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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

A Rousing Game of Budgetball


By Timothy B. Clark

Here's a news scoop for you: David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States, was the top scorer in first round of Budgetball on the Mall today.

What's Budgetball? Well, as Walker explained, it's a game designed to teach people--mainly young people--about fiscal responsibility. "It's your future that's being mortgaged at a rapid pace," he told a sweaty crowd of college students gathered beneath the Washington Monument to play the game this afternoon.

Walker's team was joined by a Treasury Department team in advancing to the second round, and rumors floated that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner might be on his way over to cheer his employees on before leaving for China tonight.

Budgetball was invented in a partnership between Walker's organization, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and the National Academy of Public Administration. NAPA reached out to a group of historically black colleges, raised money for their transportation costs, and about half a dozen teams showed up for the 16-team competition. Their athletic and youthful players were pitted against Treasury, Walker's band of fiscal warriors, and other teams representing the Washington establishment. One such team, representing the Urban Institute, was captained by former Congressional Budget Office director Robert Reischauer, who himself was on the sidelines with a recent ice hockey injury.

So how does it work? Teams score by passing a ball from one player to another until it's caught in one of the end zones. You can "save" budget bucks by choosing to "sacrifice"--by stipulating that your players must pass standing on only one leg, or wearing oven mitts. And you can "borrow" and "spend" by, say, by adding an extra, seventh player to your team, or picking one player whose scores will count for two goals instead of one. If you win, and retain a surplus of budget bucks, you can carry those over to the next round. Walker, designated as a two-for-one scorer, racked up 7 of his team's 14 points in the first round.

Rock and roll blared, the hot sun blazed, spectators chugged water and Gatorade, and a big sign announced: "Budgetball on the Mall: The Nation Gets Fiscal." Whether the last half of that pronouncement comes to pass remains to be seen. But if you'd like to try your own hand at getting fiscal by making large cuts in the federal deficit, try the budget simulator created by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, whose staff was among those sweating and competing on the Mall.


Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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