Typewriters and Carbon Paper Still Being Used In Government

It is amazing how behind the times many government offices are when it comes to technology. New York City has put out a bid to replace 1,172 typewriters, which are primarily used to complete carbon copy forms that are not computerized.

As the New York Post reports:

The last city contract for typewriters, issued five years ago, cost the city $320,000 and is set to expire soon. Eighteen agencies use the machines, city officials said.

“The offices that use them here have to fill out old-style standardized requisitions and purchase orders, etc. — forms that have multiple carbonless-copy pages and which need an actual keystroke to make a copy on all the pages,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Seth Solomonow.

Other agencies using the typewriters are the NYPD, Department of Buildings and Human Resources Administration.

Carbon paper was invented in 1806, typewriters were invented in 1868 and amazingly both are still being used in government offices today. Is it correct to assume that any government agency using typewriters and carbon paper is inefficient, or is it possible to have a system that serves employees and customers well with typewriters and carbon paper?


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David Dejewski

I loved my old electric typewriter in college. Something about the smell and feel of a clean white piece of real paper – full of possibilities!

David W. Scott

I loved my ancient manual portable, as did the great American humorist Lewis Grizzard. The same tactile joys of typewriting pertain to phonograph records (remember those) – literally being in touch with what one is doing. Ah, well, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be… 🙂

Anita Alexander

I think this uncovers a larger systemic problem found throughout the Government. This is a clear case where change was optional or perhaps was left to the discretion of a few individuals. As a result, progressives/early adopters move on while others take a slower pace and longer path. In most cases, any resultant inefficiencies are passed on to the customer or user – it shows up in either the product or the service delivery. Imagine what all of this is doing to the brand.

Janina Rey Echols Harrison

It is highly ineffecient. I don’t care what excuses people use. Typewriters cost the taxpayer money to use. If people are still using carbon or carbonless paper it is most likely that someone purchase a huge stockpile and people feel compelled to use it and not be wasteful. Even if they feel a need to use all that stock, dot matrix printers do impact printing. I automated forms years (many many years) ago to improve productivity in completing this type of form, using dot matrix printers.

The bottom line is even dot matrix technology takes much longer to load paper stock, create the form, fill out the form, than electronic programs. Then you add postage to mailing or space for filing physical forms, the cost keeps skyrocketing. Electronically completed forms can be emailed and stored.

I created forms for one department where I work that were fillable. Not too long ago we had a training session for a new technology. The presenter announced that if the following forms had been created as fillable they would integrate into the new process easily. He pulled up a form. It was one of the forms that I developed and it was fillable, but they ‘undid’ my work so they could modify the form and did not ‘lock’ it so it was fillable again. Rather than learn a new process, they could have asked me to teach them how to do the process rather than reverting to lesser functionality. This is another group that continues to keep typewriters and use them. At least it is better than when I worked there. My boss would delete all the forms from our central drive while I was out for vacation. Some people can’t be dragged into learning something new and fight it.

Miriam Morehead

I work in HR and we use a typewriter all the time for completing forms which are not fillable via computer. As a matter of fact, I think all of our divisions have a typewriter because there is always a need for them. To our credit…they are electric.

Alan L. Greenberg

Yikes! I thought I was a dinosaur, but typewriters and carbon paper? No way this is needed. Every business form imaginable can be filled out on a computer. Even if copies of original manually completed forms are required, a photocopy is so much more efficient & clean. http://www.thegovernmentman.com

Dennis Snyder

I’m looking at a 3-part NCR form right now from FAA (personal aircraft registration), the same agency that recently lost in their budget battle, but at least they finally have a budget. I suggest that before we go bashing federal agencies for failure to chase fad technologies we consider why that failure exists and go after the Congressional source of the problem. Meanwhile, the form is easy to complete and mail with an actual stamp, and requires no computer, smartphone or other personal expense for the affected taxpayers to complete their transactions with the government. If you recall, the Paperwork Reduction Act requires a notice for the estimated time to complete each form, however it fails to consider the personal expense borne by the taxpayer for the equipment required for things like fillable online forms and thus completely ignores the other half of the efficiency equation. We just assume everyone has a back bedroom with broadband and i7 quad core computers. How arrogant is that? If the purpose of government is to serve the people, then consideration must be given for the imposed requirements to provide such service.

One nice feature of carbonless (NCR) forms is that erasures are evident, so altered forms are far more difficult to render. Not impossible, but certainly not within the capability of the average Gen-Xer who only knows their smartphone apps.

Jon P. Bird

Why am I not surprised? Many other government forms now come in PDF, but they aren’t fillable online, which means you either fill them in by hand or else type them. I have a small collection of old typewriters, including a Blickensderfer. Those were the days when you could fill out a form with a flick of your Blick.

Eric Diaz

Good post by Dennis. I work with govt clients and know too well that processes that may seem silly to private companies are often in place for good reason.

Grant Harper

I think it is really interesting that these offices still use things like typewriters and carbon paper! In my opinion, it would be really good for these offices to update what they use, and start using things like computers and then get carbonless paper to make filling out paperwork easier. Carbonless paper seems like a great way to fill out paperwork and do it quickly without having to continue to write on every page! http://www.nextdaypaper.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=104