Agencies band together to streamline forms processing

A collaborative effort by several federal agencies has resulted in a new timesaving computer system expected to make it easier to process various government forms, including employee benefit and retirement forms.

The Labor Department's Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration, together created a computer processing system to expedite Form 5500 filings. Private companies offering employee benefits file Form 5500s and Form 5500-EZs yearly.

The new Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) Filing Acceptance System (EFAST) will scan both handwritten and typed documents. Filers may also purchase additional software to complete and file forms from their computers.

Software is being developed that will add two-dimensional bar codes to electronic forms. Numerous bar codes, which contain the information listed on the form in a computer legible format, are necessary to ensure that accurate information can be obtained. Filers can also apply for encryption codes and electronic signatures to guarantee the security of their documents.

In late February, the IRS will begin to send packages containing copies of Form 5500. Handwritten and typed forms must be completed on the special paper included in the packages. The paper uses green "drop-out ink," which allows the information to be read by an optical scanner.

Information collected on the forms will be stored at a data center in Minneapolis and sent to individual agencies. The information will be used by the agencies to enforce ERISA regulations.

Copies of the Form 5500 and information on EFAST software are available at the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration Web site (www.dol.gov/dol/pwba) or by calling the IRS Service Center at (800) TAX-FORM. Information is also available at www.efast.dol.gov.

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