Going paperless? First, create a plan on paper

Going paperless? First, create a plan on paper

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

By month's end, agencies must tell the Office of Management and Budget how they will provide electronic options for information collection.

The 1998 Government Paperwork Elimination Act set a 2003 deadline requiring that agencies create paperless submission and maintenance processes for employment records, tax forms and federal loan applications. The plans due Oct. 31 must disclose the costs, benefits and risks expected from the transition to a paperless environment.

Agencies have told OMB of several obstacles to the act's success, but General Accounting Office auditors said last month that the challenges are surmountable, and plenty of guidance is on hand for agencies now revamping their business processes to eliminate paper.

That guidance, ironically, comes in the form of policy papers.

' The Treasury Department has developed a policy on use of electronic authentication, including digital signatures, for payment, collection and collateral transactions over open networks.

What agencies
must tell OMB

' How they will create sufficient bandwidth for heavy traffic

' How they will train employees to use the new paperless processes

' How they will set up public-key cryptography to protect privacy and secure transactions

' How they will set up facilities to create, store, retrieve and dispose of electronic records

' The National Archives and Records Administration has drafted guidance for managing records created with electronic signatures.

' The Justice Department has drafted a guide to the legal implications of electronic processes, such as accessibility, sufficiency, reliability and legality.

' The National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Federal Public-Key Infrastructure Steering Committee are about to release a technical document on when to use PKI vs. open networks.

' The General Services Administration's Access Certificates for Electronic Services program has contracts in place to provide 500,000 free digital certificates to agencies.

Agencies anticipate radical changes in their ways of doing business. The Food and Drug Administration told GAO it expects that going online with most of its interactions will spark a radical shift in FDA's day-to-day operations.

Crystal ball

GAO foresees the need for infrastructures and bandwidth adequate to support the new online activity. To avoid costly technology investment errors, OMB held a series of meetings with agency financial and information technology officers last summer to improve investment management processes.

GAO's report to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Government Paperwork Elimination Act Presents Challenges for Agencies, is available online at www.gao.gov.

GCN senior copy editor Ellen Cosgrove contributed to this report.

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