Recommendations and Actions
The number of congressionally mandated reports required of federal executive branch agencies continues to grow rapidly, following a growth trend that has lasted a quarter century. In fiscal year 1980, agencies produced approximately 4,000 reports in response to congressional oversight requirements. Congress, this year, will require executive branch agencies to prepare approximately 5,000 reports.(1) The preparation costs of these reports is believed to exceed $100 million.
One reporting requirement can spawn multiple reports. For example, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 required more than 38 reports from a single agency. Reporting requirements can be either recurring (annual or semi-annual) or one-time. The Agency for International Development (AID), for example, must submit approximately 60 reports to Congress during fiscal year 1993; approximately half are one-time requirements, but the remainder are recurring reports.(2) But even one-time reports can impose substantial burdens. The Department of Defense produced 654 one-time reports in fiscal year 1993.(3) Reporting requirements affect small as well as large agencies. For example, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), an agency with a staff of about 300, must produce 70 congressionally mandated reports this year. These duties are assigned to 4.2 full-time employees at an estimated cost of $257,121.(4)
Various cost estimates of report production have been made over the last 12 years. In 1980, the General Accounting Office estimated the federal government spent $80 million producing 4,000 reports.(5) In 1983, $86 million was spent to produce 4,300 reports.(6)
In addition to reports by agencies directly to Congress, central oversight and management agencies such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also collect information from federal agencies for submission to Congress.
Table 1 summarizes the number of reports required by Congress from selected agencies.(7)
Table 1:Reports Required of Selected Agencies by Congress, July 1993 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Agency No. of Reports Due ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ President of the United States 773
Department of Defense 443
Department of the Interior 235
Department of Health and Human Services 203
Department of Energy 199
Department of State 197
Federally Chartered Corporations 176
Department of Transportation 170
Department of Agriculture 106
Department of Commerce 106
Department of Education 99
Department of Housing and Urban Development 99
Department of Justice 98
Department of the Treasury 97
Office of Management and Budget 78
Environmental Protection Agency 70
Department of Labor 52
General Services Administration 46
National Aeronautics and Space Administration 38
Agency for International Development 32
Office of Personnel Management 31
Federal Emergency Management Agency 26
Resolution Trust Corporation 25
Department of Veterans Affairs 23 National Science Foundation 21
Small Business Administration 17
The Intelligence Community (CIA, NSA) 14
All others, including Independent Agencies and Commissions 1,524 ^^^^^
Source: House Information Systems, July 1993
Need for Change
Congress ensures adequate oversight of the executive branch by requiring agencies to regularly report on their activities. Some reports, however, seem to have little intrinsic value. For example, annual reports include the financial statements of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, and a report on the cost effectiveness of furnishing therapeutic shoes to sample groups of Medicare beneficiaries. Eliminating unnecessary reports will improve the way government functions and streamline the bureaucracy.
In addition, some Inspectors General recommend that the Chief Financial Officers Act be amended to allow discretion as to reporting on the financial condition of government funds rather than requiring annual reports on all funds. In addition, a special task force of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency recommends eliminating annual compliance reports such as management controls over advisory and assistance awards and implementation of anti- influencing requirements.(8) The cost of these reports is believed to greatly exceed their benefits.
Many reports, while initially valuable, may no longer be necessary for several reasons:
--- They may address concerns that are no longer high priority, such as the annual report on helium production, required since 1925.
--- They may repeat information previously addressed in another report. For example, the Annual Report from the National Advisory Council on Continuing Education duplicates material in a separately required report.(9)
--- They may document only minor, procedural changes. For example, Clearance Form for Data Reporting Burden is required annually of the Department of Education by the Paperwork Reduction Act.
--- They may concentrate on programs no longer in existence. For example, the Secretary of Education was required as recently as 1985 "to report biennially to Congress on the findings and recommendations of the Office of Education Professional Development, an office abolished in 1981."(10)
--- They may no longer provide useful information. For example, an annual report on coal reserves disclosure from the Department of Energy was found to be not useful "because U.S. coal reserves are estimated to last in excess of 300 years."(11)
Alternatives exist that could provide needed information at a much lower cost. For example, an electronic information system shared by congressional committees and executive branch agencies could allow data to be exchanged quicker and at a lower cost.
1. Eliminate at least half of all congressionally mandated reports. (3)
Congress should set a goal of eliminating at least half of all congressionally mandated reports. Agency heads should identify candidate reports that can be combined with others or eliminated altogether and supply adequate justification to Congress for that Action.
In the past, an essential factor in the elimination of reports has been the provision of convincing reasons. In 1988, the General Accounting Office concluded that inadequate justification of reports proposed for elimination significantly contributed to the failure of a 1986 congressional effort to reduce congressionally mandated reporting requirements. In that effort, Congress eliminated 71 percent of the reports whose elimination agencies had adequately justified. Elimination dropped to 10 percent when agencies did not provide adequate justification. As a result, only 23 reports were eliminated, out of a total of 240 recommended.(12)
The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, has recently revisited this issue and is drafting legislation with bipartisan support to eliminate or modify unnecessary or outdated reporting requirements.
2. Review new reporting requirements for management impact, and include a sunset provision. (3)
The growth of new reporting requirements also must be controlled. Congress should assess the management implications, particularly the cost, of each newly proposed reporting requirement. The cost of requiring new information from the agencies should be compared with the ensuing benefit. Congress and OMB should jointly develop standards for Congress to apply when performing cost/benefit analyses on newly proposed reporting requirements. Congress should report in committee the cost/benefit comparison for each proposed reporting requirement before its enactment.
In addition, Congress should include a sunset provision requiring congressional reassessment of each newly adopted reporting requirement at least every two to four years. The sunset provision would ensure that the information requested still merits the cost of preparing and analyzing the report. Sunset provisions ensure that the burdens of congressionally mandated reports are controlled.
NPR's Improving Financial Management report proposes related measures with respect to federal financial reporting requirements. Specifically, that report proposes that the appropriate congressional committees subject future financial reporting requirements to a cost/benefit analysis.
Cross References to Other NPR Accompanying Reports
Improving Financial Management, FM09: Simplify the Financial Reporting Process.
1. U.S. Congress, House, House Information Systems (HIS) Database, Reports Due to Congress (Washington, D.C., July 1993).
2. NPR Accompanying Report Agency for International Development, AID02: Reduce Funding, Spending, and Reporting Micromanagement.
3. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Comptroller, "Memorandum on Assignment of Responsibility for Reports Required by Congress," January 21, 1993, attached graph. These figures do not correspond to the data in the House Information Systems.
4. Interview with Paul Mahoney and Marsha Scialdo Boyd, Merit Systems Protection Board, July 1993. The 4.2 employees are responsible for completing reports to executive branch central oversight agencies as well as reports to Congress.
5. U.S. General Accounting Office, A Systematic Management Approach Is Needed For Congressional Reporting Requirements, PAD-82-12 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office [GAO], November 25, 1981).
6. U.S. President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, Management Office Selected Issues, Volume VIII: "The Cost of Congressional Encroachment" (Winter 1983), p. 83.
7. Because some agency reports are reported twice, separately and also in the All Others category, the total number of reports listed in the HIS Database, Reports Due to Congress is approximately 4,998, and not 5,348, as originally reported.
8. Special Task Force of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE), July 1993.
9. Congressional Reports Elimination Act of 1985, Senate Report 99- 211, p. 2.
10. Ibid., p. 2.
11. Ibid., p. 3.
12. U.S. General Accounting Office, Congressional Reports: Efforts to Eliminate or Modify Reporting Requirements Need to be Improved, GAO/AFMD-88-4 (Washington, D.C.: GAO, April 19, 1988), p. 5.
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