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GAO Says New Paperwork Reduction Programs May Be Required
The Government Accounting Office recently testified to Congress about the federal agencies's implementation of the Paperwork Reduction Act. The GAO's review of 12 case studies led it to conclude that the PRA is not working well as currently implemented.

The PRA requires most federal government agencies to take steps to reduce the paperwork burden of their actions on the public. The agencies's chief information officers must certify that these steps have been taken and that the PRA's standards have been met. Then the certified information collection package goes to the Office of Management and Budget for review. If OMB disapproves the package, the agency submitting it can't gather the information.

OMB found that agency CIOs often certified PRA compliance without adequate basis in the record. In other words, the CIOs said the agency had met the PRA requirement of minimizing information burden on the public, even though there was no reason to believe this was true. The GAO also criticized OMB's guidance to the agencies on how to comply with the PRA.

All of this may sound like boring bureaucratic trivia, but it is not if one considers the annual paperwork burden the federal government imposes on the public. According to GAO, that burden in fiscal year 2004 was 7, 971,000, 000 hours. The PRA was enacted to reduce this burden as much as possible. According to GAO, it has not because the agencies have not properly implemented the Act.

The GAO report praises as an alternative approach paperwork reduction programs voluntarily implemented by, of all agencies, the IRS and EPA. The IRS and EPA programs are separate from the formal PRA programs and, according to GAO, far more effective at giving the public a break from unnecessary paperwork. The report recommends that other agencies consider following the EPA and IRS lead.

  • Click for GAO Report.

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