Posted By NoelDickover on June 18, 2009
I have just now started contributing to Phase II of the Open Government Directive. CrisisCamp pretty much took up all of my spare time, but I’m going to try making up for it in the next few days. Here’s my comments I just made on fixing the Paperwork Reduction Act.
The movement toward two-way, participatory government is a significant shift in government processes and service delivery. Nowhere is this more evident than the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). The PRA, originally written during the Carter Administration and enacted right after Reagan was sworn in, codifies the notion that one-way government is the ideal state – that the Federal government’s job is to provide the service and the citizen’s is merely to receive it. Perfect government in PRA-speak is really a one-way communication, where the only thing the government should be requesting of the public is what additional information it wants. Anything else asked of citizens is considered a “burden”, and must be quantified, and ultimately, eliminated to the greatest extent practicable. There are goals embedded in the PRA that request this burden to the citizens be reduced each year.
The movement toward two-way participatory government introduces the notion of an “opportunity” for the citizen (and perhaps even a new civic responsibility). More so, it dramatically shifts the govt-service provider/citizen-receiver relationship. In short, in a transparent, open government, the PRA as its currently enacted is no longer valid. Time expended by the public in “generating, maintaining or providing information to or for a Federal agency” is a key part of participatory government. Furthermore, the notion of a collection of information, as defined in the PRA is no longer valid. Previously, collections of information (facts or opinions for reporting or recordkeeping requirements imposed on ten or more persons, or answers to questions posted to agencies) were part of a serial decision making process – one in which the process of gathering input truly was burdensome on both the citizen and the agency. Surveys, which used to be incredibly cumbersome, are now far more often quick hit question-answer-instant “public results” type things we see on every participatory website on the internet. Asking the same question to more than 10 people is no longer a “burden” in the sense it used to be.
One needs only conduct a quick analysis of the Federal Registry to see that the implementation of the PRA has turned into nothing more than a “Check the box” function to ensure the law is being followed. The vast majority of the new information collection requests to OMB are just re-submittals due to their mandatory expiration after 3 years. Worse, OMB’s guidance and yearly reports say in effect, “We know we weren’t very diligent in responding previously, but we’ll do a much quicker job today.” It appears as if very few of the resubmittals are ever rejected – which begs the question whether there is any real review taking place. As the interactions with the public increase, the problem will only get worse. OMB probably only has a fraction of the capability today needed to do a the thorough job prescribed in Statute – they certainly won’t have the situational awareness or requisite variety to do this in an open government model.
So what is the Remedy? I think there are both some short and long term things we can do to fix the situation. Long term solutions involve significant revisions to the statute. Here’s some options. (more…)