Cut Paper, Cut Government Spending

By Bob Larrivee posted 06-25-2010 11:05


In 1980, the United States passed a federal law called The Paperwork Reduction Act. This law was amended in 1995 recognizing the substantial increase in electronic information and additional requirements for security of that information and the need to make it accessible by the public. The name is a clear indication of the purpose for the law, the Paperwork Reduction Act. The intention of this law was - notice I said was - to reduce the amount of paperwork handled by federal agencies, businesses, and private citizens. In 1998 we saw the Government Paperwork Elimination Act come into play. This law established guidelines for electronic data collection and management. While this Act did not mandate the use of electronic archiving and data collection it did set out to specify policies and guidelines as an enticement for government agencies to consider paper in lieu of electronic methods. Let’s now move to the year 2010 and the Congressional Finance Committee debates aired last night on C-Span.

I was a bit restless and found myself channel surfing. For whatever reason, I happened to stop on the live broadcast of this debate and began watching but also wondering why each of the members sitting around the table, had a stack of paper – the budget document – sitting in front of them as few if any were actually looking through it. These stacks in my estimation were approximately 1 foot in height. Since 2 inches of paper is equal to roughly 500 sheets of paper, a quick calculation indicates a 1 foot stack could be approximately 3,000 pages per stack. Now we multiply this by the estimated number of members at the table, which was by my count roughly 20, the number of pages now increases to 60,000. As the discussions progressed, another stack of paper was being handed out which by the comment from the Chair, was one of the amendments to the original budget document. This stack I estimate at roughly 1 inch thick placing it at about 250 pages per stack or an estimated total of another 5,000 pages bringing the estimated total now to 65,000 pages and that does not include the count of copies given to others not seated directly at the table. I know these are rough estimates but I think the point is clear, we have laws enabling paper reduction and/or elimination yet our lawmakers, the ones who enacted these to begin with, do not practice it themselves. What I presented to you was merely the paper aspect of this discussion. There are additional costs associated with all of this for printing, distribution, management of all these paper files and more. If you look at the total cost for just this one session and topic, and then extrapolate it to what the potential could be, it is staggering.

In my view, the paper scenario I witnessed on TV is merely the tip of a huge iceberg of cost. Technology is such today that information of this sort can be shared digitally – after all it was born digital - and can be accessed from anywhere at any time. Search capabilities combined with bookmarking would allow these individuals to find and reference those elements they wish to highlight in their discussions, quickly. Annotation allows them to comment as they would in paper, in fact much better because they could place links from one item to another and traverse the corpus of information with greater ease, speed and efficiency. Perhaps it is the human factor hindering this type of automation and paper elimination. Perhaps the technology is ready but the human element is not.

I think this is an area where government can seriously take steps to cut paper and cut costs. How many millions of dollars are spent each day printing and distributing copies of documents to how many Senators, Congressmen, administrators and more? How many copies are really needed and what savings would we see if more of this information were created and managed intelligently while maintaining its digital form? I am not saying this is the answer to our deficit issues, but I am saying it may be time that serious consideration is given to the possibilities.

What say you? Do you have a story to tell? What are your thoughts on this topic? What is on your mind? Do you have a topic of interest you would like discussed in this forum? Let me know.

Email: Bob Larrivee, Director and Industry Advisor - AIIM

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