NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal Paperwork Burden Has Increased

April 30, 2001

Despite a law that aimed to reduce the burden of filling out federal paperwork by one-third over five years, the federal paperwork burden has increased, according to a report from the General Accounting Office.

The paperwork burden is calculated in "burden hours" -- the amount of time it takes individuals and businesses to collect and provide information required by federal agencies.

  • Federal agencies estimated their information collections imposed about 7 billion burden hours on the public at the end of fiscal year 1995 (FY) -- just before the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA) of 1995 took effect.
  • The PRA required the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to set goals of at least a 10-percent reduction in the overall government paperwork burden for each of fiscal years 1996 and 1997, and a 5 percent reduction in each of the next 4 fiscal years.
  • If federal agencies had been able to meet these goals, burden-hours would have fallen 35 percent, to about 4.9 billion hours, by September 30, 2000.
  • Instead, the data GAO obtained from OIRA shows the burden increased by about 5 percent during this period, and stood at nearly 7.4 billion hours as of September 30, 2000.

Furthermore, data indicate federal paperwork increased by nearly 180 million burden hours during fiscal year 2000 -- the second-largest 1-year increase since the act was passed.

Some agencies' estimated paperwork burden decreased sharply in 2000, while others' increased. But these changes pale in comparison to changes at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS burden rose by about 240 million hours, while the rest of the government decreased by about 70 million burden hours in FY 2000.

Source: Christopher Mihm, "Paperwork Reduction Act Burden Estimates Continue to Increase," GAO-01-648T, April 24, 2001, Testimony, General Accounting Office.

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