HHS reduces its paperwork burden

HHS reduces its paperwork burden


Whenever agencies plan to collect information from citizens about Medicare, taxes, cancer treatments or anything else, they must file a stack of documents to comply with, ironically, the 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act.

To save paper and speed approvals, Health and Human Services Department analysts have developed a Web application that routes the draft documents through the approval process.

The Information Collection Review and Analysis System (ICRAS) doesn't eliminate the need to submit two paper copies of each request to the Office of Management and Budget, said Brian P. Burns, HHS' deputy assistant secretary for IRM. But the $200,000 system, which went live last November, will save tens of thousands of dollars in paper, shipping and labor, he said.

HHS' 13 operating divisions generate about 300 new requests for information collection every year. Existing collection programs also must get renewed OMB approval every three years.

Before it's final, each proposal for information collection travels from the program office to agency headquarters, then to HHS headquarters, to OMB analysts for approval and finally back to the program office.

Tree killers

OMB requires paper copies for the extensive public review and comment process associated with the paperwork law, said Jeff Lovern, a management analyst in HHS' IRM office.

'So basically we're killing trees,' Burns said. But HHS managers don't have to print out the drafts until it's time to submit the required copies to OMB. ICRAS could route them to OMB electronically if the rules ever change.

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size="2" color="#FF0000">HHS' Burns says ICRAS could satisfy act's requirements.

The number of pages in each information collection request depends on the topic, Lovern said. A lengthy survey, even one that's Web-based, can take up a lot of pages when printed.

'We have gotten submissions in Xerox [copier paper] boxes,' Lovern said. Other requests are shorter, but each must have at least a cover sheet, a supporting statement answering certain questions and a certification form.

Before ICRAS, Lovern tracked information collection proposals in a standalone Microsoft Access database, but the documents themselves remained on paper.

Last year Burns and his team, which includes Lovern and management analyst Robert Polson, did a requirements analysis and a prototype, and within a few months ICRAS was ready to go.

To build the application, Burns hired a small-business contractor, Communications Training Analysis Corp. of Fairfax, Va., which had experience with Web applications and databases.

ICRAS uses Oracle Corp.'s Oracle8i relational database and open-source WebDB management software from eXtropia. com to create Web pages dynamically, Burns said. The system resides on an HHS server under Microsoft Windows NT. Burns declined to give further details about the platform.

ICRAS could work just as well for other government agencies, Burns said. HHS could replicate the application for them, but it would be more efficient to maintain one database that all agencies could use for information collection requests, he said.

'We designed this with the bigger picture in mind,' Burns said.

About 30 users have been trained on ICRAS so far, Burns said. His staff is working on a second release with minor changes based on users' comments. They hope eventually to expand ICRAS' functions to meet the requirements of the 1998 Government Paperwork Elimination Act.


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