It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.
– Frank Zappa
The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs just released a memo titled: Social Media, Web-Based Interactive Technologies, and the Paperwork Reduction Act. Unfortunately, the title is significantly more interesting than the contents, although the contents have very important implications.
Basically, this memo is an explanation of one way the government will try to not trip over itself when using social media (and other web-based information delivery systems).
The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) of 1980 was an attempt to reduce the paperwork burden that was accumulating for citizens. Under the Act, any time a federal agency wanted to collect information from citizens, it had to get approval to do so, thereby preventing frivolous forms from being created. That was the idea anyway; there are still a lot of forms.
Ironically, if strictly applied to social media formats, the PRA would have trigged a massive amount of paperwork. If I posted a comment on the FDA’s Transparency Blog, it could have been considered “information collected by the government” that would then need to be analyzed and archived. One can certainly imagine a scenario where every time someone makes a comment on an FDA blog or retweets NIH, a congressional intern is forced to trundle from one end of the capitol building to the other with sheaves of paper in their hands.
This memo clarifies that the PRA will not be strictly applied here. For example, creating a basic account on a federal website to post comments to blogs, setting up subscriptions to RSS feeds, or rating/ranking/tagging things will not be considered “information collection”.
Fortunately, this interpretation of the PRA helps to clear the way for a more direct dialog between government agencies (e.g., the FDA – our favorite agency) and the general population.