Paperwork elimination in reverse

As computers, online transactions and automation increased, so did the paperwork burden

In the five years since the Paperwork Reduction Act passed, agencies were

supposed to cut the number of forms to fill out and documents to file by

30 percent. But instead of shrinking, paperwork has grown.

And it will almost certainly grow some more, the General Accounting

Office said.

In 1995, Americans spent nearly 7 billion hours on paperwork required

by federal agencies. By September 1999, that was supposed to have been cut

to 5 billion hours. Instead, it increased to 7.2 billion and will probably

hit 7.5 billion by Sept. 30, Nancy Kingsbury, acting assistant comptroller

general at GAO, said Wednesday.

Computers, online transactions and automation were supposed to help.

But as their use increased, so did the paperwork burden. It grew by 233

million hours in 1999 alone — about an extra hour for every American.

Most of that increase — 203 million hours worth — came from the Internal

Revenue Service, Kingsbury told the House Government Reform Committee's

National Economic Growth, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee.

But IRS officials blame Congress. Laws like the Taxpayer Relief Act

of 1997 and the Tax and Trade Relief Extension Act of 1998 require the IRS

to require more paperwork, they said.

Rep. David McIntosh (R-Ind.) blames the Office of Management and Budget.

"The Paperwork Reduction Act requires OMB to be the federal government's

watchdog on paperwork," he said, but the OMB has "failed to push the Internal

Revenue Service and other agencies to cut existing paperwork burdens."

In 710 instances, federal agencies violated the Paperwork Reduction

Act in 1999 and "levied unauthorized paperwork burdens on the American people,"

McIntosh said. All told, U.S. taxpayers spend 6.1 billion hours a year filling

out 691 tax forms, he said.

Charles Rossotti, IRS commissioner, said the tax agency has tried to

eliminate paperwork for millions of taxpayers by letting them file and receive

information electronically. By March 2, for example, 3.7 million taxpayers

had already filed electronically, he said.And taxpayers are allowed to use

credit cards, debit cards and electronic fund transfers to pay their taxes,

and the IRS is developing computerized W-4 forms to replace the current

paper forms, Rossotti said.

Still, the paperwork grows.

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