Paperwork Reduction Act:

Subcommittee Questions Concerning the Act's Information Collection Provisions

GAO-05-909R: Published: Jul 19, 2005. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2005.

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This letter responds to Congress' request of June 22, 2005, that we provide answers to questions relating to our June 14 testimony on the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). At the June hearing, we discussed the estimates of government paperwork burden provided in the annual PRA report (known as the Information Collection Budget) that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently released, as well as results from our report on agencies' PRA processes and compliance.

In answering Congress' questions on our testimony, GAO found that the PRA in its current form contains mechanisms intended to reduce the public burden. Among these is the requirement that OMB review all information collections, as well as the requirement put in place by the 1995 amendments to the PRA, that agencies establish a process to review program offices' proposed collections before the OMB review. Also, there may be opportunities to achieve such burden reduction without modifications to the law. Under the current law, agency CIOs are required to certify that for each information collection, the agency has reduced the associated burden to the extent practicable. However, the certification process is currently more administrative than analytical. GAO suggested that the Congress consider amending the act to mandate pilot projects similar to the targeted efforts being implemented by IRS and EPA and to measure and evaluate the success of these projects. and that the Congress consider eliminating the additional public comment period (the 60-day notice) added by the 1995 amendments. Also, GAO found that the Congress could continue to hold regular oversight hearings where it could monitor follow-up on our recommendations and their governmentwide effect. Next, GAO suggested that the Congress may wish to mandate the development of pilot projects to test and review the value of approaches such as those used by IRS and EPA. As part of this pilot, agencies could identify specific burden reduction goals for the targeted collections and report on reductions achieved. The Congress could also continue to hold regular oversight hearings where it could monitor OMB's actions. GAO also found that although PRA provides mechanisms to encourage communication between federal agencies and the public, the implementation of these mechanisms could be more effective. Our suggestion that the Congress consider eliminating the publication of the initial 60-day notice in the Federal Register is based on our observation that this notice had limited effectiveness in generating public involvement. In our view, eliminating this notice would not, therefore, appreciably decrease public involvement in the development of information collections. Finally, if the Congress wants to alter the existing public consultation requirements in the PRA, it has various alternatives for creating exemptions. For example, it could create an exemption for certain types of collections, such as extensions of currently approved collections or voluntary collections. Alternatively, the Congress could create an exemption for proposed collections that impose a minimal amount of burden on the public or affect only a small number of respondents.

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