Paperwork Reduction Act – both Irrelevant and Overbearing

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I’ve been reading the Paperwork Reduction Act this morning.  The TARP restrictions Daniel wrote about last week appear to me to violate it, unless these restrictions have been  “specifically authorized by statute.”

44 USC 3506 (link)

(d) With respect to information dissemination, each agency shall—

(4) not, except where specifically authorized by statute—

(A) establish an exclusive, restricted, or other distribution arrangement that interferes with timely and equitable availability of public information to the public;

(B) restrict or regulate the use, resale, or redissemination of public information by the public;

Also, incidentally, the same section requires agencies to certify the following about proposed information collection activities:

(J) to the maximum extent practicable, uses information technology to reduce burden and improve data quality, agency efficiency and responsiveness to the public;

If only these requirements were taken half as seriously as those requirements that keep agencies from using new tools.

In other words, this is SCARY:

(a) An agency shall not conduct or sponsor the collection of information unless in advance of the adoption or revision of the collection of information— (1) the agency has—

[done a hundred things that will take at least 2 months]

While this requirement for a government wide information locator service is completely ignored, and largely viewed as a quaint relic of 1990s information utopianism:

In order to assist agencies and the public in locating information and to promote information sharing and equitable access by the public, the Director shall—

(1) cause to be established and maintained a distributed agency-based electronic Government Information Locator Service (hereafter in this section referred to as the “Service”), which shall identify the major information systems, holdings, and dissemination products of each agency;

GPO still maintains the service described, but I wonder if it gets more than 10 clicks a year.

Someone needs to step up and clarify the Paperwork Reduction Act.  It’s a morass of confusion ranging from complete irrelevance to overbearing intimidation.

A good start would be to amend Section 3507 to exempt “information collection activities which are clearly voluntary and therefore impose no burden”.  There’s a lot more to do than that, but this simple fix would render countless annoying conversations unnecessary.

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  • welcome me dani

  • Also, another relevant passage from RL 30590:

    _______________

    See 112 Stat. 2681-749.

    Government Paperwork Elimination Act
    Amendments to the PRA again were enacted in 1998 as the Government
    Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA). The legislation (S. 2107) was introduced by
    Senator Spencer Abraham in May and was referred to the Committee on Commerce,
    where it was redrafted. According to the committee report, which was filed on
    September 17, the revised bill “would require Federal agencies to make electronic
    versions of their forms available online and would allow individuals and businesses
    to use electronic signatures to file these forms electronically.” Continuing, the report
    indicated that the intent of the legislation “is to provide a framework for reliable and
    secure electronic transactions with the Federal government while remaining
    ‘technology neutral’ and not inappropriately favoring one industry over another.”101
    The Senate subsequently approved the bill on October 15.
    By this time, however, the 105th Congress was moving toward final
    adjournment. Consequently, agreement was reached that the language of the
    noncontroversial Senate bill would be attached, as Title 17, to the Omnibus
    Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 1999, which cleared
    both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Clinton on October
    21, 1998.102 As enacted, the GPEA makes the director of OMB responsible for
    providing governmentwide direction and oversight regarding “the acquisition and use
    of information technology, including alternative information technologies that
    CRS-20
    provide for electronic submission, maintenance, or disclosure of information as a
    substitute for paper and for the use and acceptance of electronic signatures.”103 In
    fulfilling this responsibility, the director, in consultation with the National
    Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of
    Commerce, is tasked with developing, in accordance with prescribed requirements,
    procedures for the use and acceptance of electronic signatures by the executive
    departments and agencies. A five-year deadline is prescribed for the agencies to
    implement these procedures.
    The director of OMB is also tasked by the GPEA to “develop procedures to
    permit private employers to store and file electronically with Executive agencies
    forms containing information pertaining to the employees of such employers.”104 In
    addition, the director, in cooperation with NTIA, is to conduct an ongoing study of
    the use of electronic signatures under the GPEA, with attention to paperwork
    reduction and electronic commerce, individual privacy, and the security and
    authenticity of transactions. The results of this study are to be reported periodically
    to Congress.
    Finally, electronic records submitted or maintained in accordance with GPEA
    procedures, “or electronic signatures or other forms of electronic authentication used
    in accordance with such procedures, shall not be denied legal effect, validity, or
    enforceability because such records are in electronic form.” The act further specifies:
    “Except as provided by law, information collected in the provision of electronic
    signature services for communications with an executive agency … shall only be used
    or disclosed by persons who obtain, collect, or maintain such information as a
    business or government practice, for the purpose of facilitating such communications,
    or with the prior affirmative consent of the person about whom the information
    pertains.”105

  • Some additional resources:

    First,

    http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/secrecy/RL30590.pdf

    This CRS report has spectacular background on the Paperwork Reduction Act.

    Second, a better fix may be to redefine “collection of information” here:

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode44/usc_sec_44_00003502—-000-.html

    and specifically this passage is overbroad, as far as the restrictions go:

    ___________________________

    (3) the term “collection of information”—
    (A) means the obtaining, causing to be obtained, soliciting, or requiring the disclosure to third parties or the public, of facts or opinions by or for an agency, regardless of form or format, calling for either—
    (i) answers to identical questions posed to, or identical reporting or recordkeeping requirements imposed on, ten or more persons, other than agencies, instrumentalities, or employees of the United States; or
    (ii) answers to questions posed to agencies, instrumentalities, or employees of the United States which are to be used for general statistical purposes; and
    (B) shall not include a collection of information described under section 3518 (c)(1);