Agencies face hurdles in eliminating paperwork

Agencies are getting good advice on how to conduct business online, but face funding and security challenges in setting up their systems, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

The report, requested by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., praises the Office of Management and Budget for providing agencies with useful guidance on complying with the 1998 Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA).

The act gives agencies until October 2003 to provide anyone who does business with Uncle Sam the option of conducting that business electronically. The act also urges agencies to use electronic signature technology so that electronic documents can be treated as legally binding documents.

In May, OMB asked agencies to submit plans identifying the benefits and risks associated with online transactions, developing ways to retain and dispose of information, and providing adequate security for electronic records, among other reporting requirements.

However, according to GAO, agencies are feeling the financial strain of trying to meet GPEA's requirements. For example, the Social Security Administration told OMB that a full-scale implementation of GPEA couldn't be completed until after 2005 and could cost the agency more than $40 million. The Agriculture Department also said it did not have the immediate funding or staff to fulfill many of OMB's proposals regarding GPEA.

Providing adequate computer security is another major concern for agencies. A Sept. 6 report from the GAO (GAO/AIMD-00-295) found serious and widespread computer security weaknesses for 24 of the largest federal agencies from July 1999 through August 2000.

"While agencies are working to correct specific control deficiencies as well as the related management weaknesses, progress has been slow," said the new report, "Government Paperwork Elimination Act Presents Challenges for Agencies" (GAO/AIMD-00-282).

Agencies also cited recruiting qualified staff to oversee online transactions and establishing reliable recordkeeping as major challenges. GAO outlined efforts by the federal Chief Information Officers Council to develop strategies for attracting and retaining a federal IT workforce. The Justice Department and the National Archives and Records Administration are in charge of providing guidance on recordkeeping.

GAO urged top agency leaders, OMB, and Congress to provide support and oversight to agencies to help them comply with the demands of GPEA. OMB agreed with the GAO's findings.

OMB's guidance for GPEA is online at www.cio.gov/docs/gpea_wpd.htm.

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