By Sabeel Rahman, Senior Counselor to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs

Long forms, long lines, and lots of documents – these are the hurdles that can make it difficult and frustrating for individuals and communities to access government programs and services.

Today, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is taking action to cut down on these “administrative burdens” by issuing new guidance for Federal agencies to help them better understand, identify, and reduce the burdens people experience when accessing public benefits programs. The guidance outlines how agencies should apply the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA), which governs how Federal agencies collect information, including the forms and paperwork people have to fill out when accessing government programs.

While the PRA’s mandate to tamp down on onerous forms is long-standing, the COVID-19 pandemic added urgency to the Federal Government’s work to make it easier for people to access the services and programs they need. Since the start of his Administration, President Biden has made it a priority to deliver better customer service to the American people – including communities that are often underserved. As part of this effort, last year OMB submitted a report to the President that made clear how administrative burdens make it harder for communities in need to access critical services and programs – and agencies can do more to fix the problem. OMB also asked the public to weigh in on how the Federal Government can better deliver public services. Both OMB’s report and the comments we received from the American public shaped the memo we are releasing today.

The memo directs Federal agencies in two key areas:

  • Identifying administrative burdens. The PRA already requires agencies to document, analyze, and justify the information they collect on each form and gather public input on these points. This memo calls on Federal agencies to further engage with the public to fully understand their experience when applying for or submitting information to a benefits program. The memo also directs agencies to consider how other burdens in the process impose time, financial, and psychological costs on people.
  • Reducing administrative burdens. The guidance also instructs agencies to consider policy, communication, technological, and design reforms that can make it easier for the public to access services. While there are no one-size-fits-all answers because of the unique purposes and populations served by each program, the memo encourages agencies to follow leading practices to reduce the challenges we already know make it harder for people to access services.

Agencies are already taking important steps to fix the challenges people face accessing Federal programs. The memo released today builds on that work, and we look forward to continuing our work with interagency partners and with the public to better serve the American people.

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