New software makes filling out forms a breeze for appointees

Transition experts unveiled a new software package Thursday that simplifies the maze of forms political appointees must complete and, for the first time, enables appointees to fill out forms by computer. Officials with the Nomination Forms Online (NFO) program, part of a project funded by Pew Charitable Trusts known as White House 2001, presented the software during a forum at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The NFO program was designed to show government agencies how the burden of filling out excessive forms could be streamlined through technology, officials said. "The government wasn't doing it," said Terry Sullivan, associate director of the White House 2001 project. "We're trying to help them see how to do it." The NFO software contains electronic copies of all the forms appointees are required to complete, including the SF-86 FBI form and the SF-278 financial disclosure statement required by the Office of Government Ethics. The program structures the forms' various questions on a topical basis, allowing users to simultaneously fill out similar sections of multiple forms. For example, the White House, FBI, Senate, and Office of Government Ethics all require appointees to complete forms detailing what property they own. Using the NFO software, appointees answer questions in a "tax and financial" section that simultaneously fills in the duplicative questions asked on all four sets of forms. Completed forms may be printed and are virtually indistinguishable from normal copies of the forms. While agencies currently lack the ability to receive forms online, the software is designed to allow transmission via e-mail. The software will be publically available to new nominees once the Bush administration makes a final decision on the design of the White House data statement. Copies will be distributed via the project's Web site, by the Brookings Institution's Presidential Appointee Initiative and by the Transition to Governing Project of the American Enterprise Institute. If the software proves popular, the Office of Government Ethics may assume control of the project, said Sullivan. As a privately funded project, the NFO program could go forward without complying with a variety of federal regulations. The Agriculture Department's Office of Ethics has already partnered with the National Finance Center (NFC) to create an online financial disclosure platform. The platform allows executives to create password-protected Web pages on which they can fill out disclosure forms and post transactions as they occur to keep their forms up to date. NFC's software completes the SF-278 financial disclosure form, used by career federal employees at the Senior Executive Service level and all political appointees. It does not include the numerous other forms that political appointees must fill out.
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