Q & A: The Paperless Legislator

March 2007

"The paperless office is here," read a headline in the June 2003 edition of State Legislatures magazine. It was the story of Missouri Representative Rob Schaaf, who was already scanning business cards, meeting notices and letters into his computer so he could not only search them, but get to them from anywhere. We checked in with Representative Schaaf to see how he's honed his system.


SL: Are you still doing the paperless office thing?


Representative Schaaf: Yes, I am. I don't really have a filing cabinet. I scan virtually everything. It's space-saving. It's instantaneous access. I can sort and search for things, and I have them at my fingertips.  I can carry my laptop with me and I have virtually the entire filing cabinet at my fingertips.

SL: What steps did you take to get to this point?


Representative Schaaf: First of all, I came to the legislature with the knowledge of how to do it and I developed a simple file tree that made sense to me and refined that over time. Literally, I can pull up any constituent's letter.  It's the same with email. I use the latest version of Acrobat.

SL: It sounds like a lot of work. Why do you think it's important?


Representative Schaaf: I just know that in order to be the most functional and get the most done, if I keep these documents right where I can get at them, then I can pull them out anywhere and draft legislation and speeches, make points. I've got a Sprint wireless card, so I’m virtually always connected to the Internet. Recently, I was in a committee hearing in St. Louis, listening to educators talk about the school district, and I could pull up the school district page to find out more about what they were saying.

SL: Can you list five things a legislator can do to get his or her office more paperless?

Representative Schaaf:

  1. Buy a scanner and learn to use it. I recommend the Fujitsu Scan Snap.
  2. Make certain you have a computer with enough memory.
  3. Buy an external hard drive, the biggest you can get.
  4. Create a file system that is functional for you, and stick to it. Learn to label files with the year, month, date, for example: 2007-02-07 letter to Nicole Moore.
  5. Get the best version of Adobe Acrobat you can afford, and learn how to use it.  It is compatible with Outlook, so you can archive emails as pdf files.

SL: How much is enough computer memory?

Representative Schaaf: In today’s world, enough memory is as much as your machine can handle.