Online mandate passes

A bill awaiting President Clinton’s signature requires that within five years
agencies post all federal forms online and accept digital signatures as legal.


In approving S 442 last week, Congress lengthened the time it would give agencies to
complete these two tasks. In the original version, agencies had just 18 months for both.
Now, agencies have 18 months to prepare plans on how they will meet the five-year
deadline. Only the IRS would be exempt from the bill’s requirements.


The Office of Management and Budget is charged with setting the necessary overarching
policies.


The president is expected to sign S 442, which was tacked onto the Internet Tax Freedom
Act during the waning hours of Congress’ 105th session.


Many agencies that collect data from the public either already post forms online or are
running pilots to do so.


“We already have electronic filing as part of our Data Collection
Initiative,” said a spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.


Under the initiative, the Labor Department agency receives information from some 80,000
employers, most of them manufacturers, to help target inspections. Participating
businesses report to OSHA, many times online, he said.


OSHA also requires any business that has a fatality in the workplace or three
hospitalizations to notify the agency within 24 hours. “They generally just call in
those situations, so we can get out there the same day to do an inspection of the
scene,” he said.


Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration also has electronic filing. Mine
operators and contractors can file their quarterly mine employment and coal production
reports electronically using Labor’s Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small
Businesses Web site.


The Social Security Administration began a pilot this year letting employers file wage
information online, said Norman Goldstein, an SSA senior financial executive.
Participating employers use the agency’s online wage reporting bulletin board service
to file.


Social Security wanted to reduce submission errors and provide quicker posting of
employee data through electronic filing, Goldstein said this month at the Council for
Electronic Revenue Communications Advancement conference in Washington.

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