By Jennifer White, WIPP Government Relations
The House Small Business Committee wants to know: are burdens on small businesses from paperwork being reduced by the Paperwork Reduction Act? According to Sam Batkins, the director of regulatory policy at American Action Forum, the short answer is they are not.
The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) was designed to reduce the total amount of paperwork the federal government imposes on private businesses and citizens. In order to achieve this goal, it imposes procedural requirements on agencies that wish to collect information from the public. However, between the sheer volume of instructions that accompany some paperwork, and the lack of resources at various agencies, it doesn’t seem to be working.
Look, for example, at the Internal Revenue Service. According to Frank Cania, founder and president of driven HR, the IRS is responsible for more paperwork than any other agency. “Small businesses fall into a cycle of having to file new forms every time an honest mistake is made in order to avoid IRS fines,” said Mr. Cania, who testified on behalf of Society for Human Resource Management.
For perspective on how time consuming and complex some of the documents can be, he explained to the committee that while an I-9 Form is only two pages long, the instructions are 15 pages long, and the instruction manual is “a slim 69 pages long.”
According to Sally Katzen, professor at NYU Law and senior advisor at Podesta Group, another key related issue with an agency like the IRS is that lack of resources to help individuals with compliance. “Used to, you could call and get someone to answer on the third ring,” she said. “Now, given the cuts to the IRS, the waiting period is well over two hours if you bother to stay on the phone. They’ve had to give up almost all of their assistance with compliance.”
When asked by the committee what Congress can do to make it better, Ms. Katzen answered that the key is investing in resources. “Somebody has to talk to somebody if you want the system to work. You need to put in the resources to enable that to happen.”
It is important for agencies to be able to collect information because it not only aids government decision making, but is often redistributed to the public which some find critical for making business decisions. However, there has to be a way to reduce the volume of paperwork. “There is only so much agencies can do. Only Congress can change the statutory requirements,” Ms. Katzen concluded.
To see the written testimony and witness list from the hearing, click here.