The Office of Management and Budget yesterday announced it has reached an agreement with the Justice Department that will allow the OMB to continue to wage its war against federally imposed paperwork.
The agreement comes in the form of a proposed rule to be published next week in the Federal Register. It gives OMB the unquestioned right to review periodically almost all record-keeping and form-filling-out requirements the federal government has created or will create for individuals and businesses.
There had been substantial concern within the business community that a recent Justice Department opinion would preclude the OMB from reviewing many record-keeping requirements that were in place before the Paperwork Reduction Act was passed in 1980.
Of particular concern were the many record-keeping requirements of the Internal Revenue Service, which is responsible for at least 50 percent of the so-called federal paperwork burden, or the amount of time spent producing required information or filling out government forms.
If many longstanding IRS requirements were exempted from OMB review, then it was questionable whether OMB could meet the congressional mandate of cutting the paperwork burden by 25 percent by the end of fiscal 1983.
Christopher DeMuth, OMB's administrator for information and regulatory affairs, called the new proposal "the toughest and most effective program ever established for controlling federal paperwork." He said he is confident that the 25 percent cut goal can be be reached, and said the Reagan administration already has reduced the paperwork burden by "200 million burden-hours."
David Marsh, executive director of the Business Advisory Council on Federal Reports, said yesterday that he had been briefed by DeMuth on the proposed regulation and that, as outlined, it seemed encouraging. The mission of the council, which represents 125 companies and 90 trade associations, is to "minimize federal paperwork burden and assure meaningful reporting programs in the public interest," according to its letterhead.
The council fought for the paperwork act and has carefully monitored its progress. It was upset, to say the least, when the Justice Department ruled in June that record-keeping or reporting requirements that were in place when the act was passed were beyond OMB's purview unless a federal form was used. All federal forms must have a number assigned by OMB, or they can be ignored without penalty.
DeMuth said yesterday that Justice's primary concern was that an information-collection regulation approved before the act took effect could be eliminated summarily with the swipe of an OMB pen. Regulations that had survived the public notification and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act and possibly even court tests had to be protected, DeMuth said.
Under the proposed new rule, information collection requirements in regulations would be reviewed by their originating agencies and OMB every three years and would bear control numbers indicating OMB approval.
If the OMB wishes to change or eliminate a regulation, the originating agency would go through a formal rule-changing procedure, including public notice in the Federal Register and a comment period. While that was going on, the challenged requirement would remain in place.
The new rule also would prohibit agencies from requiring that information be reported more frequently than quarterly; would require them to give respondents at least 21 days to submit information; would limit them to requiring the submission of no more than an original and two copies of any document; would require that records be kept for no longer than four years (except for some health and medical reports), and would develop simpler requirements for small businesses.