Paperwork Reduction:

Governmentwide Goals Unlikely to Be Met

T-GGD-97-114: Published: Jun 4, 1997. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 1997.

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GAO updated its testimony regarding the implementation of the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, as amended, focusing on: (1) the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) efforts to fulfill its responsibilities under the act, particularly its responsibility for establishing and overseeing governmentwide and agency-specific paperwork reduction goals; (2) the likelihood of the government and particular agencies meeting those goals; and (3) any impediments the government faces in reaching the goals.

GAO noted that: (1) the paperwork burden that the federal government imposes on the public was estimated to total 6.7 billion burden hours in fiscal year (FY) 1996, down slightly from the 6.9 billion-hour estimate for 1995; (2) Congress enacted the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 to impose discipline on the management of paperwork requirements; (3) among other things, the act requires OMB to set a goal of at least a 10-percent reduction in governmentwide paperwork burden for FY 1996 and 1997, a 5-percent reduction goal for each of the next 4 fiscal years, and annual agency goals that reduce burden to the "maximum practicable opportunity"; (4) in assessing progress toward achieving these goals, it is appropriate to recognize that the basic data used to measure paperwork burden has important limitations; (5) for instance, considerable uncertainty exists about whether the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) paperwork burden-hour estimate, which has recently accounted for about 75 percent of the government's estimated total paperwork burden, is overstated; (6) on January 13, 1997, OMB instructed agencies to establish goals and timetables to achieve, by the end of FY 1998, a cumulative burden reduction of 25 percent; (7) this goal does not require the annual reductions contemplated by the act, but, if accomplished, could result in a similar reduction by the end of FY 1998; (8) however, primarily because IRS expects its paperwork burden-hour estimate to decline a total of about 2 percent over the FY 1996 to 1997 period, it appears unlikely that the federal government as a whole will meet the cumulative 25-percent reduction contemplated by the act by the end of FY 1998; (9) in addition to IRS, GAO looked specifically into two other agencies' progress; (10) Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials said they will not achieve a 25 percent net reduction by the end of FY 1998, while Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials said they expect to meet this reduction goal; and (11) all three agencies, IRS, EPA, and OSHA, indicated that the statutory framework that underlies their regulations and continued actions by Congress requiring the agencies to produce regulations were major impediments to eliminating paperwork burden.

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