The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980

Original Text

Effective Dates
12/11/1980 - Present

Reform Goals
The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 updated the Federal Reports Act of 1942, which the government had concluded was not providing adequate oversight on the quantity and quality of new forms issued by regulatory agencies. [1]

The goal of the PRA was to reduce the amount of regulatory compliance paperwork imposed on private business and citizens. The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 updated the goal to a 40% reduction in the paperwork burden by 2001. [2] The overarching goal of the act was to create a new government-wide organizational and policy framework for the management of information resources and reporting the paperwork burden of various federal forms. [3]

Requirements (What of Whom?)
Both executive and independent regulatory agencies must determine whether collecting more information meets a specific objective and develop a plan for the use of the information. Agencies must get approval from OIRA for new forms affecting 10 or more people, and renew approval for forms every three years. [4] They must publish newly proposed forms in the Federal Register and allow for at least 60 days of public comment before submitting a form to OIRA, and then provide another 30 day comment period following submission. Finally, agencies must submit an estimate of the additional paperwork burden (usually reported in hours) the new form will impose.

Oversight for rule compliance
The Paperwork Reduction Act created the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to oversee agency compliance and act as a clearinghouse for all regulatory agency forms. [5]

Reform “Teeth” 
Citizens are not accountable for filling out any federal form that does not receive official OIRA- OMB approval (represented by a “valid control number” on the form). If the OMB disapproves of a rule, agencies have 120 days to rescind the form. OMB can disapprove of a form for bad quality or if it believes the form is not required for agency’s mission, but it cannot reject forms based on the paperwork burden imposed.

OIRA has actively carried out its review duties for new form submissions. Of new forms submitted in 2011, .5% were disapproved, 36% were approved with a change, 17% received a comment, 8% were withdrawn, and 5% were marked as improperly submitted. [6]

Although Congress made independent regulatory commissions accountable under the PRA, they effectively exempted the commissions by allowing them to void any OMB/OIRA disapproval of a new form. [7]
The PRA has not reduced the federal paperwork burden on the private sector and failed to achieve the 40% reduction goal from 1995-2001. From 1997 to 2010, estimated private sector hours spent on federal regulatory forms grew 26% to over 8.7 billion hours of paperwork. [8,9] The latest paperwork burden tally as of February 2017 clocks in at 11.6 billion hours. [10]
Regarding the mandate for agencies to estimate the paperwork burden of various forms, the Office of Management and Budget commented that estimates are “not based on objective, rigorous, or internally consistent methodologies.” [11] Estimates are produced by “best-guess” and vary depending on which agency employee is doing the calculations. Past OIRA officials, agency employees, and outside experts have commented [12]: 

  • “I have no confidence in burden hours.” 
  • “I think the tabulating and counting of burden hours is an artificial exercise that has no use in the real world.” 
  • “Pseudo science.” 

Finally, the public rarely comments on proposed forms, with only 6-15% of forms receiving at least 1 or more comments via the Federal Register. [13]

The PRA costs $6-10mm a year to operate and enforce, a reminder that each regulatory reform program imposes non-trivial costs on taxpayers. [14] The primary outcome for this additional investment has been anecdotally reported improvements in the quality of newly created federal forms.

The failure of the Paperwork Burden Reduction Act is an example of conflicting government statutes. While the PRA mandates reductions, Congress continues to pass statutes that create more paperwork overall. For example, the IRS historically has contributed 75-80% of the total paperwork burden hours. [15,16] Since many of these collections are mandated by the law, OIRA has limited ability under the PRA to reduce the burden.

Agency efficiency has also suffered as a result of the PRA. OIRA form review often creates huge delays for finalizing new forms. As one former government employee said, “I've talked with academics who wanted to do projects who’ve waited for PRA clearance for a year and a half. In terms of facilitating the research agenda, you definitely hear tales of impediments.” [17]


  1. William Funk "The Paperwork Reduction Act: Paperwork Reduction Meets Administrative Law" Harvard Journal on Legislation 1987 24:7
  2. John Shanahan. "Regulating the Regulators Regulatory Process Reform in the 104th Congress." 1991. 
  3. David Plocher. “The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995: A Second Chance for Information Resources Management.” Government Information Quarterly, 1996. Link
  4. U.S. Government Printing Office. 104th Congress Public Law 13. Page 109 STAT. 163. Link
  5. OIRA is best known for reviewing agency cost-benefit analysis for economically significant rules, a role that was added in 1993 under President Clinton’s Executive order 12,866
  6. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Paperwork Reduction Act Database. Link. Accessed 1/27/2017. Search for rules received by OIRA between 1/1/2011 to 12/31/2011. Type of Request = “New Collection (Request for a New OMB Control Number)”. Type of Review = “Regular” IRC Status = all selected. Counts tallied by Conclusion Action category.
  7. See Section Ԥ 3507 on page 16 - Link
  8. Stuart Shapiro. The Paperwork Reduction Act: Research on Current Practices and Recommendations for Reform Report to the Administrative Conference of the United States. Link , PDF There was 26% total increase in the federal paperwork burden from 1997 to 2010, with a rise in hours spent on paperwork from 26.1 to 28.4 per capita. 
  9. United States General Accounting Office. Testimony Before the Subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives. "Paperwork Reduction Act: Burden Increases at IRS and Other Agencies." April 12, 2000 Link , PDF
  10. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Paperwork Reduction Act Database. Link. Accessed Feb 11, 2017 
  11. Office of Management and Budget Report to Congress, Information Collection Budget of the United States 1999.
  12. See Reference [8].
  13. United States General Accounting Office. 05-424 “Paperwork Reduction Act: A New Approach May Be Needed to Reduce Government Burden On The Public.” May 2005.
  14. See Reference [8].
  15. See Page 7. United States General Accounting Office. "Needed changes to the Federal Reports Act." June 27, 1979. Link , PDF
  16. United States General Accounting Office. "Paperwork Reduction: Burden Reduction Goal Unlikely To Be Met." June 5, 1996. Link , PDF
  17. See Reference [8].