Public spends more time on paperwork in 2002

Americans spent more time filling out government-related paperwork in 2002 than in 2001, despite agency efforts to simplify forms, the Office of Management and Budget said Friday.

The hours the public spent filling out government forms increased by more than 7 percent, from 7.65 billion hours in 2001 to 8.22 billion hours in fiscal 2002, according to OMB. More than 81 percent of those paperwork hours involved completing forms for the Internal Revenue Service.

The 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act requires the administration to send Congress an annual report on the amount of time the public spends filling out government-related documents.

In the report released Friday, OMB said factors outside of agencies' control, including demographics, economic trends and new laws, contributed to the increase. For example, the Treasury Department changed various 1040 tax forms to comply with the 2001 Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, increasing taxpayers' paperwork burden by about 47 million hours.

Taking these factors into account, federal agencies actually saved the public 2 million hours in fiscal 2002, by simplifying government forms, OMB said.

"Taxpayers work hard for the services their government provides and should not have to spend extra time complying with useless paperwork [requirements]," said John Graham, administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. "I am pleased to say that the Bush administration has made great progress ensuring that all paperwork is simple and necessary." OMB singled out the Treasury, Education, and Health and Human Services departments for their paperwork reduction efforts. Treasury reduced the time spent on government forms by 9 million hours, partly by offering a streamlined version of the Employee Benefit Plan that users could submit electronically. Education reduced paperwork by 3 million hours, in part by allowing students to sign loan promissory notes once every 10 years instead of once a year. HHS initiatives saved citizens 2 million hours of paperwork.

OMB also highlighted a number of agency initiatives that could result in future paperwork reductions. For instance, the Veterans Affairs Department plans to post application form online for service disabled veterans insurance benefits by June 30, allowing applicants to submit the form electronically. The Internal Revenue Service is working on an e-file system for businesses and plans to have the foundation for the system in place by 2004.

In addition, the report said that the number of Paperwork Reduction Act violations declined by 55 percent in fiscal 2002. Violations occur when agencies ask the public to fill out forms that have not been approved by OMB.

The Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development departments had a high number of violations but are making significant progress at addressing them, OMB said.

OMB counted 62 unresolved violations as of April 1. Agencies are taking steps to correct all 62, according to the report. As a first step, all agencies with violations have published 60-day notices in the Federal Register, inviting comments on collection.

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