Government often takes a knock for lagging behind the private sector, but in one important area-the way it makes its payments-the government is clearly out in front.

For those who have trouble balancing their checkbooks each month, the prospect of managing the world's largest checkbook may be mind-boggling. Yet during the last fiscal year the Treasury Department issued more than 360 million checks -a volume of paper that would cover 1,300 football fields or circle the Earth one and a half times at the equator.

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