The Obama administration is working to improve a rule for obtaining information from citizens that critics say saddles federal Web managers with burdensome requirements for posting online quizzes and polls.
Regulations for the 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act -- which predates widespread Internet use -- stipulate that agencies must wait for public comment and federal approval before imposing "burdens" on the public, such as giving citizens forms to fill out. The time lag typically is six months.
The Federal Register on Tuesday will announce that the government is seeking recommendations for revisions to the rule that will continue to cut paperwork for the public while preventing unintended consequences such as delays in conducting surveys and research, according to a forthcoming document that Nextgov reviewed.
The Office of Management and Budget, which oversees information collection activities, will consider the comments as it prepares its annual report to Congress on the effectiveness of the regulations. "OMB will also use these comments to inform its practices for evaluating information collections submitted to OMB by agencies," the request for comments states.
The paperwork rules were well-intentioned at the time they were conceived -- seeking to minimize unnecessary chores -- but now stifle citizen outreach through the Internet, say advocates for change from inside and outside the administration.
"The Paperwork Reduction Act [was] written before the Internet -- no less written before new media -- and is it really a burden when people are voluntarily coming and wanting to talk to the government? That's one that really needs to be looked at," Bev Godwin said this spring when she was on detail at the White House new media office. Godwin now serves as director of the federal home page USA.gov at the General Services Administration's Office of Citizen Services.
OMB officials this summer said they welcomed input from citizens on how to update the rules for the Information Age.
"Of course, the PRA process has resource implications for agencies," wrote Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officer, and Michael Fitzpatrick, associate administrator of OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, in a June 16 blog entry. "As one federal employee noted . . . 'I'm sure everyone here knows the trouble that the PRA imposes on interactive Web innovations. It imposes a burden to obtain any user-generated input. . . . The result is that we often don't go to the trouble.' Others have commented that the act creates ambiguity about when its provisions apply to interactive activities like blogs and wikis."