February 24, 2012

ACUS Considers Changes to the PRA

The issue of whether Information Collection Requests (ICRs) should continue to be subject to two public comment periods under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) is being deliberated by the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS). The appropriate number of ICR comment opportunities has been a subject of debate for a number of years and ACUS should be applauded for addressing this matter in an analytical fashion.

Although there appears to be considerable popular support for shrinking the two comment periods into one, there is another side of the story. More specifically, the legislative history of the PRA demonstrates that the first public comment period is the one which affords the public the opportunity to interact with the federal agency while it is still formulating its ICR including consideration of various alternatives. Furthermore, it is during the initial comment period that all interested members of the public are invited by the PRA to discuss issues and concerns with the sponsoring agency in meetings or through other means in addition to the formal written comments.

The second comment period, which is managed by OMB, is directed towards public comments on a specific proposal. Thus, the first comment period is the opportunity for the public to work collaboratively with the agency in developing the ICR while the second comment consists of comments to OMB on a finalized proposal. One reason suggested by some proponents of a single, post-submission to OMB comment period is the belief that social media is a more appropriate mechanism for public communications on ICRs than is the Federal Register.

The shortcomings of arguments in favor of a single comment are discussed in greater detail in a paper available on the ACUS website. To review the paper, please use the following link: http://www.acus.gov/research/the-conference-current-projects/paperwork-reduction-act/

When ACUS examines the totality of the proposals, it appears their combined impact would be to reduce the scope of the PRA. We would hope that ACUS would evaluate the cumulative as well as individual impacts of the recommendations.

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