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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Paperwork and Taxes

Cass R. Sunstein, former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, writes in The New York Times:
HOW many millions of hours do you think Americans spend on government paperwork every year?

The answer is staggering. It is measured not in the millions of hours, but in the billions — 9.14 of them, to be exact. Suppose that we value one hour at $20 (a conservative estimate). If so, the government imposes an annual reporting cost of more than $180 billion on the American people.

That figure is more than 20 times last year’s budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, more than seven times that of the Department of Agriculture, and more than six times that of the Department of State.

Large as they are, the numbers do not capture the frustration experienced by countless individuals and small businesses, which are required to grapple with long, complex and sometimes barely comprehensible forms.

Dozens of government agencies impose significant paperwork burdens, but one stands above all others: the Department of the Treasury. That department accounts for 6.7 billion annual hours, which is nearly 75 percent of the total. No other agency accounts for more than 6 percent. The Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency impose big reporting burdens, but in each of these cases, we are speaking of millions of hours, not billions.

The Treasury Department is the national paperwork champion for one reason: It houses the Internal Revenue Service. As Congress starts to explore tax reform, it should begin with a project that ought to attract bipartisan support: a focused effort to slash the immense paperwork burden imposed by government in general and the tax system in particular.
 From OMB: