Agencies must report plans for reducing paperwork burden on small businesses

The Office of Management and Budget last week ordered federal agencies to reduce the paperwork burden and reporting requirements for small businesses.

The White House estimates the public spent 9.8 billion hours responding to federal reporting requirements in 2009, 85 million hours more than in 2008 and 2.9 billion hours more than in 1995, when Congress passed the Paperwork Reduction Act, which sought to reduce the burden on the public.

Some agencies already have made substantial progress. For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission took steps to trim reporting requirements 27 percent from 2008 to 2009; the Social Security Administration produced a 13 percent decrease, OMB said.

"Although these developments are encouraging, more should be done," OMB's Cass Sunstein, administrator for information and regulatory affairs, wrote in the directive to agency chief information officers. "To that end, this memorandum asks agencies to produce one or more burden reduction initiatives that promise to produce significant progress in the next year." CIOs must respond by April 22.

The request is part of OMB's annual call for agencies to outline progress made on paperwork reduction initiatives. This year, the White House asked agencies to give priority to initiatives that provide relief to small businesses or recipients of federal benefits. "Because of economics of scale, a collection may be proportionally more burdensome for a small entity than a large one," the memo said.

OMB spokeswoman Meg Reilly said the emphasis on small businesses is consistent with a Jan. 18 presidential memorandum andexecutive order on regulatory flexibility, small business and job creation. The OMB memo "supplements and builds upon these efforts to reduce burdens on small businesses and the American public," she wrote in an e-mail.

To help reduce the burden on small businesses, OMB suggested agencies use electronic forms, reduce the frequency of collecting information, and share and reuse existing data.

"We expect agencies to develop their own unique burden reduction initiatives, in addition to those that fit into the categories we requested," Reilly said.

While the effort should help cut paperwork, she said, "over 40 percent of the increase in burden from 2000 to 2009 can be attributed to new congressional statutes."

Rick Melberth, director of regulatory policy for the government accountability group OMB Watch, applauded the suggestions. "In terms of burden on small business, it means that there may be some time savings in not filling in [the same] information [many times]," he said. "You fill it in one time; the agency has it, so it saves time there."

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