remains -- for many of us, anyway -- the format most conducive to clear-headed analysis.

The Nussles of the world ignore the human urge to underline, to scrawl in the margins, an instinct that traces its first manifestations to cave paintings. There is a clarifying immediacy to holding the document itself, not settling for its online representation.


Tim Maddog said...

WaPo's Ruth Marcus ought to get herself a computer that can make PDFs out of "online" documents where she can automate searches for "obscure spend-out rates," add her own bookmarks, and even annotate to her heart's desire.

And if she wants to work "in bed," she should get either a laptop or another job. "Thwack!" ;-)

Tim Maddog

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