Options for Promoting Privacy on the National Information Infrastructure. 3. The Paperwork Reduction Act


Congress enacted the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA)62 in 1980 to minimize the federal paperwork burden, to coordinate federal information policies and to ensure that the "collection, maintenance, use and dissemination of information by the federal government is consistent with applicable laws relating to confidentiality."63 The PRA originally directed the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to ensure that information proposed to be collected by a federal agency64 was necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility for the agency.65 Congress specifically assigned various privacy functions to OIRA, including the development and implementation of policies, principles, standards, and guidelines on information disclosure, confidentiality, and on safeguarding the security of information collected or maintained by or on behalf of agencies.66 Every year OIRA reviews, and has the opportunity to narrow, over two thousand federal agency requests to collect information.67 Moreover, under the PRA, federal agencies are required to employ fair information practices by informing individuals why the information is being collected, how it is to be used, and whether responses to the inquiries are voluntary, required to obtain a benefit, or mandatory.68

62. Paperwork Reduction Act, Pub. L. No. 96-511, 94 Stat. 2812, 44 U.S.C. § 3501 - 3520 (1994).

63. Pub. L. No. 96-511 § 3501(b), 94 Stat. at 2813 (quoting the original language of the PRA). The PRA was significantly rewritten, dropping this phrase, in 1995. Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, Pub. L. No. 104-13, 109 Stat. 163, 44 U.S.C. §§ 3501-3520 (1996).

64. A "collection of information" from individuals refers to an agency's collection of information in response to identical questions posed to, or identical reporting or recordkeeping requirements imposed on ten or more persons. 44 U.S.C. § 3502(3).

65. 44 U.S.C. § 3504(a)(3).

66. 44 U.S.C. § 3504(g)(1).

67. Interviews with Ronald Kelly, Regulatory Information Service Center, General Services Administration, and Jefferson B. Hill, Branch Chief, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, in Washington, D.C. (April 15, 1997).

68. 44 U.S.C. § 3506(c)(1)(B).