Agencies’ paperwork burden on the public too high, GAO says

Americans are spending more time and effort filling out forms for the federal government, despite a 1980 law designed to reduce the burden of paperwork on the public, according to the General Accounting Office. The paperwork burden imposed on people by the government has mushroomed over the past five years, said J. Christopher Mihm, director of strategic issues at the General Accounting Office, during a hearing last week before a House Government Reform subcommittee. The American public's federal paperwork grew by nearly 180 million "burden" hours during fiscal 2000, the second largest increase since Congress passed the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, which amended the 1980 law. "Information collection is one way that agencies accomplish their missions and protect public health and safety. Nevertheless, we do not believe that the goals of information collection and compliance with the [Paperwork Reduction Act]'s requirements are inconsistent," said Mihm. The total number of burden hours now stands at about 7.4 billion, said Mihm. At the end of fiscal 1995, before the passage of the 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act, agencies estimated that their information collections imposed about 7 billion burden hours on the public, he said. A burden hour is the measurement used to estimate the amount of time and expense it takes for people to fill out agency forms, reports and other types of paperwork for the government. Agencies compute their paperwork in burden hours. Burden-hour estimates are classified as either "program changes" or "adjustments," explained Mihm. A program change occurs when the government takes deliberate action, such as the IRS adding or deleting questions to a tax form. Adjustments, on the other hand, are not caused by a deliberate government action. For example, if the economy declined, causing more people to fill out applications for food stamps, the increase in the Agriculture Department's paperwork estimate would not be due to a direct action by the government. The Paperwork Reduction Acts of 1980 and 1995 require agencies to reduce the public's burden of providing information to the government by cutting back on unnecessary paperwork. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the Office of Management and Budget oversees agencies' compliance with the law, and agencies must receive approval from OIRA for each information request before it is implemented. Mihm said the IRS accounted for about 83 percent of the governmentwide burden-hour estimate, due mainly to changes on the agency's 1040 and 1040A tax forms and the additional worksheets and instructions provided for filling out those forms. The Commerce Department also saw a sharp increase in the number of paperwork hours it imposed on the public because of the 2000 census. Commerce's numbers jumped from about 14 million hours in fiscal 1999 to more than 38 million hours in fiscal 2000. Federal agencies identified 487 violations of the Paperwork Reduction Act during fiscal 2000, down from 710 in fiscal 1999. However, Mihm, said the fiscal 2000 number still represents too many violations for one year and that the decrease is "hardly a cause for celebration." Mihm urged OIRA to make more of an effort to ensure that agencies comply with the law. He suggested OIRA notify the budget side of OMB and the public through the Federal Register when agencies violate the Paperwork Reduction Act.
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.