Last week, I attended the spring conference of the American Association for Budget and Program Analysis. There was a particularly intriguing session on a collaborative, online tool created a couple years ago by the Office of Management and Budget called the MAX Community. It was named after the software agencies use to submit their budget information to OMB. Initially, it was intended as a forum for agency budget officers to share guidance, best practices, etc. Last year, for example, it was used to collect information from across agencies about congressional earmarks. But it expanded quickly to include the finance and grants management communities. Last year, there were about 5,000 users. Only federal employees and contractors with government email addresses can join.
This year, there are over 13,000 users and, reports Andy Schoenbach, the OMB executive sponsor of the network, it has expanded its scope beyond budgeting. There’s a great article by Federal Time’s Gregg Carlstrom, “Agencies Save with OMB’s Online Tool,” that summarizes the evolution of the MAX Federal Community. Carlstrom notes that Justice staff use it to track “questions for the record” that are submitted by Congress for the department to answer. Homeland Security uses it to run training exercises online that used to require travel. The White House staff developing guidance on transparency and open government are using the site as a place to collect ideas from government employees.
The MAX Community seems to be the first test bed for a cross-agency, governmentwide foundation for collaboration. It is currently fairly small, but successful. Will the Obama Administration build on this approach — which is largely a voluntary effort run on behalf of the budget community by the Department of Education — more broadly as its way of encouraging cross-agency collaboration?