GAO calls for a single report on paperwork reduction

A new General Accounting Office report says the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) needs a strategic plan outlining how it will manage federal records and ensure that federal agencies comply with a legislative mandate to reduce paperwork.

The 1980 and 1995 Paperwork Reduction Acts require federal agencies to reduce unnecessary paperwork. The laws also address overall information resources management, a term that includes the collection of data and its dissemination, security and privacy, as well as management of information technology infrastructures. OIRA, a department within the Office of Management and Budget, oversees compliance with these laws.

OIRA designated the Chief Information Officers Council's strategic plan for fiscal 2001-2002 as the governmentwide information resources management plan, according to GAO's report, "Information Resources Management: Comprehensive Strategic Plan Needed to Address Mounting Challenges" (GAO-02-292). However, GAO found that plan to be neither effective nor comprehensive and said it does not describe how the federal government will use information resources management to improve agency performance.

While the plan discusses several governmentwide goals, such as e-government and information security, none are linked to performance. The goals also don't address the management of information resources in a comprehensive manner, the report said, overlooking such things as effective records management and collection and control of paperwork.

"These shortcomings call into question the degree of management attention that OIRA has traditionally devoted to producing the governmentwide strategic information resources management plan," GAO said. "Without an effective unifying plan, federal agencies are left to address information needs in isolation."

In its defense, OIRA said e-government expansion and IT management initiatives found in the President's Management Agenda, the 2000 Government Security Information Act and fiscal 2002 budget plans serve as supplements to the CIO Council's plan, and show that a governmentwide plan exists. But GAO said that because the plans aren't linked or integrated, they can't be considered a unified strategic vision.

"These documents, whether viewed individually or in total, do not address the weaknesses we have identified," GAO said. "We believe there is value in producing a single plan to clearly communicate the administration's vision for information resources management."

GAO recommended that OIRA simply incorporate existing plans into one comprehensive report, rather than create a completely new plan. The watchdog agency also suggested that OIRA include future challenges in the new plan, as well as assess human capital needs for meeting governmentwide information resources goals.

In a written response, OMB Director Mitch Daniels took issue with GAO's findings, saying the report's focus on a single comprehensive plan was too narrow.

"While these documents and reports are not fully integrated in a single document, taken together they set general standards and strategic direction across the government in all areas required by the Paperwork Reduction Act," Daniels wrote, adding that OMB will consider linking the documents together on its Web site.

Daniels also questioned GAO's apparent ignorance of the role played by Mark Forman, the agency's associate director for IT and e-government.

"Mr. Forman's leadership for the administration's 'Expanding E-government' initiative … will address these potential risks," Daniels wrote.

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