Q. What is the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA)?
A. The Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (P.L. 104-13) 44 USC, Chapter 35, is a law governing the collection of information by government agencies from members of the public. Under the PRA, government agencies planning to conduct or sponsor a collection must obtain OMB approval prior to undertaking the collection. In general, the PRA applies to collections involving:
- 10 or more members of the public
- identical or standardized questions (regardless of the number of questions)
Q. Is OMB approval required if the collection is resulting from an Executive Order or is statutorily required?
A. The Paperwork Reduction Act is a law and must be complied with regardless of the origin or reason for the collection.
Q. Does the Paperwork Reduction Act apply to collections:
- that are voluntary in nature?
- that don’t involve any forms?
- that are conducted over the telephone?
- performed as a part of a focus group or roundtable?
- where only one question is asked?
- that will only be conducted one time?
- that is a part of a pilot project or program?
A. In accordance with the PRA, OMB approval must be obtained prior to collecting information in any situation where 10 or more individuals are involved, and the questions are standardized in nature.
Q. Who should I contact if I have questions on whether OMB approval is required or to seek guidance on preparing an information collection approval request package?
A. Every agency has an Information Collection Clearance Contact. The Departmental Information Clearance Officer resides within the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and interfaces between the agencies and OMB.
Q. What is the process for obtaining OMB approval for a collection?
A. In general, there are four steps to preparing and submitting and information collection request for OMB approval.
Step 1 Prepare and publish a notice in the Federal Register to provide a 60-day period for the public to comment on the reporting and record keeping requirements associated with the information collection.
Step 2 Prepare an information collection approval request package. A complete package should contain the following items in the order listed:
- Signed OMB 83-I;
- Supporting Statement;
- Spreadsheet (grid) showing number of respondents, responses, burden hours and cost;
- Copies of forms, instructions, or other collection instruments, if applicable (e.g., focus group scripts, surveys); and
- Copies of pertinent statutes and/or regulations or other reference materials related to the collection (e.g., OIG/GAO audits or studies substantiating the need for the collection, copies of documents published because of previous collection efforts).
Step 3 Forward the submission to your Agency Information Collection Clearance Contact for review and uploading into ROCIS prior to forwarding it through the Department.
Step 4 The Departmental Information Collection Clearance Officer reviews the collection for quality and potential duplication across the Department prior to submitting the collection in ROCIS to OMB.
NOTE: The length of time for obtaining OMB approval averages 8 months including the time required to obtain internal clearances on the Federal Register notice, the 60-day public comment period and the 60 days OMB must review and act on each request.
Q. What happens if an agency has already conducted a collection for which OMB approval was not obtained? What happens if an agency does not obtain OMB approval for a future collection?
A. The Paperwork Reduction Act is a law and failure to comply with the requirements of the Act is breaking the law. The Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the senior policy official for USDA responsible for Departmental compliance with the PRA. When OMB becomes aware of a violation of the Paperwork Reduction Act it is brought to the CIO’s attention. If the violation is not resolved in a timely manner, the issue is raised in OMB’s management chain and can result in official Departmental reprimands and may have budget implications.
If an unapproved collection has already occurred and it is ongoing it nature, the agency should bring the violation to the attention of the Departmental Information Collection Clearance Officer and work to resolve the violation as soon as possible. If an unapproved collection is conducted and it is a one-time collection, there is no further action that an agency can take to rectify the violation in the short term.
Annually, each agency must submit a summary of information collection activity for the previous fiscal year and a forecast for the coming fiscal year. This summary must also include a description of each violation and the action taken, if any, to resolve the issue.
While the consequences of violating the Paperwork Reduction Act do not involve fines or jail sentences, there are legal ramifications to conducting or sponsoring a collection of information without OMB approvals. When a collection occurs without approval, USDA leaves itself open to lawsuits from individuals in the public.