Paperwork elimination in reverse
- By William Matthews
- Apr 13, 2000
In the five years since the Paperwork Reduction Act passed, agencies were
supposed to cut the number of forms to fill out and documents to file by
30 percent. But instead of shrinking, paperwork has grown.
And it will almost certainly grow some more, the General Accounting
In 1995, Americans spent nearly 7 billion hours on paperwork required
by federal agencies. By September 1999, that was supposed to have been cut
to 5 billion hours. Instead, it increased to 7.2 billion and will probably
hit 7.5 billion by Sept. 30, Nancy Kingsbury, acting assistant comptroller
general at GAO, said Wednesday.
Computers, online transactions and automation were supposed to help.
But as their use increased, so did the paperwork burden. It grew by 233
million hours in 1999 alone — about an extra hour for every American.
Most of that increase — 203 million hours worth — came from the Internal
Revenue Service, Kingsbury told the House Government Reform Committee's
National Economic Growth, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee.
But IRS officials blame Congress. Laws like the Taxpayer Relief Act
of 1997 and the Tax and Trade Relief Extension Act of 1998 require the IRS
to require more paperwork, they said.
Rep. David McIntosh (R-Ind.) blames the Office of Management and Budget.
"The Paperwork Reduction Act requires OMB to be the federal government's
watchdog on paperwork," he said, but the OMB has "failed to push the Internal
Revenue Service and other agencies to cut existing paperwork burdens."
In 710 instances, federal agencies violated the Paperwork Reduction
Act in 1999 and "levied unauthorized paperwork burdens on the American people,"
McIntosh said. All told, U.S. taxpayers spend 6.1 billion hours a year filling
out 691 tax forms, he said.
Charles Rossotti, IRS commissioner, said the tax agency has tried to
eliminate paperwork for millions of taxpayers by letting them file and receive
information electronically. By March 2, for example, 3.7 million taxpayers
had already filed electronically, he said.And taxpayers are allowed to use
credit cards, debit cards and electronic fund transfers to pay their taxes,
and the IRS is developing computerized W-4 forms to replace the current
paper forms, Rossotti said.
Still, the paperwork grows.