In the Environmental Protection Agency's paperwork budget, the annual report for hazardous waste generators and facilities was figured at 99,530 "burden hours" a year.

To get that number, officials figured that there were roughly 20,000 companies that generate hazardous waste who would take about two hours to complete their part of the report, and about 4,200 treatment, storage and disposal facilities who would need about 14 hours each. (That adds up to only 98,800 hours because officials couldn't remember the exact figures they had used.)

But in doing a preliminary survey this year, EPA found that many of the firms it had thought would have to file an annual report had gone out of business or were exempted from the requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In addition, more states had adopted their own reporting systems, freeing more firms from the federal requirements. So the number of hazardous waste generators could be as low as 3,500, officials say now.

Because it is so late in the fiscal year, the Office of Management and Budget is not requiring EPA to cut other paperwork, now that the annual report is going through.

And maybe it doesn't make a difference. An EPA staffer involved with the annual report paperwork said he has no idea how the agency decided it took two hours or 14 hours to complete the report. "These numbers," he said, "don't mean a damn thing."