HHS' flood of paper subsides
- By Bill Murray
- Feb 09, 1998
"We've cut costs by 50 percent from paper storage," said Linda A. Gibson,
section chief of the Electronic Document Services Section at HHS in Rockville, Md. "A
form is a form. Once you start automating, you need to review them and in some cases
combine" or eliminate them.
The department and its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug
Administration, and National Institutes of Health all use forms to document internal
actions and expenses as well as external submissions from doctors, pharmaceutical
companies and researchers.
Gibson's fee-for-service organization, part of HHS' Program Support Center, designs the
16-bit forms with software from JetForm Corp. of Ottawa, including JetForm Filler 4.3.
The group posts many forms on the World Wide Web at http://mercury.psc.dhhs.gov/forms. HHS users
can view them with Adobe Systems Inc.'s Acrobat 3.0 viewer. The files are downloadable in
MS-DOS, Adobe PostScript or Hewlett-Packard Co. Printer Control Language formats.
The Web forms contain no sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, Gibson
Some organizations let their employees download directly from the Web, while others
post the forms on intranets. Others print forms from the Web and copy them but still save
money by not having to store reams of forms.
Gibson's group designs the cross-platform documents for Apple Macintosh and Microsoft
Windows desktop operating systems and for Banyan Systems Inc. Vines and Novell NetWare
network operating systems.
The electronic forms must exactly duplicate the official paper versions in fonts,
characters and designs, Gibson said.
Two remote FDA centers are the only parts of HHS that have taken full advantage of
JetForm Filler's workflow capabilities, Gibson said.
The centers route their electronic forms exclusively by LAN. Electronic storage and
signatures have replaced pens and file cabinets.
But "it can be overwhelming" to start doing everything with electronic forms
at once, Gibson said. "You have to go through mistakes and take small steps."
For many organizations, Step 1 is merely printing out the electronic forms and using
the paper printout.
"People have to get used to the idea of not handling papers," Gibson said.
E-form acceptance is progressing faster than anyone predicted, said Tim Morris, HHS
chief of publication technologies.
"It's not just printing on demand. They want the intelligent form, including the
base form and variable data," plus database storage of forms content.
Five designers in the Electronic Document Services Section have developed more than 350
forms for HHS users, Gibson said. The group turns out an average of 10 forms a week on
Pentium desktop PCs with 32M RAM running Windows 95.
Gibson's group this month plans to offer JetForm Filler Lite as freeware on the Web
site to increase HHS users' acceptance of electronic forms.
"Eventually 90 percent of forms in HHS will be in electronic format," she
said. Only documents that require special folders, dimensions or paper stock will survive
in paper form.
The JetForm software costs about $100 per client or $300 per LAN, Gibson said.
HHS bought the software through General Services Administration schedule contracts.
Other JetForm customers include the Air Force, Army, Drug Enforcement Administration,
Census Bureau, Government Printing Office, Navy, Office of the Secretary of Defense,
Public Health Administration and Veterans Affairs Department.