Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Paperwork Reduction Act—Collecting information, collecting your input, protecting you

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by Ms. Esa L. Sferra-Bonistalli, Attorney Advisor, United States Coast Guard Office of the Judge Advocate General.

To keep the amount of paperwork you fill out for the federal government in check, there is a federal administrative law: the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), which requires a federal agency to follow certain procedures before asking you to take the time (and possibly spend money) to provide certain information to that agency.

The type of information the Coast Guard collects:
  • The Coast Guard requires commercial crewmembers to present on demand an acceptable identification to verify identity. Crewmembers must provide certain information to the Coast Guard to obtain the identification document.
  • The Coast Guard also requires any vessel destined for the United States to provide pre-arrival messages containing certain information.
  • Masters of certain vessels must provide information to the Coast Guard that details the vessel operator’s ballast water management efforts.

Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Coast Guard must obtain the approval of the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs before collecting information from the public.

Collecting Your Input
In order to obtain OMB’s approval, the Coast Guard must first solicit public comments on its collection of information. Regardless of whether the collection is a stand-alone or part of a rulemaking, the Coast Guard specifically asks for comments on:

  • the practical utility of the collections—whether the agency will be able to actually use the information collected in a timely and useful manner;
  • the accuracy of the estimated burden of the collections;
  • ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of information subject to the collections;
  • ways to minimize the burden of collections on respondents, including the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology.

Comments help the Coast Guard identify issues it may not have been aware of that may have an impact on the persons being asked to provide information. The Coast Guard reviews all comments and may change the COI in response.

While it is unlikely that the Paperwork Reduction Act will ever completely eliminate federal agency paperwork, it does provide you the opportunity to become involved in the creation of that paperwork.

For more information:
To find a list of currently approved collections of information (COIs), including specific information such as estimated paperwork burdens and expiration dates, visit OMB’s website at http://www.reginfo.gov/.

For more information on the Paperwork Reduction Act and collections of information, see the OMB website at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg_infocoll/.

Full article is available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/spring2010.

Subscribe online at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/subscribe.asp.