Paperwork burden up by by 441 million hours last year

The national paperwork workload increased by 5.5 percent in fiscal 2005 over the previous year to reach about 8.4 billion hours, according to a new Office of Management and Budget report.

Much of the 441 million-hour increase in time spent on federal paperwork stemmed from demands associated with the new Medicare prescription drug program, which accounted for about 224 million hours of the overall burden. OMB also cited the 2003 CAN-SPAM Act, which governs unsolicited commercial e-mail, as a major source of new paperwork burden, at 116 million hours.

OMB's annual information collection report, which also noted an anticipated increase of 3.6 percent, or 303 million hours, for fiscal 2006, was developed to meet requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, passed in 1980 and updated in 1995.

OMB attributed the largest increase in anticipated 2006 burden -- almost 25 million hours -- to the 2005 Junk Fax Prevention Act, which requires "opt-out" information on commercial faxes, while noting that represents a small burden on a large number of people. A Food and Drug Administration safety reporting requirement is expected to result in 5.8 million more hours of paperwork in fiscal 2006, while the Commerce Department's economic census, completed once every five years, will increase the overall workload by 4.9 million hours.

At a Tuesday hearing of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Steven Aitken, acting administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, noted that 12 Cabinet-level departments showed net reductions in paperwork in fiscal 2005, up from 10 departments in fiscal 2004.

Aitken also said OMB has worked to reduce agency noncompliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act. In the late 1990s, many agencies allowed their information collection approvals to lapse, he said, a problem that OMB is now addressing. The report said agencies had more than 350 violations of the act in fiscal 2001, but OMB eliminated a backlog of unapproved collections and in 2005 there were only 97 new violations.

OMB said the Internal Revenue Service began using a new model for estimating the paperwork burden that is expected to increase its reported hours by 250 million in 2006 -- but the increase will represent a change in reporting, rather than a change in the burden itself.

The IRS accounted for about 76 percent of overall paperwork in fiscal 2005, and Beth Tucker, director of communications, liaison and disclosure with the agency's small business/self-employed division, highlighted measures the IRS has taken to reduce the burden. But, she said, revisions of forms and other actions address only part of the problem.

"Although we are taking aggressive action to diminish taxpayer burden, we fully expect that, without fundamental tax reform, the aggregate burden taxpayers face will continue to grow," Tucker said.

Linda Koontz, director of information management for the Government Accountability Office, lauded measures the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency have taken to overhaul collection forms and to significantly reduce the time associated with them. She cited a savings of 19 million hours related to the IRS' Form 1041 as one result of streamlining efforts.

But Koontz also noted a March report that concluded that the standard process for agency approval of information collections -- which requires certification by the chief information officer -- was ineffective at minimizing the paperwork burden.

"Numerous factors have contributed to these problems, including a lack of management support and weaknesses in OMB guidance," Koontz said.

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