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What is the Paperwork Reduction Act?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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The Paperwork Reduction Act is a federal law which was passed in the United States in 1980 and substantially amended in 1995. As the name of this law would suggest, the goal of the Act is to reduce the amount of paperwork which needs to be handled by federal agencies, businesses, and private citizens, reducing the burden on people who routinely handle paperwork. The revisions in 1995 also increased the security of information collected by the government, while expanding public access to relevant collected data.

The origins of the Paperwork Reduction Act lie in the 1930s, when numerous proposals to codify and streamline information collection were made. In 1942, Congress passed the Federal Reports Act in an attempt to regulate information collection, but the Act was not up to the task, and in 1976, the government formed a task force to examine information collection policies and make recommendations. This led to the drafting of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, which can be found in Title 44, Section 35 of the United States Code.

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Under the Act, an Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) was created within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). When a government agency wants to collect information from 10 or more people, it must submit a request to OIRA for review. The Office determines whether or not the information collection will be helpful and beneficial, and it examines the forms and techniques which will be used to collect data. If the information collection is cleared, the agency can proceed. If not, the agency will be forced to revise their plans.

In 1995, some changes were made to the Paperwork Reduction Act, recognizing that electronic information was becoming increasingly common and that government agencies needed to keep their data secure. The related 1998 Government Paperwork Elimination Act established guidelines for keeping data in electronic form and collecting data electronically. While this Act did not mandate the use of electronic archiving and data collection, it did set specific policies which were designed to encourage government agencies to consider eliminating paperwork in lieu of electronic methods.

American citizens may have noticed Paperwork Reduction Act notices on government paperwork which they fill out. These notices indicate that the information collection request has been examined and cleared by OIRA, and that it complies with the terms of the Act. For individual citizens and businesses, this matters because it cuts down on the amount of unnecessary paperwork they are required to fill out.

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anon328411
Post 10

As a mobile notary, we deal with 100 to 150 pages to refinance the average home loan. Many of these loans are with the very same bank that has all the information already because they gave the info when purchased the home originally.

The idea that the Federal Paperwork reduction Act is helping reduce paperwork is ridiculous! For example, to apply for a subsidy for Obamacare, you have to fill out a 63-page form!

stl156
Post 9

Does anyone know how the Paperwork Reduction Act has been applied to the tax code? I can't imagine what doing taxes would entail if what there is now is supposed to be reduced.

Just doing the ordinary 10-40 form isn't usually all that bad. It is when you start having to figure out deductions and fill out special schedules that it starts to make your head spin.

I am really glad tax companies have started to offer online services to help guide you through the process of what numbers need to be put on what line and when things should and should not be added onto the forms.

I always respect tax preparers, and wonder how they keep sane. I am more of a "big picture" person instead of being extremely detail oriented, so it would be nearly impossible for me to do hundreds of tax forms and remember all the little tricks to get people the biggest refunds.

kentuckycat
Post 8

I think the most ironic part of this whole thing is that, in order to send out a form to a group of people, you have to get the form approved by the OIRA. I can only assume that getting approval with the OIRA means filling out more paperwork indicating why your paperwork should be approved. This doesn't even include the paperwork detailing why the original forms were or were not approved.

The whole thing kind of reminds me of a scene from the TV show Futurama where one of the characters works for the "Central Bureaucracy." Part of the character's job is just to stamp papers to indicate that they have been stamped, and anytime one bureaucrat meets another, they have to exchange special paperwork. I know it is a highly exaggerated example, but sometimes I feel like it isn't too far from the truth.

matthewc23
Post 7

I don't know if anyone here is familiar with the National Environmental Policy Act. Basically, it is the rule that says every federal agency has to significantly evaluate the environmental effects of their actions (assuming they are doing something that would actually modify the environment).

The NEPA process is insanely complicated. I had a summer internship working with the Department of Interior helping some of their scientists do research for Environmental Impact Statements.

Basically, you have to either find relevant studies or conduct your own studies to determine what effect several different alternative could make on the environment. Next, you have to choose one and open the choice up to the public for comment and consider their concerns.

In many cases, it can take well over a year and several hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get all the correct paperwork in place. I think this is just one example of where the Paperwork Reduction Act isn't doing a very good job.

jcraig
Post 6

@alisha - I know what you mean. Whenever I went to grad school and needed a deferment on my student loans, I didn't think I would ever get through the process.

I don't think the biggest problem is so much that the forms are difficult to fill out. In my experience, most forms are pretty simple to understand (outside of tax forms). The issue I always have is that there are so many different forms, and it is not always apparent what you need to fill out.

I think what would really be good is for agencies to start making "checklists" of all the forms that need to be filled out and sent in in order to get through a process. They could even put all the forms in a single location so you didn't have to go hunting around in a bunch of different locations to get what you needed.

candyquilt
Post 5

I read a brief at work which included the Paperwork Reduction Act Summary, along with some commentaries on how it has been working.

I personally think that this is a great and well thought out Act which aims to reduce the burden on the people and has a nice process set up for it. If there is something that hasn't worked the way it should have, it has to be the people who make the decisions during the overview process.

The OMB has clear and strict requirements as to when and how paperwork can be required from the public. If these requirements are pursued, there is no reason for the Paperwork Reduction Act to not satisfy the people's expectations.

burcidi
Post 4

@SarahSon-- Part of the problem might be bureaucracy and people just not adapting well to electronic processes yet. I think as the new generation replaces the old, some of these issues are going to resolve themselves.

Even though the Paperwork Reduction Act was created to benefit the public, it's a huge benefit to government employees as well. It creates efficiency and helps things run along faster. It also promotes good relations between the government and it's citizens.

Paperwork is always going to be necessary but the point is to make these processes as logical and least cumbersome as possible. I know it's been a while since the Act came out, but people in government haven't quite caught up. Let's just give it some more time and see what happens.

discographer
Post 3

@John57-- I don't own a business but I do agree with your comment. I have federal education loans and it is unbelievable the amount of paperwork that is required for minor changes and requests about my loans.

Every other week, I have to fill out more paperwork and send it in. Thankfully, my loan lender is slowly switching to electronic application forms that I can submit online. It hasn't entirely come through yet, but I have been able to utilize this option twice so far.

I think the Paperwork Reduction Act has been successful in some regards and not so in others. Perhaps paperwork for taxes and businesses is one of those areas.

Is there a way you could be heard on this issue? If many business owners are going through the same thing, I'm sure the government would hear you on it. Maybe you could file a complaint with the OIRA?

John57
Post 2

I don't mean to come across as negative here, but I am a small business owner, and the amount of official paperwork I have to fill out is overwhelming.

In the last few years, I have had to increase the amount of time I spend on paperwork every week. If the paperwork reduction act was supposed to cut down on the amount of paperwork, I certainly have not seen it on my end.

It seems like I have seen the exact opposite, as the amount of forms and red tape that needs to be completed and filled out is never ending.

I am not in a position where I can hire someone else to do this for

me. Now I find myself doing the required paperwork during what used to be considered my free time.

This makes it feel like I work around the clock just to make sure I have all the proper forms filled out on a timely basis.

Are there any other small business owners out there that have experienced the same thing?

SarahSon
Post 1

I think a paperwork reduction act sounds like a really good thing. I am amazed at the amount of unnecessary paperwork that needs to be filled out all the time.

When computers became so popular, I remember people saying that this would substantially cut down on the amount of paperwork. I can see how this would be possible, but it seems to be a long time coming.

Even though we have computer systems and hard drives to back up our information, I have a hard time seeing how we can completely get away from using paper.

But every little bit makes a difference. If I am able to cut down on the amount of paperwork I have, and most other companies are as well, that can have a significant impact over time.

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