White House: Paperwork bill may confuse

The White House this month expressed concern about a bill the House recently passed that would require federal agencies to accept electronic forms from individuals and businesses.

The Clinton administration said the House's Paperwork Elimination Act of 1999 (H.R. 439) would confuse agencies because the legislation is similar to the Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) of 1998, which instructed the Office of Management and Budget to promote the use of electronic communications, forms and digital signatures.

The Paperwork Elimination Act aims to improve government responsiveness and save citizens and small businesses time and money by allowing them to submit electronically forms and other communications to the government. The bill also promotes the use of electronic signatures.

This bill would amend the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, which directs agencies to cut burdensome, bureaucratic paperwork by distributing data electronically and by other means.

"Unfortunately, H.R. 439 might well be interpreted as superseding the GPEA just as agencies have begun to implement it," according to a statement released by OMB. "For this reason, the administration has strong concerns that H.R. 439 could create confusion about procedures and deadlines and set back the very progress it is intended to advance." The administration asked Congress to give GPEA a "chance to work. It is too soon after passage of GPEA to re-legislate these issues."

The Paperwork Elimination Act would go beyond GPEA's requirements and require the federal government to communicate electronically with those people who choose to submit forms or documents electronically, according to a House Small Business Committee spokeswoman.

In addition, the Paperwork Elimination Act contains portions of previous legislation passed by the House but not passed into law, according to Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the bill. The act should particularly benefit small businesses, she said.

"Paperwork burdens impact our small businesses particularly hard. A recent study indicated that for companies with fewer than 20 employees, complying with paperwork requirements cost an average of $2,017 per employee per year," Kelly said.

The act requires:

OMB to promote the use of electronic transmission as a substitute for paper.

OMB to describe progress in using technologies that allow electronic transmission of information.

Each agency to provide the option of electronic transmission and describe how respondents can submit the information.

OMB to submit a report detailing how paperwork burdens have been reduced as a result of electronic transmission.

Agencies that already are using electronic communications would be less affected by the legislation, which requires them to accept electronic submission of forms and make use of digital signatures, said Richard Guida, champion for security at the Government Information Technology Services Board.

For other agencies, which may not have begun to plan on how they will use electronic media, "this is a kick in the pants to move ahead with alacrity," he said.

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