Paperwork burden getting worse

OMB Information Collection and Paperwork Reduction Act site

The gap is widening between the goals Congress set to decrease the amount of paperwork citizens must fill out and the amount of information agencies call for.

Estimates have risen 5 percent instead of falling the expected 35 percent, according to the latest figures from the executive branch.

Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, agencies are required to minimize the paperwork burden they impose on citizens and businesses. This process is overseen by the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and is usually measured through "burden hours," the estimated amount of time it would take for someone to collect and provide the required information.

The total governmentwide estimated burden rose almost 300,000 hours to 7.4 billion, according to OIRA's initial numbers for the Information Collection Budget that will be reported to Congress covering changes that were made in fiscal 2000.

Most of that increase comes from the Treasury Department — specifically, the Internal Revenue Service.

"The key to controlling federal paperwork lies in understanding and controlling the burden at the IRS," said J. Christopher Mihm, director of strategic issues at the General Accounting Office. Mihm testified Tuesday before the House Government Reform Committee's Energy Policy, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee.

All parties have plenty of work to do, Mihm said. Congress must work with the IRS and other agencies to reduce the mandated information collection burden and to keep in mind the paperwork burden imposed by new legislation.

He also called upon agency chief information officers, who are responsible for paperwork reduction actions under the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, to use technology to make changes in the paperwork burden.

"We need to use technology not only to do things faster, but to fundamentally change the way agencies perform," Mihm said. "That's where we're going to close the gap."

GAO has often noted ways for OIRA to improve its oversight of agency collection requests. During 2000, OIRA reported 487 violations across government. That number is down from 710 the previous year, but OIRA still can do more to drive violations even lower because several have been occurring for more than two years, Mihm said.

Congress has not yet confirmed President Bush's nominee for the administrator of OIRA, John Graham. But when an administrator is confirmed, Congress can expect to see more efforts from the administration to identify redundant information collection and a full re-examination of the process used by OIRA to review agency collection requests, said Austin Smythe, executive associate director of OMB.

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