Paperwork Reduction: Getting a Few Billion Hours of Our Lives Back

[This article was originally published on GovWin.]

Authored by GovWin Founder, Jeff White.

Ready for a big number that won’t shock you, but will leave you shaking your head?

In 2009, the public spent 9.8 billion hours filling out federal forms.

Nine-point-eight billion hours. That’s the equivalent of 408,333,333 days, or 11,188,721 years, that we spent responding to federal requests for information.

Image by Flickr user gadl, used under Creative Commons license.

The figures come from a recent White House memo [PDF], and it’s not the most alarming number in the thing. No, the most shocking part is the growth of this burden – Americans spent 85 million more hours answering federal mail in 2009 than they did in 2008, and 2.9 billion more than we did in 1995.

Why does 1995 matter? Because that’s the year that Congress passed the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Which, as you can see, didn’t work.

Most of these forms are being filled out at work, the White House says. Some agencies have done a terrific job of reducing the paperwork burden they put on Americans. The Social Security Administration, for instance, cut its paperwork requirements by 13 percent between 2008 and 2009. The Securities and Exchange Commission cut its demands by 27 percent.

But the agencies that small businesses interact with haven’t done as well. Their increasing demands have their roots, largely, in Congress. Office of Management and Budget spokesperson Meg Reilly told NextGov that “over 40 percent of the increase in burden from 2000 to 2009 can be attributed to new congressional statutes.”

For small businesses, this is not just a waste of time. It’s a waste of money. I recently sat in on a Fairfax County Economic Development Authority Procurement Academy session led by Judy Bradt of the federal contract consulting firm Summit Insight, who estimated that the average small business spends 20 months, and just over $86,000, chasing its first federal contract. Much of that time and money is spent on the paperwork.

Hence, the memo, which asks agencies to give the White House a plan outlining specific steps they will take to reduce small business reporting requirements this year.

We have one suggestion for them — stop collecting the same information over and over again. When we built the GovWin Enterprise Supplier Networks, we knew that a competitive small business would want to join as many networks as possible. So we made it easy for members to enter their vital information just once, then share it with as many prime contractors as they want with the click of a button. There’s no reason government agencies can’t do the same.

(Heck, they already know they need to do this: The memo lists “Maximizing the re-use of data that are already collected” as an example of a burden reduction initiative — they just need to go out and actually do it.)

How much could we reduce that $86,000 figure if we simply eliminated redundant requests for information? Let’s find out. We just might get a few billion hours of our lives back.

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply