If you think the federal government can't move swiftly, consider what happened when it faced the loss of its forms.

The paragraph above is from the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, passed just a year ago by the lameduck Democratic Congress. The act presented the departments and agencies with the challenging task of submitting all their information request forms--not just the new forms, but all the old ones--to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.

And beginning New Year's Day, if an imperious governmental form comes to a home, small business, local government or giant corporation and it doesn't have its proper OMB control number, it can be chucked in the wastebasket without fear of penalty or interest.

That means that the Internal Revenue Service's Form 1040 could be thrown away if it doesn't have a control number.

It has a control number.

According to the senior OMB official who runs the form-checking operation, OMB has reviewed 4,413 form clearance requests between the first of the year and Dec. 10. (Some of the requests were for more than one form.) Of that number, 3,576 were approved, 647 were disapproved and action was being completed on the rest.

In checking the forms, OMB was required to see if the questions being asked were necessary (from a regulatory point of view) or required (from a legislative point of view), then determine if the information had already been provided another way.

For example, OMB killed a form submitted by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management to gather information from industry on mineral development on the Outer Continental Shelf. Much of that information was already available from other sources, the OMB official said.

That action addresses a central goal of the Paperwork Reduction Act: to find a way for respondents to tell the government something only once. Establishment of a complex information retrieval network is under way so that all agencies can tap each other's information.

Two months ago, the OMB official had worried that the paper blizzard would bury OMB late in the year and that it would be hardpressed to give each form serious review. The agency, in fact, had come under criticism for using many of the additional OMB staffers authorized by Congress to review paperwork to review regulations under President Reagan's executive order on regulatory relief instead.

But most of the agency's earlier anxiety has passed, the OMB official said recently. "Right now, we're in pretty good shape."

IRS appears to have submitted more forms than any other agency, according to David Marsh, executive director of the Business Advisory Council on Federal Reports. The council, which has 125 companies of all sizes and shapes and 90 trade associations as members, lobbied hard for the Paperwork Reduction Act and has followed its progress closely.

IRS sent more than 600 different packages of forms over to OMB for approval. Nobody is certain how many different forms were involved, although the council estimates 720, and they all go a number.

Corporate, excise, individual tax forms, were all approved. Short forms, long forms, Schedule Cs, approved. Just to make sure everything got done on time, IRS included its form-printing deadlines with its submission to OMB, and OMB cooperated.

Other Treasury Department agencies won approval for more than 500 forms, the business council estimates, followed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department, with about 400 forms each. The Federal Reserve Board had 120.

All in all, Marsh said, "OMB has done a pretty good job. Some of those forms have been given just a one-year approval, so they'll be reviewed again. I think it will take three or four years of steady work to really get the job done."

It is likely, the OMB official said, that many agencies in their own reviews killed forms without ever submitting them to OMB.

The fact is, nobody in or out of goverment knows how many pieces of federal paper there are that seek to collect information from the public. The primary measure of federal paperwork is not the number of forms, but the "burden," which is defined as the number of hours it takes to fill out the forms.

In 1980, the first time the government attempted to count such things, the burdent was counted as 1.3 millin worker-hours. A new count will be released by OMB in January, and, the OMB official said, will show a decrease.

The official is confident, he said, that government will meet a requirement of the Paperwork Reduction Act that the burden of filling out governmet forms be reduced 15 percent by Oct. 1, 1982, and 10 percent in the next year.

But despite how well the review effort has gone this year, the official thinks it likely that not all agencies and departments -and particularly regional offices that sometimes generate their own forms -have submitted all of the forms they want to keep in action.

"I think there's a lot of record-keeping out there they don't even know about," he said. T"I think there's a lot of record-keeping out there they don't even know about," he said.