President Carter took particular pride in announcing at his press conference Tuesday tht federal paperwork has been cut by 15 percent under his administration.
What he did not say, though, is that a spate of new environmental and energy-related programs soon to take effect could add millions of man-hours to the federal paperwork burden, consuming much of the gains he mentioned.
According to the Office of Management and Budget, a minimum of 16 million hours is expected to be added to the load. Warren Buhler, former staff director of the now-defunct Commission on Federal Paperwork, calls that figure "horrendoulsy low" and estimatees that 80 million to 100 million more hours could be added to the government burden over the next two years.
"There are going to be huge increases in paperwork coming up," said Buhler who now publishes the Regulatory Eye, a publication which tracks government regulations. "If something isn't done quickly we're going to be in serious trouble."
The saving, Carter mentioned, according to OMB, is actually 13.9 percent and represents some 126.5 million hours of paperwork pared from all federal agencies from January 1977 through December 1978.
As of the beginning of 1977, the total paperwork burden in the federal government was 912.6 million hours, according to the same OMB report from which Carter cited his 15 percent figure. By the end of last year, the total had dropped to 786 million hours.
"Carter could say it's down 50 percent, but all of our people say they're getting choked to death with paperwork," added Jeffrey Perlman, who directs the newly created Council on Paperwork of the Chamber of Commerce.
In the same Office of Management and Budget report from which Carter cited the 15 perceent reduction, OMB Director James T. McIntyre predicted that:
An estimated 8 million hours will be needed to implement new standards from the Office of Surface Mining in the Department of the Interior.
Three million hours in new paperwork will be needed to implement the National Energy Conservation Policy Act.
New requirements added to the Resources Conservation Recovery Act could tack on several million more hours to the reporting burden of the Environmental Protection Agency.
"In addition," the report states, "we have reached the point where most, if not all, of the so-called 'easy' targets have been identified."
Each federal agancy has created its own "burden reduction effort" in the wake of Carter's efforts in that area. Yet their effectiveness has been questioned by some officials.
"None of them on a sustained basis can be put up as a model," observed Stanley Morris, Deputy Associate Director of OMB for paperwork control and regulatory practices. "There's no lasting impact at the moment."
"You can't reduce directives when you get new programs all the time," countered William Baird, who directs record management at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
"It's largely an uncontrollable burden due to legislative mandates." echoed Beth Weinberger at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. "Medicare/Medicaid forms are a burden we cannot reduce, for example."