Agencies Move to Eliminate Paper Use, Boost Electronic Business

Article Excerpt – From Federal Times

Agencies expect to reap millions of dollars in savings over the next five years by doing more business online.

The Treasury Department projects the highest returns: $524 million over five years by reducing paper transactions, such as eliminating paper benefits checks by 2013 and instead depositing checks electronically in beneficiaries’ bank accounts. The National Institutes of Health will conduct more research grant review meetings over the Internet instead of in person, saving the agency $62 million by 2015. And the Department of Homeland Security anticipates $5 million in savings over the same time by posting public notices for seized property online.

The projected savings, outlined in the president’s 2012 budget request, come as lawmakers look to impose deep cuts on agency programs and administrative expenses, such as printing and travel. The White House deficit-reduction commission in its December report also proposed capping printing expenses and requiring certain documents to be released only in electronic form. The commission also recommended agencies increase teleconferencing and telecommuting as a way to cut travel budgets by 20 percent. Legislation introduced last month by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., would cap printing expenses at $860 million annually, excluding costs related to national defense, homeland and border security and other emergencies. In 2010, agencies received $1.4 billion for printing and reproduction. Pryor’s bill would establish governmentwide printing guidelines for employees and track printing through issued cards or codes. The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development are instituting a policy requiring double-sided printing to be the default on all network printers to save $13.4 million by 2015. The agencies will also reduce the number of printers in operation and procure energy-efficient printers and copiers.

Starting May 1, 2011 individuals signing up for benefits payments from agencies such as the Social Security Administration, Veterans Affairs Department and Office of Personnel Management can only receive them electronically, said Dick Gregg, Treasury’s fiscal assistant secretary. Anyone currently receiving paper checks will have until May 2013 to switch to electronic versions.

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