OMB tells SBA to develop e-forms system

Jim Van Wert

Henrik G.de Gyor

The Office of Management and Budget has directed the Small Business Administration to roll out an electronic-forms system.

SBA will create an online transaction system that will house a catalog of more than 4,000 forms for businesses.

OMB expects the move to tackle two problems: SBA's lack of progress on its Quicksilver e-government initiative to ease the paperwork burden on businesses and the shortcomings of agencies generally in complying with the Government Paperwork Elimination Act.

'This is a total focus on compliance by emphasizing the reduction of regulatory paperwork,' said Jim Van Wert, SBA's e-government project manager. 'OMB was unhappy we weren't making progress at the speed they wanted us to. This will be easier to measure, and it will be more of a cross-government initiative.'

OMB also changed the name of the project from Business Compliance One-Stop to the Business Gateway.

Boost compliance

OMB expects the e-forms application to help agencies become at least 75 percent compliant with GPEA by September 2004. The act requires agencies to make all federal transactions electronic by Oct. 21, but administration officials expect about 52 percent compliance by this fall.

OMB estimates the e-forms system will reduce the number of federal forms by 10 percent and decrease the amount of duplicative data collected by agencies.

SBA will focus exclusively on forms that businesses must submit to government agencies. As an initial step, SBA this fall will create a database where agencies can upload their forms.

Online information about finding government forms does exist already. Under the auspices of the FirstGov portal initiative, the General Services Administration's Regulatory Information Service Center led an effort to help the public find and access government forms online through its FedForms initiative. FedForms, however, contains forms used by both citizens and businesses.

Visitors to fedforms.gov can access forms from 90 federal agencies but cannot fill out or submit them electronically. But according to OMB, the site provides access to less than 40 percent of all federal forms currently available.

The SBA 'effort also is about overhauling fedforms.gov to make it have transactions,' Van Wert said. Launching an e-forms system, he said, depends on three steps:
  • Completing a data reference model to learn about the types of data agencies collect

  • Converting data to an Extensible Markup Language format and storing it in a repository for users

  • Standardizing and streamlining the data so agencies can share it.

'The third step, which is basically data management, will let users prepopulate forms through information on their hard drives or through a central database that a third party or an agency like the General Services Administration keeps,' Van Wert said.

SBA expects to release a request for information seeking ideas about the best technical approach for the gateway.

For its e-government effort, SBA has launched several pilots, including programs that let small businesses apply online to the IRS for federal employee identification numbers and use a search tool to find out about trucking industry regulations.

Van Wert said his project team will finish these and at least three other pilots as well as work on the e-forms initiative.

SBA hired Sandy Gibbs, formerly of the Office of Personnel Management, to help manage the project. At OPM, Gibbs oversaw the Enterprise Human Resource Integration Quicksilver project until May, when OPM reassigned her to perform IT privacy assessments for the agency.

Ron Miller, SBA's senior adviser for e-government, said Gibbs will be the implementation manager for the Business Gateway. She is not replacing Van Wert, but will assist him in the day-to-day work, Miller said.

'She will give Jim more time to engage in customer relationship management, policy and strategy development, as well as evangelism for the Business Gateway,' Miller said. 'We now have a formidable team to devote to the development of a one-stop resource for the small-business community.'

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